Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee, whom many speculate may run for governor in 2012, delivered a speech at a Democratic banquet Saturday night that sounded much like a campaign stump, promising jobs and taking a shot at his likely gubernatorial competition, Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna.
“We are the party who respects all work and who respects all workers,” Inslee told about 470 people gathered at the Hilton Vancouver Washington for the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, a major fundraiser for Clark County Democrats. “We know what our task is: jobs, jobs and jobs for the middle class.”
Gov. Chris Gregoire has not yet said if she’ll run for a third term; should she decide not to do so, Inslee, the state’s 1st District representative since 1999, is among a short list of names that come up as a possible successor.
Inslee shared his support for President Obama’s health care plan, a contrast to McKenna, who sharply criticized the Affordable Care Act when he spoke in March in Vancouver to a sold-out Republican fundraising event. McKenna announced last week he will run for governor.
“If you see Rob McKenna down here … tell him to keep his hands off the health care of the men and women of the United States of America,” he said to strong applause from the crowd. “We are the team that believes in value rather than volume in health care.”
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell also made a surprise appearance, asking for support in her 2012 re-election campaign.
“We all know how important it is for us Democrats to stick together — the future of the country is at stake,” Cantwell said.
She said the re-election of Senator Patty Murray last year “sent a big message” to Washington D.C., and she hopes winning next year — and seeing freshman Republican Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler ousted — will do the same.
“I want to win Clark County, I want to win the 3rd District, and I want to take a new Congressperson back with me,” Cantwell said.
Newly appointed state Rep. Sharon Wylie, who will face Republican Craig Riley this fall to keep her seat, also asked her party to back her at the event. State Sen. Craig Pridemore and Rep. Jim Moeller gave speeches, as well.
Both Cantwell and Inslee expressed their support for the Columbia River Crossing, the proposed mega-project that would include a new Interstate 5 bridge, five interchange improvements and bring light rail into downtown Vancouver at an estimated cost of $3.6 billion.
“When this bridge gets built across the Columbia River, it’s going to be because Democrats … are going to find a way to finance this bridge,” Inslee said. “This is an economic issue for Clark County.”
Inslee, 60, gave his full support to union workers, as well, calling them the base of the middle class.
“When we see organized rights attacked, this is an attack on the middle class,” he said. “Tell (Wisconsin Gov.) Scott Walker: Don’t be mad at a first grade teacher, be mad at the Wall Street banker that caused this collapse.”
The congressman also criticized deep cuts to the state’s education budget and the 30 percent high school dropout rate in Washington, calling them “simply unacceptable.”
During his more than 10 years in Congress, Inslee said, he’s fought to see jobs in the renewable energy field created all over the country, and that he will continue to try and bring that work to Washington.
Democrats, he said, have a legacy of creating a state that is “a great place for our children to grow up in. But, it’s the Democrats who must fulfill a future of economic growth.
“(Republicans) are not creating jobs, they are destroying jobs with their policies,” Inslee said. “I am committed, as is the Democratic party, to a destiny of unsurpassed job creation.”
Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542, andrea.damewood//www.twitter.com/col_cityhall.