Washington Gov. Jay Inslee spent much of the summer running for president, but his aspirations for a third gubernatorial term will be a focal point for the 2020 legislative session.
Inslee is the first incumbent in nearly 50 years to seek a third term. He announced his reelection bid in August, a day after ending his presidential campaign. If successful, he’ll join Republican Dan Evans as one of two three-term governors in Washington history.
Over the past month, Inslee has unveiled a number of initiatives he’d like lawmakers to consider once the 2020 session kicks off today. They include a $300 million investment in combating homelessness, additional climate change legislation and a ban on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Add to that the mix of proposals lawmakers themselves bring to the party, and there will be plenty to keep them busy during the 60-day session.
Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, said the session starts off with some uncertainty on the House side, given that there’s a new speaker in town.
Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, is Washington’s first female speaker of the House. She takes over from Rep. Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, who stepped down last summer after wielding the speaker’s gavel for 17 years — the longest tenure in state history.
“So we’re dealing with a lot of unknowns,” Schmick said. “We really don’t have a good feel for what her priorities will be, what direction she’ll want to go or how well she’ll get along with Senate Democrats. We’ll be debating bills we haven’t debated in the past.”
Jinkins is a senior adviser with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. She previously served as assistant secretary of health in the Washington Department of Health and worked in the state Attorney General’s Office. She was elected to the Legislature in 2010.
“I ran for public office because I wanted to make sure all families had the same opportunities for success. That vision will be the guiding force during my service as speaker,” she said in July, after House Democrats picked her to succeed Chopp.
Her priorities could line up well with Inslee’s homeless plan, which would use $300 million in state emergency reserve funds to build 2,100 more local homeless shelter beds around the state, and to provide rental and housing assistance for another 3,000 individuals.
“It’s frustrating to be governor of the state with the most successful economy in the United States and have a homeless problem,” he said on Dec. 18, when unveiling his supplemental budget recommendation. “It’s a terrible irony. It reflects the fact that everyone wants to come to Washington. We’re a magnet for the country; we can’t build housing stock fast enough.”
Schmick, the ranking Republican on the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, noted that mental health and behavioral health issues contribute to homelessness.
The Legislature tried to address that last session by investing millions of dollars in a new teaching hospital, community treatment facilities and mental health courts.
More can be done, Schmick said, but homelessness also reflects a lack of affordable housing. That’s something that needs to be addressed at both the state and local level.
“We’ve limited the supply of housing through (local) zoning regulations and density restrictions,” he said. “The Growth Management Act also limits where we can put housing. We’ve created a monster.”
Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, was recently appointed to the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, in part to advocate for regulatory reforms.
“The fact that our state regulatory code has over 196,000 separate regulations — which is more than all but five states — tells me there’s serious need for reform. And this committee is the place to start,” he said when the assignment was announced.
Inslee is also supporting legislation this session to cut greenhouse gas emissions in Washington by 70 percent over 1990 levels by 2040, with a net zero emission target date of 2050. Other climate action measures would establish a state clean fuel standard and expand the percentage of state vehicles that are electric.
He and the Legislature have previously wrangled over this issue. The House and Senate, for example, are currently suing the governor for vetoing a portion of last year’s transportation budget that related to vehicle fuel type.
After appropriating $190 million for public transportation grants, lawmakers specifically added language saying the type of fuel used by the vehicles could not be a factor in awarding the grants. Inslee vetoed those sentences after the Legislature adjourned, saying it conflicts with existing law requiring the state transportation fleet to transition to electric vehicles.
Finally, Inslee is supporting Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s renewed call for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazine sales, as well as for background checks on ammunition sales (subject to changes in federal rules).
Ferguson has introduced similar legislation the past several sessions, without success. This is the first time Inslee has backed the proposals.
The coming elections and Inslee’s quest for a third term will serve as a backdrop for much of the action this session.
So far, only a handful of candidates have said they’ll challenge him. The two with the most name recognition are state Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, and initiative sponsor Tim Eyman, who is running as an independent.
Schoesler said he had no plans to run for the office. However, given the rarity of a third term, he thinks Inslee could lose.
“I think he’s vulnerable to a qualified candidate from either party,” he said. “His polling numbers in battleground districts aren’t that good. And with no strong (Republican) frontrunner, name ID will determine a lot.”
It’s been 40 years since Republicans won a gubernatorial election in Washington. Over the next 60 days, Inslee will try to make the case for continuing that trend, while his challengers take the opportunity to say why a change is needed.
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