It’s getting harder to tell where Gov. Jay Inslee stops and presidential candidate Jay Inslee starts.
Until recently, there was a tell: When Inslee was out of the state, he was the presidential candidate. He might have been acting in some official capacity as the head of the Democratic Governors Association, but when he showed up in early presidential selection locations like Iowa, that fig leaf was fairly small.
Even before his announcement of official candidacy on March 1, staff took pains to separate gubernatorial activity, generally in the state, from campaign events, usually somewhere else. Inslee steered away from most questions about presidential politics at press conferences in his Capitol conference room, and some questions that blended the two roles – like whether Washington taxpayers should be on the hook for his security on the presidential campaign trail – were answered in as few words as possible.
In recent weeks, however, bills from a friendly Legislature have provided Gov. Inslee with in-state opportunities too tempting for candidate Inslee to pass up.
On Friday, the two personas merged as he signed a law that removes parents’ ability to refuse to vaccinate their children against measles, mumps and rubella for personal or philosophical reasons.
“We believe in science. We are against measles,” he said, blasting what he called false information spread on the internet about vaccines. “We need a national public health campaign about this issue.”
The new law will protect Washington residents but has a larger message, Inslee added. “This is a statement for America as well. The whole country can yet again be led by the state of Washington, as it has so many times.”
On Tuesday, Gov. Inslee signed a series of new state laws that supporters believe will put Washington at the point of the spear to battle climate change, which is candidate Inslee’s raison d’être for running for president.
One of the bills he signed puts Washington on track to get its electric energy from 100% “clean” sources by 2045. If that sounds familiar to people following the presidential campaign more closely than legislative news, it could be because Inslee announced a “100% Clean Energy Plan for America” five days earlier during a campaign stop in Los Angeles.
Both the national plan and the state laws he signed also involve putting more electric vehicles on the roads and more energy-efficient buildings.
On Wednesday, he reversed course on two projects that he had previously touted as good sources of jobs: a liquid natural gas facility in Tacoma and a methanol production facility in Kalama. Because of what he called emerging science on climate change, “I cannot in good conscience support continued construction” of either, he said shortly after signing bills to help preserve orcas in the Puget Sound and to restrict hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.
His lack of support wouldn’t change the regulatory process the two projects are undergoing, he added. In a press release the next day, state Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich called the change of positions “another example of how he is more concerned about pandering to Democratic presidential primary voters across the country than representing Washingtonians.”
On Friday, Inslee took issue with the possible climate change stance by former Vice President Joe Biden, the apparent front- runner for the nomination, who was reported by Reuters to be developing a “middle ground” plan of rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and resuming regulations from the Obama administration that President Donald Trump has been fighting to drop. But it won’t call for doing away with all fossil fuels, and could support “carbon capture” from coal plants, the news agency said.
In a press release, Inslee was quick to suggest Biden’s plan was being guided by politics, not science.
“Facing a crisis does not permit half measures,” he said. “If our house were on fire, we wouldn’t seek a middle ground approach to putting it out.”
Inslee’s adherence to his mantra that climate change is the top issue facing the world – and fighting it would be his top job if elected – was lampooned last week by The Onion, an online website of satirical news.
The spoof story pictured Inslee in a solar-powered mech suit, sort of a Transformer dressed up with photovoltaic panels, crashing through a wall. The story describes him as sitting in the cockpit of a “carbon-neutral exoskeleton, touting the potential of clean energy to screaming, debris-covered audience members” before leaving to blast a coal plant with a hydrogen-based cannon.
“That was fun,” said Jamal Raad, the campaign spokesman. “I think it speaks to the fact … that he is the climate change candidate in this race.”
Inslee posted the story and illustration on his campaign Twitter feed, saying he planned to debut the suit at the debates.
His spot on stage for the Democratic Party candidate debates in June and July is probable, but not guaranteed. Democrats have said they will allow as many as 20 candidates – 10 each in debates over two evenings – to participate if they meet certain criteria.
They can qualify by registering at least 1% in three or more polls conducted by designated polling companies, either in a nationwide survey or in a key early state like Iowa or New Hampshire. Inslee has met that criteria, if only just. According to the website Real Clear Politics, he has registered at 1% in national polls, including April 30 by CNN and Quinnipiac University and March 24 by Fox News.
A candidate can also qualify by having 65,000 individual donors, a goal Inslee’s campaign is approaching, Raad said, having amassed 50,000 donors in the two months since his formal campaign announcement.
“We expect to hit (65,000) soon,” he said.
But even if Inslee hits the donor level, there’s another concern for a candidate so far back in the field. With room for only 20 candidates, there are more than that who have already declared and more seem to join every week.
For candidates who meet both the polling and donor thresholds, the Democratic Party has developed a tie-breaker system that gives debate slots to candidates with the highest polling averages, dividing the top three polling results by three and rounding the average to the nearest tenth of a percentage point. The higher Inslee – or any other candidate in the back of the pack – can climb, even by a percentage point or two, in the next month could be important in breaking a tie for the last slots.
Inslee has yet to register on a qualifying poll in Iowa. On Wednesday, he’s scheduled to take his campaign fight against climate change to Davenport, Iowa, to tour damage caused by nearly two months of flooding.
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