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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee made a name for himself at home and nationally as an environmental champion.
Jay Inslee, Washington state’s three-term Democratic governor and a staunch environmental advocate, announced Monday that he will not seek a fourth term next year.
“During a decade of dynamic change, we’ve made Washington a beacon for progress for the nation. I’m ready to pass the torch,” the 72-year-old governor said in a statement. Inslee is currently the longest-serving governor in the country.
“We’ve passed the nation’s best climate policies, the most successful family leave benefits, the best college scholarship programs, a more fair legal justice system, and the most protective actions against gun violence. We’ve shown that diversity is a strength worth fighting for. This has been 10 years of dynamic success,” he said.
Inslee was a frequent critic of President Donald Trump on issues ranging from immigration to gun control. During the 2018 elections, when Inslee was not up for reelection, he led the Democratic Governors Association. Democrats gained seven governorships in that election, amid a national backlash to Trump and his policies.
Inslee, who had previously served in Congress, tried to take his brand of progressive politics national with a presidential bid in 2020 that largely focused on addressing climate change. But Inslee struggled to gain traction in a crowded primary field and instead opted to run for a third term as governor.
Several staff members of Inslee’s presidential campaign created the environmental advocacy group Evergreen Action, based on his outline for how the country should confront the climate crisis.
Not long after Inslee quit the presidential race, Washington state became the first in the country to suffer a known outbreak of Covid-19. Inslee enacted strict public health measures, including vaccine mandates for state employees, that he said kept infection rates lower than in other states. But Republicans and other critics chafed at those policies.
In his announcement Monday, Inslee said he would focus his efforts during the last two years of his term on issues such as addressing homelessness in the state, expanding behavioral health services, combating climate change and “making Washington a beacon of progress for all.”
Shasti Conrad, chair of the state Democratic Party, praised Inslee for his accomplishments. “He kept us safe and secure through the coronavirus pandemic, and delivered transformational policies on climate change, economic justice and gun violence prevention,” Conrad said in a statement.
Inslee’s decision will likely set off a scramble among Democrats hoping to succeed him, with Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz among the likely contenders.
Washington Republicans, meanwhile, hope that the open seat will help the GOP win the governorship for the first time since 1980.
“It’s time to turn the page on the disastrous Inslee era in Washington state. For over a decade, Governor Inslee has taken our state in the wrong direction. His decision to not seek a fourth term presents an opportunity to elect a Republican governor who will put Washingtonians first and prioritize the needs of our communities,” Caleb Heimlich, the chair of the Washington State Republican Party, said in a statement.
Heimlich blamed the governor for the state’s persistent homelessness crisis, for lenient criminal justice policies, for worker shortages and for his “abuse of emergency powers for nearly three years, undermining the democratic process.”
Republicans held more sway in Olympia earlier in Inslee’s tenure, when Republicans controlled the state Senate. But Democrats seized control of the legislature following the 2018 elections, allowing Inslee to push through many of his top priorities. It took Inslee six years, for example, to pass major climate legislation in the state. Washington state lawmakers approved a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas pollution in 2021, following the lead of California.
Some of Inslee’s impact in state government has been less dramatic. Inslee, for example, has been a champion of “lean management” techniques that empower front-line employees to improve services and save money. The governor touted the approach early in his time in Olympia, claiming it improved services for state residents and saved taxpayers millions of dollars.
Daniel C. Vock is a senior reporter for Route Fifty based in Washington, D.C.