What Will Gov. Jay Inslee 3.0 Be Like?



By the way, there’s a Washington governor’s race going on, though serious coverage of it is pretty slim. Here’s one survey from Joseph O’Sullivan and Jim Brunner of The Seattle Times. There’s no doubt about the outcome, since the Republican challenger, Loren Culp, is wildly unqualified. Yawn.

As for what Inslee has in mind for the third term, he’s not saying. That’s in part because there’s no need to get specific in such a lopsided race, and in part because Inslee is not really a policy guy. Nor does he have much success in getting his priorities, such as a carbon tax, passed by the Legislature, which has marginalized him.

The one big question is whether, once elected, Inslee will serve all four years or, at age 69, he might opt for one more big challenge, a federal job under President Biden. Here’s what the governor says about that key question as reported by The Seattle Times story:

“Inslee has said that if reelected governor, he intends to serve a full term — and he reiterated that in the recent interview. “I stay here,” he said. “Look, I can do great work on clean energy here. I love this state. So I’m not interested in those federal positions.” That’s a classic non-denial, with the key weasel words being “intends” and “not interested.” Being “not interested,” of course, doesn’t mean you won’t pick up the phone from the White House.

And so, for many the real race for governor is the choice this November for Lieutenant Governor (who automatically becomes governor for up to two years when there is a vacancy). It’s a race between former Congressman Denny Heck, who would be formidable, and state Sen. Marco Liias, who is running well to the left of Heck.

A baton-pass to Gov. Heck, in turn, is in keeping with the strict control over the governor’s mansion that the leading Democratic power blocs (unions, greens, state employees, teachers, trial lawyers) exercise: Gov. Gary Locke to Gov. Chris Gregoire, and Gregoire to Inslee. Why take chances in a primary, particularly when maverick candidates such as Dixy Lee Ray and Mike Lowry can sometimes sneak through?

Another natural question is whether Inslee is tired of the job and likely to coast through a third term with his trademark blend of press conferences, rushing to emergencies, lamenting Boeing’s disinvestment, basking in the reflected glow of Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s courtroom triumphs over Trumpland, and issuing high-minded proposals that sigh in the Legislature.

Maybe not. The presidential race and his coronavirus leadership have energized Inslee and raised his public stature. More to the point, the Legislature is now fully controlled by the Democrats’ interest groups. Also, new members,the feckless GOP, and the assorted crises (recession, Covid-19, Black protests, losing the Supreme Court) are driving state politics to the left. So I could see Inslee at least signing some significant new legislation. Examples are decarbonization; a new statewide tax on high-earning payrolls or a flat-rate income tax or (most likely because the money flows sooner) a temporary boost in B&O taxes; getting tougher on police unions; money for housing; and funding government positions otherwise lost in the recession.

The real next governor is the Legislature, now that the Democrats and Seattle-area pols have the votes. Inslee’s task is to buy lots of signing pens.

David Brewster
David Brewster
David Brewster, a founding member of Post Alley, has a long career in publishing, having founded Seattle Weekly, Sasquatch Books, and Crosscut.com. His civic ventures have been Town Hall Seattle and FolioSeattle.


  1. The consensus among my friends is that Inslee will hightail it to D.C. Is there any chance that an urgently and carefully framed argument about climate change could induce him to stay here? And, could/would he be willing to take the hard steps necessary to reframe the State’s environmental focus and behavior?
    I have been thinking about this because of his focus on climate change, the growing urgency of climate change issues and the abundant opportunities to do something big and trendsetting for other states just by doing right here.
    Specifically, I have been observing how the State land and water and fish and wildlife managing agencies, especially DNR, are doing horrendous damage to water quality and environmental quality in general, through permitted clear cuts of 1000’s of acres of forest land, some old growth with unique and dwindling ecosystems. I have seen this on the Olympic Penninsula but have no doubt it is occurring all over the State. The clear cuts erode tons of soil into Dabob Bay and the Hood Canal smothering eagle and salmon feeding sites and warming water temperatures. It is sickening. Most of these actions are taken with nothing but a DNS (Determination of Nonsignificance) issued by DNR or the other management agencies. Here you have DNR, Game and Fish, Parks etc. working at cross purposes to each other’s missions and none of them working to limit climate change. Hillary Franz has an opportunity to prove her environmental credentials.

    There are many more examples. It seems to me state government environmental and land, water, fish, wildlife etc agencies need to be reorganized around a unified mission related to climate change. They should not be doing their own environmental reviews. Those should be done by an agency charged with a new climate change mission. Energy can be thrown into the mix too. Dam management, fuel tax structure, transportation investments etc.

    It really needs rethinking if we have any hope of tackling the climate crisis that is roaring around us.


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