Gov. Inslee proving to be serious player | Inside Politics

Bob Roegner - Contributed
Bob Roegner
— image credit: Contributed

After his first legislative session, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee received a significant amount of criticism from legislators, mostly Republicans, but some Democrats.

One Republican said he would be a “one-term governor,” while another said “he’s no Gregoire,” referring to former Democratic Attorney General and Gov. Christine Gregoire. Bur after his recently completed second session, the critics were less strident and Inslee has clearly become part of the action.

Gregoire received critical comments when she first started and comparing Gregoire after two terms to Inslee after a few weeks was not a fair comparison. But this time around, Inslee had his team in place, headed by a new and knowledgeable chief of staff, a list of request legislation and some hard-won experience.

While many Republicans may still want him to be a one-term governor, the chances seem significantly less. It wasn’t just that he and his staff were more prepared for the session, but it was his performance outside the Legislature in actually managing the responsibilities of state government that has lowered the volume and raised his stature.

Inslee doesn’t want to be Gregoire; he just wants to be Jay Inslee. He has his own ideas about priorities, timing, what is important and how he wants to govern. And he has put his imprint on state government in a much different but very direct manner.

But it is his actions and results that caught peoples’ attention. When the bridge over the Skagit River fell into the water, creating major traffic problems on I-5 in Skagit, Whatcom, and Snohomish counties, he had a temporary bridge up within days. This was his first major challenge and the sign on his desk “Action … this day “ held meaning.

He was just as visible and involved when the Oso slide on the Stillaguamish River killed more than 30 people. State government under his leadership responded, and responded as the public expects, with help, money and compassion.

Inslee has strong feelings about the need for better transportation, improving our education system and expanding background checks for guns, but with a split Legislature and little chance to get his agenda passed, he has used the powers of his office to make a significant difference. He announced no executions would occur while he was governor.

A political firestorm may yet come when he is up for election, but most of the immediate reaction was muted. Most consider global warming an international issue, but Inslee has brought the topic home to our front porch. He directed state agencies to reduce state need for electricity from coal by executive order.

And he appointed the states first openly gay Judge Mary Yu to the State Supreme Court. Yu is also the first Asian American to serve on our highest court. She is part Chinese and part Hispanic. It was a smart political move given his reelection needs Seattle. It was also an outstanding choice as Yu is widely respected by both parties for her intelligence.

From a political point of view, King County is still the key to winning statewide but the dynamics have changed over the years and Snohomish County has become “must win” territory.

Think about what the newspapers and television stations could have been reporting for several weeks had state government not responded so well to either the bridge collapse or the Oso slide. Inslee could have been a lame duck already. But he’s not. He is very much in the ball game.

All his actions will play well in King County and Seattle. But now he has gained ground in the three northern counties. He did have an issue with labor over the Boeing contract but that is repairable.

However, his biggest challenge may be the one he is working on now, trying to help the Democrats gain control of the state senate. If the senate remains under nominal or complete Republican control, his plans for improving the state transportation system, increasing education funding and improving our economic climate may be set back.

But Inslee is a far cry from the “one-term governor” some of his opponents had hoped for. He’s now a player.

Bob Roegner, a former mayor of Auburn: bjroegner@comcast.net.


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