Gore said he won’t be endorsing a candidate in 2020—at least not yet. But he is eager to see Inslee’s candidacy and how it will boost the conversation about climate change.
“This election in 2020 is almost certainly going to be different from any previous presidential election in that a number of candidates will be placing climate at or near the top of their agenda,” Gore said. “I think that by the time the first primary and caucus votes are cast a year from now, you’re going to see a very different political dialogue in the U.S.”
Inslee wants to be the climate guy. But some of the people around him worry that if he is actually going to do this, he can’t be only the climate guy—written off as an issue candidate who’s not a serious contender to be president. In a field this big, with candidates running hard against Trump, the rest of the field could try to pigeonhole him as a flake who’s not really part of the top tier.
Inslee’s answer to that anticipated attack is “the other Washington”: the experiment in progressive governance that he’s led for the past six years that’s cut against the conventional wisdom of economics. On his watch, the state has boosted health care, increased access to early-childhood education and college, raised the minimum wage, expanded paid family leave, invested in infrastructure, and established in-state net neutrality, all while leading the country in job growth, overall personal-income growth, and GDP. As other states shed residents, people are moving to Washington. It’s hard to drive through the parts of Seattle where Amazon has sprouted neighborhoods of coffee shops and artisanal seafood kitchens and argue that the lefty policies Inslee’s been pushing have had the kind of economic downside that their opponents always warn they will.
“We have blown up that myth,” Inslee said. “That’s a fundamental message that many Democratic politicians can talk about, but I have the unique ability to show the proof in the pudding that we’ve actually done this.”
Mark Schoesler, the Republican state-Senate leader, says Inslee is trying to claim credit he doesn’t deserve. “I don’t think things would be appreciably different if he never would have been elected governor,” Schoesler says. “Market forces, consumer demands, commonsense policies would have done about the same thing that we’ve had under six years of Jay Inslee.”
Schoesler argues that Inslee is incidental to most of the state’s environmental policy, too. Inslee calls this kind of argument sour grapes coming from an out-of-touch Republican.
Inslee’s voice, even on the attack, sounds like he’s constantly marveling, his midwestern accent from a few generations back crossed with the northwestern spruce trees. He has an ever-present good-natured goofiness. He likes to brag that Washington has “the best weed in the United States of America,” and he paints Christmas books for his grandchildren every year. (In the 2017 edition, he and his wife, Trudi, his high-school sweetheart, appear as colorful bears.)