Jay Inslee: Future governor?
  • Jay Inslee: Future governor?

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Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee promises that big things are coming. Big, bold, even controversial things that piss off some people. "I will be a stand-up guy that will take positions that show some spine and some backbone," he tells The Stranger's editorial board in a meeting this afternoon.

True, Inslee's run for Washington State governor has been upstaged by Republican Rob McKenna's telegenic campaign kickoffs (several of them), to say nothing of McKenna's regular appearances on TV and radio to crusade against child exploitation and gangs. But Inslee, meanwhile, says he's is quietly calculating the time and ways to begin spending millions of dollars on his "mass communications" campaign.

"When it does happen, you are going to see differences between the candidates," Inslee explains. Already, he's out-'n-proud for marriage equality and willing to call McKenna's anti-gay agenda "divisive." He's prepared to defend unions against union-busting. And he's "willing to push a confrontation" with the feds to approve laws that provide access to medical marijuana. He even opposes state budgets based on cuts and staunchly supports new revenue (i.e., taxes), which would all be positive changes that create a strong contrast with our sitting governor, Chris Gregoire.

But, while he's saying plenty of things that resonate in liberal ears, Inslee is extremely vague on some key state issues: "You have a candidate who, when he is governor, will do what is necessary to fund the paramount duty to fund education and not eliminate the social safety net," he promises. "You will see that I am the guy willing to do it."

Where, though, would he find that funding to balance the budget? Inslee hedged: "First off, I walk a fine line because I don’t want the governor's contest to make the legislature's life more difficult than it is already," he said in deflecting our questions. He would commit to avoiding an all-cuts budget, but the most we could extract about his strategy was his support for closing tax loopholes for Wall Street Banks and generically supporting green job creation. Could he name any details?

"I have decided not to articulate more than that at this time," he said.

Would closing bank loopholes be enough (although the state budget shortfall is roughly $1.5 billion this year, bank loopholes would save only about $100 million a year)?

"I don’t know the answer."

How about an income tax for the wealthy?

"I do not intend on doing that," he said, explaining that an income tax initiative failed in 2010. "That is a pretty clear message to someone who is going to be governor in the near future."

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(That opposition to taxing the rich stands somewhat at odds with the Occupy Wall Street-esque speech Inslee delivered a few moments before, when he said, "Given the enormous decline of the middle class and the given the fact that we have a dangerous-to-Democracy schism between the haves and have nots, and given the international economy today is driving us into two separate societies, we need to have a tax plan that reduces the disparity and helps the middle class.")

His position on pot is also somewhat stupefying. "I am not advocating full decriminalization at this time," he said when asked about an initiative to tax and regulate marijuana. Has he ever smoked pot? "That is an interesting question. Yes." Should he have gone to jail? "I never really though about that. Probably not."

Frustrating, perhaps, but calculated. Inslee says he intends to scrape up votes around the state—in Yakima and Tri-Cities and places where Democrats don't even normally go looking for votes. His theme is jobs (especially green jobs), based on his track record as a Congressman. And therein lies the discipline of a campaign that refuses to embrace agendas that may be popular "in the shadow of the Space Needle," as he repeatedly put it. He says he'll show spine—but 10 months from the Election Day, on hot-button issues like the state budget and taxes that Seattle may obsess over, his spine is short on details.