The first week of the state legislature was great theater if you are following the battle for power between the two parties and the race for governor between incumbent Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Bill Bryant. You know the pot is big when both sides use big chips early. But the undercard was equally in play as the maneuvering for position in the race for governor 2020 was also visible.
Politicians rarely look a gift horse in the mouth, and the Republicans didn’t as they got a huge gift when it was discovered that a computer glitch had led to several hundred inmates being released from prison too early. To take advantage of the situation they scheduled a hearing to highlight the problem during the session’s first week. Even though many of the prisoners have since been rounded up, Republicans believe Inslee is vulnerable on the issue as some have committed new crimes during the time frame they should have still been locked up.
The computer problem may go back as far as 2002 but some key staff decisions occurred on Inslee’s watch. Several big name Republicans such as senators Andy Hill, Steve Litzow and Congressman Dave Reichert had passed on the governor’s race as they thought Inslee really had not done anything wrong and the democratic turn out would probably carry him through. However, there were several big name Democrats such as King County Executive Dow Constantine and Attorney General Bob Ferguson who were encouraged to consider a run as some Democrats thought Inslee had not moved on a progressive agenda fast enough.
But Inslee rallied the troops and began pushing a more progressive agenda and the talk quieted down.
Then everything changed with the early prisoner release announcement. It may be too late for other big name candidates to get in the race. But the issue does give the Republicans fodder and they wanted to use it. Particularly after it was learned that an assistant to Ferguson had down played the issue in consultations with the governor’s staff. The Republicans knew they had a chance to embarrass Gov. Inslee, and also get two hits on Ferguson. He is up for reelection this year as attorney general and if they knock him off now it might also take him out of the 2020 governor’s race if Bryant were to upset Inslee this fall.
However, Inslee outmaneuvered his opposition by announcing, on the same day the hearing on corrections was scheduled, that he was closing down big Bertha’s boring for the new Seattle tunnel. It has been controversial and expensive and another political distraction. Inslee’s move took the nightly news and the front page of most newspapers. The Republican hearing on the prisoner release didn’t get much play.
The issue isn’t over and is a serious political problem for Inslee. But he won the first round.
Inslee has appointed two former federal officials to investigate and report back their findings. That gives Inslee a big card to play whenever he wants, as he can announce results, firings, transfers and new ideas to make sure it won’t happen again. The Republicans will reschedule the hearing and likely announce their own investigation. You will hear more about the issue.
In addition to candidates Inslee, Bryant, and Ferguson, keep watching the politics, they will be entertaining.
And on a closing note, some of our local politicians have complained about Mr. Federal Way poking fun at them. But last week Mr. Federal Way was questioning the length of my insightful and intellectually stimulating columns. So would one of you council members stir up some trouble with the Mayor so he can get back on Mr. Federal Way’s radar?
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn: firstname.lastname@example.org