Jay Inslee, the Democratic governor of Washington, announced Friday that he would enter the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, with an almost singular focus on the cataclysmic issue of climate change.
“We’re the first generation to feel the sting of climate change,” Inslee says in his announcement video, which features archival footage of the Washington Democrat discussing the issue for years. “And we’re the last who can do something about it.”
“We have an opportunity to transform our economy, run on 100% clean energy, that will bring millions of good paying jobs to every community across America, and create a more just future for everyone,” he continues.
“I’m Jay Inslee and I’m running for president because I am the only candidate who will make defeating climate change our nation’s number one priority,” he says before the video cuts to a logo that reads, “Inslee: Our Moment,” over an outline of the Earth.
Inslee, 68, is now the 11th candidate to formally declare or create an exploratory committee to run for president and the first governor to do so.
He served as a member of Congress from 1999-2012 and won his first term as governor in 2012 but only gained national notoriety at the start of the Trump administration, with Washington becoming the first state to file suit against the president’s travel ban. He has long been focused on climate issues, co-authoring the 2007 book “Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy,” creating a Clean Energy Fund in the state, and passing the largest green infrastructure investment package in Washington’s history, among other things.
Inslee went on to serve as chair of the Democratic Governors Association during the 2018 midterm cycle when Democrats gained seven governorships across the country.
By December of 2018, his PAC had brought in $112,500 in contributions and Inslee was actively exploring a run, noting in an interview with The Seattle Times that prior Democratic presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton had been essentially unknown governors prior to their successful bids.
While his electoral odds in a crowded primary are largely unclear, Inslee appears hellbent on mounting a campaign almost strictly centered on the issue of climate change. In December last year, he publicly took issue with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) assuming a position as ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, given his prior pro-coal sentiments.
In an interview with The Daily Beast last fall, Inslee was asked whether Trump’s potential reelection would effectively doom any action on climate change in the United States.
“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it’s a front-burner issue,” he said. “It’s a priority of the Democratic party. It’s a necessity for the American people and it’s a message of optimism and job creation through clean energy.”
Climate change has already become a major part of the national political dialogue, ignited in part by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) formally introducing a resolution on the Green New Deal, an economy-transforming resolution that has gained the formal backing of a number of 2020 presidential candidates.
Inslee has voiced support for it in principle but recently said that he would want to expound on its goals with specific policy prescriptions.
“This was not a policy document. It was really not meant to be,” he told The Washington Post recently. “So now people like me will issue policies to actually put meat on the bones.”
The website for his campaign features a section detailing a climate mission based on four principles: powering the economy with clean energy, investing in jobs, infrastructure and innovation, fighting for environmental justice, and ending fossil fuel giveaways. The campaign promised that a full plan will be released in the coming weeks. Additionally, Inslee’s focus will likely center on Washington raising the minimum wage, creating a progressive paid-family leave program, and passing automatic voter registration, allowing him to tout it as a “progressive beacon for the nation,” as the campaign put it.
In that same Post interview, Inslee expressed willingness to declare a national emergency on climate change if the Supreme Court upholds Trump’s emergency declaration to build a wall on the U.S-Mexico border. Similarly, he has recently advocated for killing the legislative filibuster, which will serve as an impediment to Democrats’ stated goals on health care and climate. Many of his primary opponents who serve in the Senate have not gone nearly as far in their rhetoric on the filibuster, even as the question keeps coming up among activists and voters.