Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced that the top issue in his presidential primary race will be climate change. Few Democrats doubt the importance of the issue or Inslee’s commitment, but the reaction to his race, ironically, has generally been: What about all the other great things he has done?
In an interview with Inslee Monday night, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reviewed a litany of his progressive bona fides: votes in Congress for banning automatic weapons, for retaining the estate tax and against the Iraq War; successful implementation as governor of paid family leave, an increased minimum wage, the legalization of marijuana, a moratorium on the death penalty and state net neutrality; support for a state public option; and a leading role in suing the administration over the Muslim ban. “If you run on climate change,” she asked Inslee, “what are you most worried that you are leaving out?”
Inslee, who’s a more dynamic speaker than one might expect for a wonkish governor, responded with an impassioned argument that climate change is about the economy and national security as well. “What I’ve demonstrated in my state,” he said, “is we can advance a climate action agenda while doing all these other things.” But governing is about setting priorities, he says, and if this is not the top priority, it won’t get done.
All that said, Inslee isn’t shy about touting his record in Washington. His website reminds us he “created thousands of clean energy jobs, dramatically expanded voter rights, protected LGBTQI Americans from discrimination, provided affordable health care to 800,000 more Washingtonians, passed Reproductive Parity for all women, became the first state to stand up to Trump’s Muslim ban, and passed historic investments in public schools, teacher pay and infrastructure.” All these topics will come up in debates, interviews and town halls.
However, Inslee does have the opportunity both to set himself apart in the crowd candidates (the “green energy guy”) and to get his record, far more impressive than virtually all the declared candidates, in front of the voters. The argument goes like this: Climate change deniers and minimizers present a false choice between a robust economy and a sustainable environment. His record shows you can have both plus progressive policies.
In short, he has the best case to make that rather than push a Pollyanna-ish wish list like the Green New Deal, Inslee knows how to build a high-growth, progressive agenda with green energy as its central organizing principle.
We’ve bemoaned the lack of executive experience and concrete achievements in a field heretofore dominated by progressive senators chasing Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for the title of “most easily typecast as loony socialist.” That’s not Inslee. As a governor with a long track record, he need not pander to voters; he can simply tell them what he’s done.
Democrats are looking for the ideal candidate — progressive but not too progressive, experienced but not overexposed, plenty of gravitas but also a happy warrior, and forceful enough to stand up to Trump. If we use the Eric Holder test — someone with capacity, honesty, inclusiveness, vision and experience — Inslee gets high marks. Now we have to see if he can put it all together in a polished campaign and find an early state in which to beat expectations.