On Friday morning about 150 supporters (and journalists) crowded into A & R Solar's small warehouse in south Seattle to watch Governor Jay Inslee announce his run for president. Standing before a solar panel rig draped with his campaign logo, Inslee opened up his speech with a comment on the weather.
"We have the sun raining down on us at a solar facility in Seattle, Washington. It's pretty hard not to be optimistic on a day like this."
A & R workers looked on from an elevated loading dock. Many local officials made an appearance. King County Executive Dow Constantine and Attorney General Bob Ferguson observed from the warehouse floor, ready to wrestle each other for the mic and declare their own gubernatorial runs in case Inslee decided to announce any plans to abandon his post. City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda introduced the governor, calling him "the green governor of Washington state." Though he thankfully holds no office, even Tim Eyman showed up in one of his freshest lime green long-sleeves. He was denied entry early on, though. I think it had something to do with the fact that he was rolling in with a guy who was wearing a chicken suit.
From the stage, Inslee pointed out Jim Whittaker, the first American to climb Everest. Though he claimed he's only summited Mount Rainier, Inslee admitted feeling some kinship with Whittaker given the steep hill he'll have to climb if he even wants to make it to the Democratic debate stage in June.
But he also mentioned some absences, noting that his grandchildren had to skip the event because today was Dr. Seuss day at their school. My hunch is that he's executive ordering every instructor in the state to read The Lorax at story time, though I cannot confirm.
During the speech Inslee framed the fight against climate change in appropriately apocalyptic terms, repeating a line from his campaign video: "We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and the last generation who can act."
He went on to show how climate change touches every other issue, including national security ("wars for oil must be over," he said), transportation, racial inequality, jobs, and the economy.
Promising to make the fight against climate change "the number one priority in the United States of America" should he be elected president, he pledged to manufacture electric cars in Michigan, build wind turbines in Iowa, and install solar panels in Washington. He held up A & R as an example of a company of the future, having built up from a small operation with 2 employees to its current staff of 70.
Inslee also vowed to take no money from fossil fuel companies and said he wouldn't spend "a nickel" of taxpayer dollars on subsidies for them either. "That gravy train is over," he said.
All was going well until he started lauding the accomplishments of his home state. "Want to see a Washington that actually works? Look west to Washington state," he said. He listed recent advances from Democrats in the legislature to support the point, including a bill that would officially abolish the death penalty, securing paid family leave, pardoning a handful of people with marijuana convictions, expanding voting rights, and his push to establish the Clean Energy Fund.
All of that is great. But I wouldn't wish Washington's problems on any other state. We're in the middle of severe housing and homelessness crises, our mental health system is broken, we're underfunding education in the tens of millions, statewide public transit is dismal, and the orcas are dying. My eyeballs almost rolled completely out of my head when he said the state grew "from the middle out" as opposed to "suffer[ing] from trickle down." Washington has the most unfair tax code in the country, and Democrats are in the legislature right now balking at the possibility of instituting some extremely modest tax increases on the state's wealthiest people. It's embarrassing.
In a press scrum afterward, Inslee promised to release a more "comprehensive plan" than the four-point "Climate Mission" he rolled out this morning, though he didn't say whether he plans to tax polluters. "The one thing we've learned is there are multiple ways to skin this cat," he said. "Whether or not it involves some kind of carbon pricing remains to be seen. I would not take them off the table."
He also addressed concerns that he can't run for office and serve as governor at the same time by pointing to the advancement today of a bill that removes fossil fuels from the state's energy grid. He claimed his work with state legislators helped to move that bill along.
But isn't he really just running for Secretary of the Interior? "Look, I know what we need, I've known it for decades," he said. "We need a president who will rally this nation to a cause... I heard John F. Kennedy blow this bugle and ask the nation to raise our aspirations. And the nation responded. And I intended to blow that bugle again for a new great national mission."
Inslee is enjoying plenty of polite but also enthusiastic support for his bid—from Democrats, at least. When I asked Attorney General Bob Ferguson if the governor had his endorsement, he said, "Heck yes! That's easy."
While wandering around the capitol building in Olympia yesterday, I asked several Democratic Senators if they'd endorse Inslee for president as well.
"Of course I'm going to endorse Jay," said State Senator Mona Das outside the Senate floor. "He's our governor. He's done a great job for the climate, and I'm a big fan."
Sen. Marko Liias of Lynnwood counted Inslee as "one of [his] favorite candidates" in the race so far, and said he'd be "happy to support [Inslee] if he's the nominee."
State Senator Guy Palumbo praised the governor, saying, "Somebody's gotta make this an actual issue and run on it and win on it, and he's the guy to do it."
Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, who was sipping from a cup of coffee outside his office, said, "I think the Governor running for president is a good thing for Washington state because it allows a spotlight to be shown on all the important things we've done here... This is an opportunity for someone to go out on the national stage and help show the leadership of Washington and the important policies we've passed here."
As he walked away from me, an aide saddled up beside him and whispered something in his ear. Sen. Billig then promptly turned around, walked back to me, and said, "The governor certainly has my vote, if I get a chance to vote for him for president!"