In Our View: Inslee Prepares to Take Helm

New governor will face many challenges; he is properly focused on the economy

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How and why did Jay Inslee win the race for Washington’s governor? Historians likely would credit history: Democrats have won gubernatorial races in this state for three decades. Economists, though, might credit the economy: Inslee campaigned largely on the promise to create a “stronger and growing economy” based on innovation and “new revolutions in health sciences and clean energy technology.”

We’ll side with the economists on this one, and congratulate Inslee on his victory and wish him well as he strives to unite Washington in pursuit of an economic recovery. Inslee is the kind of forward thinker who can connect the state’s high-tech and clean-energy components with economic recovery. As he boasted about his state during the campaign: “We invent, we create and we build.” And as a former state representative from Yakima and former Congressional representative from both eastern counties and the Puget Sound area, he’s got the political bona fides to claim the governor’s mansion.

Republican challenger Rob McKenna will be the first to agree that, in this race, there is no consolation prize. But ­McKenna deserves credit for running an engaging and creative campaign of his own, drawing about 48 percent of the vote and winning 31 of the state’s 39 counties. In Clark County, the two-term state attorney general carried about 53 percent of the votes. But McKenna could not overcome the power of Puget Sound; in King County, he took only 38 percent of the votes.

Speaking of percentages, here’s one Inslee would be wise to post on the ’fridge door at the governor’s mansion: 64.3 percent. That was the voters’ approval of Initiative 1185, which requires two-thirds legislative approval of tax increases. That percentage pairs conveniently with Inslee’s declaration that he will not need to increase taxes to balance a budget. When crunch time comes, the shadow of I-1185 will be as ominous as ever.

However, so, too, will be the shadow of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, which is expected to force an increase of about $1 billion in spending on public education. Inslee campaigned on “more innovative schools,” yet he opposed public charter schools. With voter approval of Initiative 1240, charter schools now are part of the plan.

Key events will affect Inslee even before he takes office. Another state revenue forecast is due soon, and current Gov. Chris Gregoire will announce her budget in December. State agencies will make more progress on one of Inslee’s pet projects, applying “lean” management principles in ways that streamline government.

Clearly, the challenges will be many for the new governor. But as a veteran of public service on both sides of the Cascades, he has an understanding of what Washington needs. And he’s overcome obstacles in the recent past. Eleven of the state’s 12 biggest newspapers (including The Columbian) endorsed McKenna. But the only scoreboard in this race is operated by voters. And with their approval of Inslee, we wish him good luck (knowing an accelerated recovery would be more valuable to him).