Jay Inslee’s decision that he will not be seeking an unprecedented fourth term as the governor of Washington state elicited passionate reactions from political friends and foes alike.
Inslee, a Democrat, is currently the longest-tenured governor in the country. He was first elected to the job in 2012 and subsequently won reelection in 2016 and 2020. Before being elected governor, Inslee served more than a dozen years in Congress.
He focused much of his gubernatorial tenure – and his brief 2020 presidential campaign – on his signature issue: fighting climate change.
Democratic politicians and other allies praised the 72-year-old Inslee’s performance as Washington’s governor.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Bothell, tweeted, “Congratulations to my friend @GovInslee. You’ve made historic progress for Washington state – whether it was leading the nation on climate, getting us through COVID, or building a stronger economy for everyone. Your leadership has made life better for so many people in our state.”
Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, was even more effusive in his praise of Inslee.
“Gov. Inslee has guided Washington on a path to achieve remarkable progress over the past decade. He will be the first to tell you there are many challenges that remain, and I look forward to continuing our work together over the next year and a half,” Billig said in a news release last week.
He went on to tout accomplishments achieved under Inslee.
“But today is a day to celebrate a legacy and a partnership that produced historic legislation to combat climate change and gun violence, and to expand voting rights and make our tax system more stable and fair,” he said. “We’ve seen Washington’s economy reach new heights under his watch, and his leadership was critical in times of crisis such as the Oso mudslide, the I-5 bridge collapse in Skagit County, and especially during the Covid pandemic when he implemented critical safety measures to save thousands of lives. In tough times and in great times, Gov. Inslee has led our state with integrity, compassion, and vision.”
Andrew Villeneuve, founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, also had kind words for Inslee’s tenure as governor.
“NPI congratulations Governor Inslee for a great run as Washington State’s chief executive,” he wrote in a blog. “We look forward to working with him to get even more great policy into law next year as he wraps up this chapter of his public service.”
Others, however, expressed satisfaction that Inslee’s time as governor is coming to an end.
“It’s time to turn the page on the disastrous Inslee era in Washington state,” Caleb Heimlich, Washington State Republican Party chair, said in a news release. “For over a decade, Governor Inslee has taken our state in the wrong direction. His decision to not seek a fourth term presents an opportunity to elect a Republican governor who will put Washingtonians first and prioritize the needs of our communities.”
John Spellman was Washington’s last Republican governor serving from 1981 to 1985.
Heimlich’s foremost complaint against Inslee is what he considers his abuse of power during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the end of February 2020, Inslee declared a statewide emergency in response to the novel coronavirus that was spreading across the globe. Under the state of emergency, the governor issued scores of additional proclamations ranging from shelter-in-place orders to school closures to a moratorium on evictions to vaccine and mask mandates.
Inslee ended his COVID state of emergency on Oct. 31, after 975 days of it being in effect.
“The people of Washington State deserve better than Governor Inslee’s failed leadership,” Heimlich concluded. “We look forward to supporting a Republican candidate who will prioritize the well-being of our communities, restore fiscal responsibility, and bring common-sense solutions to the challenges facing our state.”
Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, also had harsh words for the governor.
“While I believe he was sincere in his belief in the environment and his concern for carbon, I was consistently disappointed in his default use of partisanship and demonization,” the former House Republican leader told The Center Square via email. “Anyone who is that committed to the natural environment should be able to see just how corrosive demonization is to the political environment.”
In a surprise move during last month’s concluding weekend of the legislative session, Wilcox announced he was stepping down from his leadership role, at least in part because of partisan rancor.
“We have come through so much bitterness in the last few years that, you know, someone in my generation, my age, is never going to be able to escape that,” he said during an interview with Mike McClanahan, host of TVW’s “The Impact, where he first said he was stepping down.
Inslee’s third term as governor ends in January 2025.