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Gov. Inslee will soon spar in the first presidential debate, and he’s about as green as they come

Jay Inslee: Can a climate change crusader become president?

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee joined a crowded race of Democratic candidates for the White House on March 1. Inslee is positioning himself as the only candidate to make defeating climate change the No. 1 priority.
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Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee joined a crowded race of Democratic candidates for the White House on March 1. Inslee is positioning himself as the only candidate to make defeating climate change the No. 1 priority.

For most Washingtonians, last week’s announcement of matchups for the first round of Democratic presidential debates didn’t measure up to other springtime rites of passage, even though Gov. Jay Inslee will be a participant.

It didn’t generate the near-breathless anticipation of the Seahawks schedule being released. Nor did it attract the interest of the grandstand concert lineup for this summer’s Puyallup Fair.

Excitement for the roster of 20 candidates who qualified for the June 26-27 political double header in Miami isn’t even on level with the Seahawks preseason schedule. Perhaps that’s not surprising, considering the election’s nearly 17 months away. Heck, we haven’t yet entered the preseason for the 2020 presidential sweepstakes. It’s still the pre-pre season.

But Insee’s role as an outlier in the Democratic field continues to be fun to watch, and his selection as part of the first night’s debate panel could be a good fit. Call them the junior varsity, if you please. Or the undercard. Or the warm-up act. It’s a standing a young senator from Illinois might have shared back in 2007.

The group of 10 candidates randomly selected for the Wednesday debate doesn’t boast as many headliners as the 10 who will square off 24 hours later. Four of the five Democrats at the top of early polls are slated for the second night: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

The only top-5 poller assigned to Inslee’s group is Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Star power aside, there’s at least one reason to prefer the first debate: It sets up as a felicitous opportunity for Democrats to discuss climate change. Inslee, for his part, will have a chance to shine on national TV for a few minutes on the issue to which he’s hitched his candidacy.

That might be the best we can hope for this year, as the Democratic National Committee resists calls from Inslee and others to give climate change its own debate. What a shame. With international scientists saying “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes” are needed to save the earth from calamity, and with half of young adults surveyed acknowledging the carbon-pollution crisis, the least we can do is listen to presidential hopefuls share ideas to turn the tide.

In addition to Inslee and Warren, the first night stage will include U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas.

So far in the campaign, these three have released the most detailed and ambitious action plans to phase out greenhouse-gas emissions. They’re ahead of other Democrats on this issue, though Biden has recently joined in, and miles beyond the current administration.

President Trump has frustrated the fight against global warming by filling his cabinet with fossil-fuel lobbyists and climate-change deniers, rolling back fuel-economy standards and other Obama-era rules, and withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.

Among Democrats, Inslee stands out with his call for 100% clean, renewable and zero-emission electricity by 2035, coupled with massive investments in a clean-energy economy. Warren and O’Rourke propose variations on the theme, including trillions of dollars in new spending to prove they’re the greenest of them all. But their net-zero target is 2050.

Inslee is like a rabbit in a long-distance track meet, setting a challenging pace for more illustrious runners. The question is how many laps he can survive.

Some observers regard this trio’s ideas as bold, inspirational and potentially game-changing for our planet; others see the Democrats engaging in foolish overreach and social-engineering one-upsmanship.

Whatever your view, we see value in putting Inslee, Warren and O’Rourke together in front of a national audience. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will need to carry the best campaign-tested climate ideas into the November 2020 election and, we hope, to the White House.

There’s a far better chance this critical issue will get the airing it deserves among the second-stage candidates on June 26 than it will the next evening, when the politics of Biden vs. Bernie sucks all the oxygen from the room.

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