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Jay Inslee Drops Presidential Bid, Will Seek Third Term As Washington Governor

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at the Iowa Demcocratic Party’s Hall of Fame event on June 11, 2019 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. CREDIT: JOHN PEMBLE / IOWA PUBLIC RADIO


Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will run for a third term, seeking to become only the second governor, and the first Democrat, in state history to serve three consecutive terms.

The 68-year-old, two-term Democrat made his plans official on Thursday morning, just hours after  announcing he was ending his nearly seven month bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. The Associated Press was the  first to reportInslee’s intention to seek a third term.

“It has been a profound honor to represent our state on the national stage in the presidential race,” Inslee said in an email to supporters. “I want to continue to stand with you in opposing Donald Trump and rejecting his hurtful and divisive agenda, while strengthening and enhancing Washington state’s role as a progressive beacon for the nation.”

The Washington State Republican Party quickly pounced on Inslee’s candidacy.

“Our failed Governor and failed presidential candidate, Jay Inslee, is running for a third term,” wrote Caleb Heimlich, the party chairman, in an emailed statement. “Americans didn’t want him, and it’s hard to find a reason why Washingtonians would want him back.”

The email went on to blame Inslee for the state’s homelessness crisis, opioid epidemic, traffic congestion, issues at the Department of Corrections and the loss of federal funding for Western State Hospital.

So far, the Republican Party has not put forth a high-profile candidate to challenge Inslee. However, a handful of lesser-known Republicans have announced plans to run, including state Sen. Phil Fortunato of Auburn and Loren Culp, the police chief of Republic, Washington.

Inslee enjoys several advantages going into a re-election race, including the fact Washington hasn’t elected a Republican governor in nearly 40 years. But a third term also would prove a historic anomaly. Since statehood only one governor, Republican Dan Evans, has served three consecutive terms, from 1965 to 1977. Prior to that, Gov. Arthur Langlie, also a Republican, served three non-consecutive terms.

In 1964, Democrat Albert Rosellini unsuccessfully sought a third term. He lost to Evans.

In his email to supporters, Inslee touted “multiple accomplishments,” including a first-in-the-nation public option health insurance plan and net neutrality law, as well as “historic investments in public schools, teacher pay, and infrastructure.”

“We’ve made incredible progress together, but there’s much more to do,” Inslee said in his email.

By running for a third term, Inslee is effectively scuttling, at least for now, the ambitions of several of his fellow Democratic officeholders who intended to seek higher office if he didn’t run. They include Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Shortly after Inslee confirmed his plans, Ferguson announced that he will seek a third term as attorney general.

In this file photo, Jay Inslee speaks with reporters following an appearance in January at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire. CREDIT: AUSTIN JENKINS / NW NEWS NETWORK

“I support Governor Inslee’s re-election, and I will pursue another term as Attorney General,” Ferguson said in a statement, before appearing with Inslee at a previously scheduled news conference in Seattle to discuss the Trump administration’s so-called “gag rule” related to Title X funding and abortion referrals.

In turn, Noah Purcell, Ferguson’s solicitor general, confirmed he will suspend his  exploratory campaign for attorney general.” I feel fortunate that I have a job I love where I get to have a big impact,” Purcell said in an interview. “I’m happy to stay in that role and keep doing the work we’ve been doing.”

Purcell has played a front-and-center role in several high profile lawsuits against the Trump administration and its policies, including the first so-called “travel ban” restricting travel from mostly Muslim countries.

Seattle City Council member Lorena Gonzalez also announced that she would not run for attorney general.

Inslee’s quick pivot to a third campaign for governor came as he abruptly ended his bid for president, which  he launched March 1 in Seattle after months of speculation.

While he never ruled out a run for a third term, Inslee appeared primarily focused in recent months on his presidential ambitions. He was  frequently gone from the stateas he traveled extensively to early primary states. That travel came with a cost to taxpayers who had to foot the bill for his state patrol security.

Inslee ran on the singular issue of combating climate change and released a number of detailed plans, totaling 200 pages, for how he would address the issue if elected. In fact, on the day he dropped out of the race, he released his sixth and final installment, titled “Growing Rural Prosperity.” Inslee’s policy proposals, widely praised among environmental and climate activists, also addressed issues of environmental justice and outlined aggressive plans to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade.

While never a frontrunner, Inslee was rewarded with coveted slots on the early debate stages during which he  confronted former Vice President Joe Biden over climate change, called President Donald Trump a “white nationalist” and said the president represented the “biggest threat” facing the United States.

In the end, Inslee amassed the required 130,000 donors to qualify for the next round of debates. But he fell short of the second requirement that he poll at 2 percent or better in four polls approved by the Democratic National Committee. In fact, Inslee never got above 1 percent.

Facing the reality of being knocked off the debate stage, as well as not getting to participate in CNN’s upcoming town hall event on climate change, Inslee exited the campaign with an announcement on the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC.

I know you agree that our mission to defeat climate change must continue to be central to our national discussion — and must be the top priority for our next president. But I’ve concluded that my role in that effort will not be as a candidate to be our next president. pic.twitter.com/Kp8WejuVJy

— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) August 22, 2019

“It’s become clear that I’m not going to be carrying the ball, I’m not going to be the president, so I’m withdrawing tonight from the race,” Inslee said Wednesday evening.

In doing so, Inslee claimed credit for elevating the issue of climate change among his fellow Democratic candidates and vowed to continue to press his party on that issue.

“Together, we changed and shaped the entire national dialogue around climate change,” Inslee wrote in an email to supporters announcing the end of his presidential campaign.

Following his announcement, several Democratic presidential candidates praised Inslee for his short-lived campaign, including Biden  who tweeted that the governor “brought an important voice to this race, arguing powerfully that climate change damages our health, national security & economy.”

Underscoring the suddenness of Inslee’s departure from the race was the fact that, by Thursday morning, his website  had switched over from a presidential campaign site to one touting his gubernatorial re-election bid.

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Copyright 2019 Northwest Public Broadcasting

Austin Jenkins
Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."