OLYMPIA — Jay Inslee launched his campaign for governor 11 months ago with some vague and inconclusive policy statements. He’s still leaving a lot to the imagination.
With just three months before Washington state’s primary election and six months before voters will choose the next governor, Inslee demurred on several issues during an interview with The Associated Press, leaving uncertainty on how he would handle taxes, transportation, immigration and marijuana policy.
The Democrat’s fuzzy statements on how he would handle the state’s school system also contributed recently to an education advocacy group endorsing Republican rival Rob McKenna. Shannon Campion, the executive director of Stand for Children who says she typically supports Democrats, said the group was impressed by McKenna’s “clarity and specificity” and found that Inslee lacked detail in his policy positions, how he would work to implement them and what track record he had of being a change agent.
“In all three of those areas, with no disrespect to the congressman, we just didn’t feel that the level of deep thinking on these issues or the thoughtfulness on how to execute as governor was there,” Campion said. Stand for Children backed Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire in 2008.
Inslee’s unclear policy views come on other issues in which McKenna has voiced explicit positions, even on some that would be unpopular with his fellow Republicans. Here are some of their opinions, as described in AP interviews:
• Inslee said the state needs to find a way to fund major transportation projects but that he doesn’t have a proposal on how to pay for them and wasn’t ready to support any sort of tax package. McKenna said he supports sending voters a tax package to pay for projects in the next couple of years, though he wasn’t sure yet what would be included in it.
• Inslee wouldn’t commit to a position on whether the state will use more toll roads, though he said they can’t be taken off the table. McKenna said tolls will be necessary to rebuild large transportation facilities, specifically mentioning the 520 bridge.
• Inslee didn’t have a position on whether Washington should require proof of legal residence to get a driver’s license, saying he would seek a bipartisan solution to address that issue, though his spokesman later said that he only supports requiring a person to show that they live in the state. McKenna said he thinks the state should require proof that their residency is legal, noting that Washington is one of only two states that don’t.
The former congressman has been forthcoming on other matters. He declared his support for same-sex marriage, for example, before the issue came up this year in the Legislature. He’s also proposed specific ideas such as a $4,000 tax credit for small business hiring.
On education, the group Stand for Children has touted charter schools along with McKenna, but Inslee thinks the state can pursue innovative teaching within the existing system by using a competitive grant program to incentivize new ways of instruction. He also wants to shift more resources to education by growing the economy, finding savings in state medical costs and improving state government efficiency.
“Jay Inslee has offered a detailed set of proposals to improve Washington schools,” said Inslee spokesman Sterling Clifford. “He sought consensus in preparing the plan, and Jay’s proposals have been praised by all sides of the education debate.”
Along with not taking positions on some issues, other statements from Inslee have been inconclusive. Asked whether he would support moving the state from a sales tax to an income tax, Inslee didn’t give a “yes” or “no” answer.
“I am not proposing an income tax for the state of Washington,” he said.
When a reporter followed up and asked whether he might propose an income tax in the future, Inslee repeated his answer by focusing on the past and present.
“I’m not proposing an income tax, and I did not support an income tax in the last election cycle,” he said. McKenna said he opposed an income tax.
Along with the governor’s race, voters this year are likely to decide on a major initiative that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Inslee said last year that he opposed the measure, but walked that back a bit in an AP interview last month by saying he had recently had a conversation with some people about it.
“From what I know right now, it is not my intention to vote for it,” he said. McKenna was a firm “no” vote on the measure.
Inslee also said he wants do something to prioritize law enforcement resources so that government doesn’t spend so much money on marijuana interdiction. He noted that California has an approach that treats minor marijuana possession as a civil infraction instead of a crime, though he said that’s not something he’s currently supporting.
“I would consider some other approaches that don’t amount to legalization,” Inslee said. “But I want you to know I’m not proposing it right now. I haven’t reached any concrete conclusions on that.”