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Inslee keeps coming up in speculation over Biden’s cabinet. Here’s why

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 11, 2020

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee announced new restrictions on restaurants and bars, along with a more extensive masking order, during a news teleconference in July.  (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)
OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee announced new restrictions on restaurants and bars, along with a more extensive masking order, during a news teleconference in July. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

The week after a presidential election, a favorite pastime for political observers recovering from their campaign hangovers is to play “Who will be in the new Cabinet?”

This year, a prime target of speculation is Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Such speculation happens even when a president is re-elected, because a Cabinet is often shaken up at the start of a second term. But it gets particularly intense when a new president is elected because that means a whole new Cabinet with so many openings and so little time before the inauguration.

Speculation about Inslee isn’t new. It started almost as soon he dropped out of the presidential race last year, when his campaign based on fighting climate change as an existential threat failed to get enough traction with Democratic voters.

Not surprisingly, the speculation centered on a job connected to climate change, such as energy secretary, interior secretary or Environmental Protection Agency head.

When Inslee announced he was running for a third term as governor, he was asked the triple hypothetical of, “If you win re-election and if a Democrat is elected president and if he or she asks you to serve in the new Cabinet, would you resign to take the job?”

He repeatedly said no, he’d serve his term as governor.

It became such common speculation that candidates for lieutenant governor were asked a quadruple hypothetical that included those three plus, “if Inslee resigns and you become governor temporarily, will you run for the full term?”

Denny Heck, who eventually won the post, said he would not. His opponent Marko Liias said the question was meaningless because Inslee said he wouldn’t take an appointment.

Last week, after the first “if” had occurred and Inslee was declared the winner of the governor’s race with about 58% of the vote, he was asked again about his “definitive no” on accepting a Cabinet post.

“That remains my position,” he said.

After Biden was projected to be the president-elect over the weekend by news organizations, several national publications waded back into Cabinet speculation.

The New York Times described Inslee as the favorite of environmental activists for the energy secretary spot and listed him first among three potential nominees.

It should be noted, however, the Times’ lists for many positions were alphabetical and the other two on their speculative list were Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist who was energy secretary in the Obama administration, and Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, a deputy energy secretary for Obama who managed federal laboratories.

Forbes magazine listed him as a possible EPA administrator.

USA Today listed him as a possible energy secretary, noting Inslee is “a former member of the House, representing the state which includes several of the department’s facilities.” Not mentioned was that he heads a state constantly suing the department over problems cleaning up one of those facilities, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Politico, an online political publication, listed Inslee for “some climate-related post,” adding that it could be a new “climate czar,” although it noted he’d just won re-election and might need “considerable wooing to lure him from his home state.” Politico had 18 head shots at the top of its story of candidates who seemed to be most likely for the various posts; Inslee’s face wasn’t among them.

An online publication for the photovoltaic industry, pv magazine, said Inslee has long been speculated as a favorite for energy secretary or climate czar, basing that on “Twitter’s collective wisdom.”

Tara Lee, Inslee’s communications director, said Wednesday they have no information on any possible Cabinet offers. Inslee was taking the day off.

The speculation is likely to continue into early next year, or as long as Cabinet posts remain open. But no one should get overly excited about it yet.

Some Spokane-area residents might recall that in December 2016, speculation was hot and heavy that Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers was in line to be the next interior secretary. Several national news organizations said it was a lock. She met with then-president-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower, and people began congratulating her on the appointment.

But she said the job was never offered to her, and Trump later picked Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke for the post.

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