Jay Inslee travels around the state bashing public financing for a football stadium, but that doesn’t mean the Democratic candidate for governor hates sports.
In fact, he quarterbacked for the Ingraham High School football team his senior year, was on the Seattle school’s championship basketball team and played freshman basketball at Stanford.
At 45, he still participates in the annual Hoopaholics charity basketball tournament on Whidbey Island.
It may seem a bit odd the childhood “gym rat” is challenging his chief Democratic rivals to stand firm against the Seattle Seahawks and oppose public spending on a new football stadium to replace the Kingdome.
But Inslee, a former state legislator and 4th District congressman, says it’s a matter of principle - schools come first.
“I believe the future of our boys and girls is threatened because of threats to the education system,” he says at campaign stops. “It’s time to put schools first, not another professional football stadium in downtown Seattle.”
He can apply the stadium theme to almost any issue. Asked during a candidate forum in Tacoma whether he would support more funding for the arts, Inslee suggested art advocates try Seattle Seahawks owner Ken Behring’s strategy: “Maybe the owners of the art museums should threaten to move to Los Angeles.”
Hailed by state Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt as a “fresh new face” when he entered the race last year, Inslee is moderate, pro-choice and enjoys broad support from environmentalists. He’s also tall, handsome and athletic - a political consultant’s dream.
Inslee - now living with his wife and three sons on Bainbridge Island has spent half his life in Eastern Washington and the other half on the West Side, and tells voters he understands their problems better than any Democrat from Seattle.
But two Seattle Democrats have eclipsed him in the governor’s race this summer - King County Executive Gary Locke and Seattle Mayor Norm Rice.
Veteran Democratic campaign consultant Cathy Allen, for one, is surprised Inslee’s message hasn’t been better received.
“He’s just not catching fire. In fact, we’re still looking for the smoke,” she says.
But Inslee insists he’s in the race to win.
“I’ve been outspent in every race I’ve ever run in” and has won three out of four, he notes.
Inslee has an economics degree from the University of Washington, where he completed undergraduate work after leaving Stanford, and a law degree from Willamette University.
He became interested in politics while practicing small-town law in Selah, a community of about 5,000 in the Yakima Valley. He and his wife, Trudi, got involved in a school bond issue in 1987 that finally passed on its sixth try. Later that year, he decided to run for the Legislature after lawmakers threatened to tinker with the law on school bonds.
He served in the state House from 1988 to 1992, and was named vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which Locke headed.
In 1992, concerned the 4th Congressional District could be overrun by the right wing after longtime Rep. Sid Morrison stepped down to make an unsuccessful bid for governor, Inslee ran against Republican Doc Hastings for the open seat.
Inslee was swept into office in the Democratic landslide, a surprise win in conservative central Washington. During his years in the U.S. House, he worked on water rights, fish, cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and trade.
But Hastings won their 1994 rematch.
Inslee blames the loss on his vote for the federal crime bill and its assault-weapons ban, which drew the ire and considerable political clout of the National Rifle Association. “It shows I can make the tough decisions,” he says.
It wasn’t just that, says Brett Bader, a Hastings campaign consultant.
Among other things, Inslee was criticized for missing some 70 percent of his committee meetings while in Congress, Bader says.
“He really kind of operates under his own reality,” he says.
Whatever the issue in the 1994 race, Inslee says his congressional experience - however brief - gives him an advantage over his competitors in the governor’s race.
It remains to be seen whether voters agree.
Locke and Rice have more political experience overall. Locke served 11 years in the Legislature and was elected King County executive two years ago, and Rice has been an elected member of Seattle’s city government for 18 years.
Inslee has a total of six years in elected office. After leaving Congress, he went to work for the Seattle and Tacoma offices of the Gordon Thomas Honeywell law firm.
As governor, Inslee says he would focus on improving education by enhancing vocational training, increasing enrollment in the university system, giving public schools more flexibility for dealing with disruptive students and freeing local districts from burdensome regulations in exchange for proven student performance.
He also supports property tax relief for people on limited incomes and tax breaks for small businesses, but only if revenues permit.
“I don’t want to go around and buy votes with tax-cut proposals,” he says.
His positions are similar to those of Locke and Rice, so Inslee hoped to use the stadium theme to distinguish himself.
But Locke has begun to swat back. He notes that Inslee, as a state lawmaker, pushed for some $2 million in taxpayers’ money for improvements to Yakima’s Sundome complex.
Inslee says the difference is that the football stadium - whether it’s a new one or a much-improved Kingdome - subsidizes profits for the Seahawks’ owner, while the Sundome benefits no single business owner.
“Gary and Norm are feeling the heat on this because the people are very, very angry that they’re being blackmailed on this issue,” Inslee says.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: JAY INSLEE (D) Resume: 47, born in Seattle, lives on Bainbridge Island … bachelor’s of economics, University of Washington; law degree, Willamette University … Lawyer; U.S. representative for Central Washington, 1993-94; state representative, Yakima, 1989-92; former board member, Yakima Valley Hospital … Married, three children Finances: Raised $410,000 as of Sept. 5. Why he’s running: “I’ve got the motivation and the experience it will take to develop the best education system possible.” What he’d do first: “I would lead a group in an effort to develop a legislative plan to assure that every child has a career vision and the chance to realize that career.”