This Washington

Inslee Gives Campaign-Style Speech at Inauguration

New Governor Jay Inslee, who was sworn in today, talks in big themes, not specifics.

By Josh Feit January 16, 2013

Gov. Jay Inslee was sworn in this morning in the rotunda of the Capitol building in Olympia. Seattle environmental activist and Earth Day founder Dennis Hayes introduced Inslee with a grim speech filled with the kind of end-of-times stats you're more likely to hear in a Bill McKibben article for Rolling Stone or Grist.

It was a weird match for the golly-gee-whiz optimistic rhetoric we heard throughout the campaign from Inslee, who, frankly, downplayed his global warming obsession last year, opting for a pre-fab Democratic consultant campaign that focused instead on bulldozers and middle-class jobs and attacking Republicans on social issues.

Inslee's speech today simply recycled his campaign trail talking points.

After the grim stats, Hayes said Inslee was the"first political chief executive in American history to be elected principally on a platform of combating climate disruption," adding that "climate change is the most important issue of this era" and that Inslee had been "elected with a mandate on the issue."

And the invocation before Inslee's inaugural address, delivered by Dr. Reverend Dee Eisenhauer, pastor of Eagle Harbor Congregational United Church of Christ, also emphasized Inlee's environmental bent. "Thank you for blessing Jay with a passion to protect God's green earth," she said.

PubliCola is well aware that Inslee is a hyper-committed environmentalist. In fact, we endorsed him for that reason, so we were glad to see his inauguration being framed this way. Unfortunately, Inslee did not propose any new environmental legislation or programs during his speech to a joint session of the legislature today, saying only that "we have settled the scientific controversy. ... What remains is how we respond to the challenge." (What remains ... to be seen... are also some specific proposals from Inslee.)

On the environment, Inslee did echo some of Hayes' dramatic talking points. "Nine out of ten of the hottest years on record happened in the past decade," Inslee said, adding, "we’ve had epic flooding, searing drought, and devastating wildfires, including last summer’s fires in Central Washington and the rising tides along our coast."

And he had a great line about saving the planet for the future, framing this generation as "first responders" whose "children’s health is in clear and immediate danger."

Again, Inslee did not offer specifics, though, on what form that response should take. He simply reiterated his campaign talking points about embracing clean technology.

Indeed, Inslee's speech today simply recycled his campaign trail talking points on several fronts: fixing the budget by lowering health care costs and creating jobs; creating jobs by making investments in targeted industries such as high-tech and aerospace; and reforming government ("bringing disruptive change to Olympia.") He also, by the way, regurgitated his campaign trail go-to line about "having driven bulldozers in Bellevue ... and raised hay in the Yakima Valley."

As for education funding, the big issue that's on everyone's mind, Inslee only briefly touched on it with what sounded more like Majority Coalition Caucus Education Chair Sen. Steve Litzow's (R-41) solution, which emphasizes reform over funding.

Here's the entirety of Inslee's comments on the McCleary mandate:

And yes, we need to meet the funding obligations set out by the McCleary decision, but we cannot continue to allow funding debates to mask deeper problems in our schools that demand innovation and reform. I want us to be able to look our children in the eyes, knowing that we honored our commitment to provide them a world-class education. Not through gimmicks or blind allocation of money, but through systemic, sustainable reform of our schools.

During the Republicans' response, Rep. Kevin Parker (R-6, Spokane) said the Republicans would offer a bill this session to pass a separate K-12 funding bill first—before funding any other programs. However, pressed by the media to say what would get cut instead without raising taxes, the Republicans would not get specific. 

Mostly Inslee's speech focused on jobs and transportation. On jobs, "Make no mistake, our top priority today, tomorrow, and every day for the next four years, is jobs." Inslee again repeated his campaign pitch about Washington state's talent at entrepreneurship: "Innovation is in our genes," he said. "We create, we invent, we build."

His specific job proposals were also things we heard from him on the campaign trail: an R&D tax credit for early stage companies and amending laws to commercialize technologies developed at state universities, "connecting the dots from the classroom to the laboratory to the marketplace."

And as the legislture gets set to write a transporation package that's likely to go to voters, Inslee simply said: "I want us to turn our innovative spirit towards crafting a transportation package that includes roads, trains, light rail, buses, bike routes and other modes of transportation. We need ways to free capacity for freight and commerce, and rethink how we do the business of transportation in our state and how we use our transportation infrastructure."

Inslee did add one new theme, calling for gun control. Gun violence did come up briefly on the campaign trail after the Colorado movie theater shooting, which prompted Inslee to say he supported closing the gun show loophole. However, he did not repeat that specific agenda item today. (And, as we've reported, closing the loophole is not likely ... even less so now, without Inslee hyping it.) But Inslee did address the issue—ending, though, with a line about protecting the right of his uncle "to defend his home." 

In a Seattle café, in Lakewood, at the Seattle Jewish Federation, in a house in Carnation, all victims of a lethal combination of untreated mental illness, evil intent and easy access to deadly weapons. Any failure to address the issue of violence in our communities and our schools will be intolerable, and in the coming weeks I will work with the legislature to address this crisis responsibly. I don't have all the answers, but I know the sooner we reject the extremes and embrace common sense, the sooner we’ll be able to get a public health solution to this public health problem. And common sense tells us that this solution will involve mental health and keeping guns out of the wrong hands, while respecting the right for my son to hunt, and my uncle to defend his home.

The only specific legislative to-do that Inslee mentioned—which stuck out like a direct shot at the new conservative Majority Coalition Caucus—was the Reproductive Parity Act to require insurers that cover maternity care to also cover abortion.

"Washington women need the freedom and privacy to make the health care decisions that are best for themselves and their families. That’s why I look forward to the Legislature sending the Reproductive Parity Act to my desk, which I will sign."—Gov. Inslee"Washington women need the freedom and privacy to make the health care decisions that are best for themselves and their families. That’s why I look forward to the Legislature sending the Reproductive Parity Act to my desk, which I will sign. Let’s get this done." The Democratic side of the aisle gave that one a standing ovation while most members of the Majority Coalition Caucus remained seated.

Other applause line divides: Inslee's shout out to gay marriage—"this is a very special time in history for many other families ... people all across Washington stood up for fairness and family in approving marriage equality last November ... we should all be proud ... the vote on Referendum 74 represents the best of who we are as a state"—got a standing ovation from the Democrats but not most of the MCC. (His shout out to science—"We don’t deny science in Washington, we embrace it"—also got a divided reaction, with applause from the Democrats.

As for the fundamentals of Inslee's speech, the Republicans said they liked his emphasis on jobs, saying it matched the mantra they've been pushing throughout the entire recession, prioritizing job creation as the solution to the limping budget.

Rep. Richard DeBolt (R-20) offered a note of caution, though, saying Inslee's tax break solution "makes me nervous... I don't like the idea of the government picking winners and losers."

DeBolt, however, did not say he would get rid of any existing tax loopholes—government breaks that also, obviously, pick winners and losers.

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