Arrow-right Camera
Go to e-Edition Sign up for newsletters Customer service
Subscribe now

This column reflects the opinion of the writer. Learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column.

Opinion >  Column

Sue Lani Madsen: Inslee’s making big strides - backward

In the middle of his third term and equivocating about an unprecedented fourth term, this was Gov. Jay Inslee’s cheerful New Year’s tweet:

“Goodbye, ’22; hello ’23. We’ve made important strides forward on several difficult issues: homelessness, climate change, choice, equity, gun violence, the pandemic. Together I know we can make good things happen in the new year.”

Let’s look at those strides since he first took the oath of office in January 2013.

According to the 2012 HUD Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, Washington’s homelessness rate dropped 12.6% over the previous five years, putting us in the top five states for strides forward at the beginning of Inslee’s tenure. But by November 2015, rising homelessness led Seattle and King County to declare a state of emergency. In HUD’s 2022 report, Washington made the list of five states with the largest increase, with a homelessness rate up by 7.8%.

Big strides. Backward.

“What was stopping you for the first 10 years?” KIRO host Brandi Kruse asked last week in a live interview.

“Obviously, wasn’t helpful when I had a Legislature under Republican control that wouldn’t pay a dollar to see a mouse eat a bale of hay so that made it a little more difficult early in my term,” Inslee said.

The Washington Legislature hasn’t been under Republican control since 1997-1998 and blaming Republicans is as ridiculous as the mouse analogy when the last Republican governor left office in 1985.

Inslee pivoted the interview to push his $4 billion housing bond as “fundamental” to solving homelessness and a backlog of unmet housing need. Might have been wise to consider that before declaring in March 26, 2020, “Construction is not considered to be an essential activity.” No surprise that shutting down half the construction season in 2020 meant not as many houses in 2022.

Mental health and chemical addiction are fundamental issues for the hardest to house. So surely we’ve made great strides on mental health care.

Or not. Western State Hospital lost its federal certification in 2018 after what was described by a Seattle Times editorial at the time as the Legislature “throwing money at the problem.” The problem was management, not money, and the editorial board concluded by saying, “Almost six years into his tenure as governor, Inslee deserves the blame for the state’s mental health debacle that his administration has lacked the urgency to address for too long.”

But hey, climate change, that’s his gig, right? Must be making strides forward there. According to his 2008 book, “Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy,” by now Washington should be a solar generation powerhouse, public transit ridership will be up, but coal-fired generators will still be operating.

Except according to an analysis from Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center, solar power is about 14% of Inslee’s predicted boom. Public transit ridership is down and not on track to double by 2028. And Inslee completely missed the shift to natural gas power generation.

Granted, it’s hard to predict the future. How about monitoring the present? Gov. Inslee launched Results Washington in 2013 to track progress on sustainable energy and a clean environment, announcing “Results Washington will give us the data we need to learn from what is working, fix what’s broken and direct resources to our most important priorities.”

Except check the Results Washington website in 2023 and it says, “We are currently working to identify relevant metrics for each goal area. We plan to publish these metrics by the end of 2022.” No dashboard, but in 2018 KUOW reported: “Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions rose 1.7% in 2016 and remained virtually unchanged in 2017, at 97.5 million tons.”

Striding right along like a mouse dodging to evade a hawk.

How about choice? Not vaccine choice, of course. Washington made access to abortion legal before Roe v. Wade and nothing has changed. I have no problem with abortion being legal as long as we also agree on a date acknowledging it’s a human life being aborted. Women can be trusted to make choices within the same ethical framework as we accept for any end-of-life decision.

In 2023, Inslee testified for a constitutional amendment to make abortion always legal for any reason. In a news release after the hearing, Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said, “As we saw during testimony today on this divisive and controversial proposal, 622 people signed up against SJR 8202, while only 325 were in favor of it. … I think most Washingtonians, even those who generally support abortion, would find this proposal too extreme and unacceptable.”

Equity? Hard to accept Gov. Inslee has a commitment to equity after 975 days of rejecting legislative input on inequitable outcomes of his dictates.

Gun violence? According to the Washington Association of Sheriff’s and Police Chiefs annual reports, aggravated assault has gone up every year since 2012. Assaults with “personal weapons” (hands and feet) exceeded assaults with firearms through 2020. In 2021, firearms use in aggravated assault jumped by 1.9 times and passed personal weapons in raw numbers. Consensus on why may be difficult, but trends are clearly striding in the wrong direction.

Then there’s the pandemic. The Mountain States Policy Center compared five Western states – Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming – and concluded Washington had a lower rate of population affected by COVID-19. That’s a step forward.

But if one considers the lifelong impacts of educational losses due to lengthy shutdowns of in-person learning, Washington takes a step back. Was it a fair tradeoff? The same report points out the economic hit: We ranked in the top 12 nationally in unemployment.

Which reminds me, how much of that hundreds of millions of dollars did Inslee’s Employment Security Department get back from the Nigerian scammers? That was a real step backward.

Contact Sue Lani Madsen at

More from this author