Politics & Government

Gov. Inslee says he’s focused on the state as speculation swirls about presidential bid

Amid speculation that he’ll run for president, Gov. Jay Inslee laid out his goals Thursday for the upcoming Washington legislative session, which starts its run Monday.

Inslee, a Democrat, said he was optimistic that issues such as early childhood development and behavioral health reforms will have full support from both sides of the aisle. Inslee might find some of his other proposals, including a controversial capital gains tax, having difficulty passing the Legislature.

At a legislative preview sponsored by the Associated Press, Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, was critical of some of Inslee’s proposals and took a shot at the governor over speculation he might run for the White House.

“Gov. Inslee’s policies may be geared more towards Iowa than Washington state,” said Schoesler, referring to Iowa’s presidential caucuses and Inslee’s most recent trips there.

There are concerns among some that Inslee’s focus won’t be on Washington but on a presidential bid should he decide to pursue one.

“It’s difficult to focus on issues when we look too far in the future,” said House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm.

Inslee shrugged off critics who say his policy proposals are meant to appeal to a national audience.

“These are issues that I’ve had deep in my heart for 30 years,” he said.

Inslee took the opportunity Thursday to tout some recent actions.

In December, he announced the formation of the Southern Resident Orca Task Force, a recovery program aimed at saving Puget Sound’s dwindling killer whale population. Last week he introduced the Marijuana Justice Initiative, which would pardon those who have misdemeanor marijuana convictions on their records.

Inslee said he hopes to tackle more during the 2019 session.

Climate change is at the top of the list, including pushing cleaner transportation fuels and having more transportation options available. Such measures would put Washington on track to having lower carbon emissions, he said.

Behavioral health is another major issue facing the legislature this year, the governor said, as is fulfilling the final terms of the education-funding reform tackled by the Legislature during last year’s session.

Inslee said he’s optimistic legislators will reach agreement on the most important issues.

He added that Washington is seen as a leader on progressive policies like family leave and pay equity, and that he shares stories of “the Washington way” in his travels.

“The Washington way can produce spectacular economic growth,” Inslee said.

Related stories from Tacoma News Tribune