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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

With events planned across the country, Inslee insists Washington will continue to have his full attention

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks during the Associated Press Legislative Preview, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Inslee has said he will remain focused on the state, despite a roster of upcoming events elsewhere across the country. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
By Ryan Blake Correspondent

OLYMPIA – Despite adding trips to New Hampshire and Nevada to his January schedule, Gov. Jay Inslee pushed back Thursday against suggestions he won’t have his full attention on Washington when the Legislature starts next Monday.

“I have a fantastic story to tell, and that’s the story of Washington state,” Inslee said of his plans to speak at events around the country. He hasn’t officially announced a run, but is exploring adding his name to a growing pool seeking the Democratic nomination.

This weekend he will be the keynote speaker to a conference of progressive activists in Nevada. On Jan. 22, he will talk about fighting climate change to two colleges in New Hampshire. He has registered a political action committee, the Vision PAC, with the Federal Election Committee and started accepting contributions.

Washington has a strong economy, a high gross domestic product, is taking the lead in climate change and early childhood education, Inslee said at the annual preview of the upcoming legislative session. In recent weeks he has announced programs for pardoning misdemeanor marijuana convictions, expanding education and saving orcas. He’s had so many recent announcements he forgot one and had to ask staff for help.

“Public health,” he added after a staff reminder. “We announced our public health option just a couple days ago.”

But he will continue to “get the job done here,” he said.

Republican legislative leaders at the annual preview were skeptical.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, of Ritzville, said Inslee’s policies are geared more toward Iowa than Washington. Iowa is the home of the nation’s first presidential primary, and a place Inslee has already visited.

“I think this is going to be a really good year for the lieutenant governor because he’s going to get that 70 percent bump in his salary every day the governor is gone,” he said with a laugh.

“I’m sure that we will function, but I also think it does make it more difficult to really concentrate on good government when you’ve got a lot of people that are looking at the next position,” said Rep. J.T. Wilcox, House minority leader.

Inslee defended his proposed capital gains tax on investment profits of more than $50,000 for a couple, saying it would affect only the top level of investors. The tax – which is estimated to raise nearly $1 billion in the 2021 fiscal year – is the fairest way to pay for ambitious programs in his budget proposal, he said.

House and Senate Republican leaders called the tax a step toward a state income tax. Schoesler called it a kind of “bait and switch” and opposed the tax.