Washington state voters have not elected a Republican governor since 1980, but GOP leaders said Gov. Jay Inslee’s failed presidential campaign gives them hope that the electorate will deny him a third four-year term.
A day after ending his nearly six-month race for the White House, Inslee made it official on Thursday that he will seek re-election in 2020.
If he wins, he would become the first governor to secure a third term since Dan Evans, a Republican who served from 1965 until 1977. Given that the state is reliably “blue” in statewide elections, Inslee is considered a heavy front-runner in a year when turnout is expected to be heavy.
In an email to supporters Thursday morning, Inslee said: “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. Which is why I’m announcing today my intention to run for a third term as Washington’s governor.”
State Rep. Drew Stokesbary, an Auburn Republican who is weighing a run for governor, said state spending has ballooned under Inslee’s watch, he has proposed billions of dollars in taxes, and drug use and homelessness have “gotten really bad” in downtown Seattle.
“Jay has been more focused on running for President than solving the issues here at home,” Stokesbary said. “Washington needs a governor who is going to prioritize this state and not his own political future.”
In his re-election announcement, Inslee touted his record on health care, education and the economy, saying he’s eager to build on it during a third term.
“We’ve created the first public option for health care in the nation, the highest increase in average public school teacher pay in the country, and the fastest growing economy in America,” he said.
Inslee also said the state has increased the minimum wage to one of the highest in the nation, provided paid sick leave for workers, and created a paid family leave program. He also listed accomplishments include protecting LGBTQI Americans from discrimination, providing affordable health care to over 800,000 state residents through Obamacare, and passing reproductive parity protections for women.
“We’re also leading the nation in tackling the climate crisis. Our efforts to protect Washington’s clean air and water, invest in people’s economic security, and stand up for the values of inclusivity and diversity have created thousands of clean energy jobs and made Washington state ‘the epicenter of resistance to Trump’s agenda,’ ” Inslee said.
Noam Lee, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, said Inslee’s decision to run for re-election is “good news” for Washington’s families.
“His ‘get it done’ style of governance is the antidote to what we see coming out of D.C., and Washington will be well served by his leadership for another four years,” Lee said.
But the Republican Governors Association said Inslee — after appearing Wednesday night on “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC to drop out of the presidential race — “wasted no time in finding a consolation prize — a run for a third term as governor.”
The RGA cited reporting earlier this month by The Seattle Times and Northwest News Network public radio that found between March 1 and the end of July, Inslee was campaigning out of state for all or parts of 90 days out of 153, or nearly 60 percent. Inslee has said he could do his work as governor “anywhere there is a cell phone and I do it.”
The reporting also found that Inslee’s frequent cross-country campaigning cost state taxpayers, in the form of travel and overtime expenses for his State Patrol security detail that totaled more than $580,000 between March and June.
“After sticking his constituents with his travel bills and bragging about governing by cellphone, it’s clear that to Jay Inslee, Washington State is just a consolation prize,” said RGA spokeswoman Amelia Chassé Alcivar.
Caleb Heimlich, chairman of the state Republican Party, accused Inslee of running for President in hopes of landing a Cabinet post if a Democrat defeats Donald Trump in 2020.
“Whether it was burnishing his resume or credentials to try to end up at the (Environmental Protection Agency) or the Department of Energy or some newly-created climate czar, it’s clear he doesn’t want the job of governor of Washington state and he’s just using it as a transition point to his next role -- and I don’t think the voters are going to respond to that,” he said.
Inslee’s campaign staff did not return messages seeking comment. But The Associated Press reported that after an event in Seattle, Inslee was asked if he would consider a Cabinet position such as head of the Environmental Protection Agency if it were offered and he said no.
“There was one position in Washington, D.C., that I thought I was interested in, and I will not be serving in that capacity,” he told reporters. “So I’m looking forward to serving as governor if people give me this option.”
Washington voters have not elected a Republican governor since 1980. John Spellman, a former King County Executive, did not win re-election in 1984.
“One-party rule is just bad for the people that the government is supposed to represent,” said Stokesbary, who was born on the final day of Spellman’s term in 1985. “You need competition. It fosters a constructive debate of ideas.”
Stokesbary said Democratic control of the governor’s office has led to large increases in state spending, a failure to take new approaches to reduce homelessness, and the federal government’s decision last year to pull annual funding of $53 million from Western State Hospital in Lakewood after the psychiatric facility failed an inspection.
So far, two Republicans have announced bids for governor: state Sen. Phil Fortunato, whose district includes parts of King and Pierce counties, and Republic Police Chief Loren Culp of eastern Washington.
Heimlich, the chairman of the state Republican Party, said the GOP will not endorse a candidate for governor before the Aug. 4, 2020 primary.
If Inslee had not run for re-election, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Hilary Franz, state Commissioner of Public Lands, had expressed interest in succeeding him.
Both said Thursday said they will run for re-election and support Inslee’s run for a third term.
Ferguson said in a statement: “I’ve spoken with Washingtonians across the state who appreciate Governor Inslee working to highlight Washington state’s leadership, including our efforts defending workers, enforcing civil rights, protecting our environment, growing our economy — and our undefeated record stopping the harmful policies of President Trump.”
Franz said: “Washington faces major challenges, in both rural and urban areas, from protecting our environment to funding schools to creating economic opportunity for all workers. Jay Inslee has been a leader in tackling one of the biggest threats we face — climate change, and that’s why I support his re-election for Governor.”
Not everyone was convinced, however. Reached for comment, House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox of Yelm said: “I think the governor broke a lot of Democratic hearts by announcing his run for a third term.”