U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee told a small crowd of Democratic supporters and elected officials at a Vancouver shipyard Tuesday that if elected Washington’s next governor, he’ll work to bring high-tech jobs to Southwest Washington, which continues to struggle with double-digit unemployment.
Flanked by two enormous yachts at Christensen Shipyards — one under construction, the other in for a refit — the 60-year-old Democratic congressman from Bainbridge Island vowed to use his personal influence as governor to spur innovation and boost technology business clusters across the state, including in Clark County.
Inslee also pledged to support funding for the Columbia River Crossing, calling it “one of the largest economic development proposals” in the state.
“We are still going to build a new bridge across the Columbia River so people can have more convenience in their lives and spend more time with their families,” he said. “We’re going to get that job done.”
At a Seattle press conference formally announcing his candidacy on Monday, Inslee proposed tapping the state pension fund to invest money in startup companies that pledge to remain in Washington. Inslee repeated that idea in Vancouver.
“I want to help Washington businesses get access to capital,” he said. “The state of Washington needs to start directing part of its capital to entrepreneurs.”
He cited his own work experience, from driving cement trucks to representing Hanford workers as an attorney, and said he came from a long line of “people who understand work,” including his grandfather, a mining engineer; his father, a schoolteacher; and his mother, who worked at Sears Roebuck and Co.
The state needs a leader who understands the economic challenges the state faces, he said, adding, “I am that leader.”
Inslee also vowed to address the state’s high school dropout rate, which he called “a scandal.” One out of four children who begin elementary school fail to graduate from high school, he said. If elected, he said, he would institute a “no excuses” policy to spur schools to increase their graduation rates.
“We’re going to give Washington the best-trained work force in the country,” he vowed. “That means improving K-12 schools and university education.”
He said the state will need to reduce health care costs by weeding out inefficiencies and plow those savings into education.
Inslee drew applause when he also declared, “I’m going to stand up for the right of people to have collective bargaining in the state of Washington,” and pledged to support reproductive freedom for women.
Inslee also supports gay marriage. “I’ve been married for 38 years, and I fundamentally believe that no government and no politician should deny any of my fellow Washingtonians the right to have what I have,” he told the Seattle Times.
Same-sex marriage is illegal in Washington under the state’s Defense of Marriage Act. But in an interview, Inslee said, “I’m willing to show leadership” on the issue.
Inslee’s support for emerging clean energy technologies drew praise from Brad Given, director of operations for Renewal Energy Composite Solutions, a sister company to Christensen Shipyards. RECS is developing prototypes for vertical wind turbines and devices designed to harness the power of water flowing through municipal water systems, known as hydrokinetic technologies.
“Emerging technologies, especially hydrokinetics, really need government support to take them from idea to prototype to commercialization,” Given said.
Inslee has represented the state’s 1st Congressional District, which covers Seattle’s northern suburbs, since 1999. He previously served four years in the Legislature and one term in Congress representing the Yakima area in the early 1990s, before losing in a rematch to 4th District U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings in 1994. He lost the Democratic nomination for governor to Gary Locke in 1996.
Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna is the only other announced candidate for governor in 2012 so far. Gov. Chris Gregoire announced last week that she won’t run for a third term.
Praised by Murray
In a fundraising message sent out Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., praised Inslee’s record in the House.
“As a member of the U.S. Congress, Jay has represented communities on both sides of the Cascades, so when I tell you Jay has fought for our entire state and understands our needs, he has the accomplishments to prove it,” she wrote. “Jay’s been a champion for cleaning up the Puget Sound and the Hanford nuclear reservation. He’s worked to open new markets for our apple growers and he fought side-by-side with me to make sure our state’s Boeing workers got to build the next generation Air Force tanker.”
Republican State Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur issued a statement Monday accusing Inslee of “raising taxes and running up government spending” throughout his political career. “The voters of Washington state will reject his out-of-touch politics again, just like they did in 1996 when he last ran for governor,” Wilbur said.
The Republican Governors’ Association also jumped into the race Monday. Executive Director Phil Cox praised McKenna for his record of “fighting for consumers and holding government and business accountable.” In contrast, Cox said, Inslee “has done exactly the opposite, supporting one wasteful program after another.”
State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz welcomed Inslee’s entry into the race.
“With his laser focus on growing jobs, and strong base support representing both sides of the mountain, Jay Inslee is the automatic front-runner for the Democratic nomination,” Pelz said in a statement. “What Washington needs now is a leader who knows what it takes to create jobs. Jay’s expertise in clean energy and track record of creating jobs is exactly what we need to build a working Washington.”
Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or firstname.lastname@example.org.