Inslee campaigns at local Democratic fundraiser

Candidate for governor describes future to motivate Democrats

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee touted his vision of Washington as an economic innovator during a speech to a friendly crowd Saturday evening.

The former congressman addressed the Clark County Democrats' Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, an annual fundraiser for the party. And with this year's event dubbed "Bridge to the Future," perhaps it was inevitable that Inslee gave a nod to the Columbia River Crossing -- a project for which he has signaled support. He said, "I look forward to the day" when construction starts on the $3.5 billion project, listing the types of workers who would benefit once it got off the ground.

The controversial plan -- still facing plenty of opposition locally -- would replace the Interstate 5 Bridge, extend a light rail line into Vancouver and rebuild the freeway on both sides of the Columbia River.

It's the state's history on the cutting edge that should inspire the future, Inslee said. Citing Washington-born industry leaders such as Boeing and Microsoft, he said there's no reason the state can't lead a similar charge in clean-energy technology. Inslee noted an Eastern Washing

ton solar panel manufacturer among other examples of seeds already planted for such growth.

"We understand the power of innovation," he said. "We invent. We create. We build."

To do that, Inslee stressed the need for forward-thinking schools that are ready to support future development. He pointed to Vancouver schools as an example for the rest of the state.

"We need an educational system in this state that's built for the 21st century," he said. "And we've got some work to do in that regard."

Saturday's event touched on several other issues championed by state and national Democrats this year, among them organized workers' rights and same-sex marriage. The latter will go to Washington voters as a referendum on this November's ballot.

Throughout the evening, state Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver -- a candidate for state auditor -- highlighted the local and state races going to voters this year. "This is going to be one of the most critical elections of our lifetime," he said.

Inslee characterized the gubernatorial race as a question of whether or not the state "moves forward." Inslee faces state Attorney General Rob McKenna, who hopes to be the first Republican to claim the governor's mansion in nearly three decades. McKenna spoke to a Clark County Republican Party fundraiser in March.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., gave Saturday's keynote address. Cantwell is running for re-election this year, and said Clark County will be key in deciding that race. Cantwell said she won 53 percent of the vote here in 2006.

"I need you, too," she said.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.