By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
OLYMPIA — Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee began his tenure in Olympia on Wednesday with promises to bring “disruptive change” to the running of state government and an unremitting focus on creating jobs throughout Washington.
“Make no mistake: Our top priority today, tomorrow, and every single day for the next four years, is jobs,” he said in his inaugural address.
“The world will not wait for us. We face fierce and immediate global competition for the jobs of tomorrow,” he said. “Leading this next wave of growth is our opportunity, not our entitlement.”
Inslee did not announce any major policy initiatives in his speech to a joint session of the Legislature. He did stake out positions on climate changes and women’s rights in conflict with many Republicans, including those influencing the direction of the majority coalition in the Senate.
Inslee insisted that expanding Washington’s clean energy sector will spur job growth and provide an antidote to the ravages of climate change.
“As a parent and grandparent, I cannot consciously accept the dangers of climate change for my family or yours,” he said. “As a governor, I can’t afford to look the other way or point fingers or deny these realities, and I cannot allow our state to miss this moment that is our destiny to lead the world in clean energy.”
He said the “scientific controversy” on climate change is settled. “What remains is how we respond to the challenge,” he said.
But GOP members are unconvinced the clean energy industry is where most new jobs will be found. And when it comes to the matter of climate change, it’s far from settled with them.
Rep. Elizabeth Scott, R-Monroe, said she “cringed” at his comments.
“If it is settled how come half the Legislature was stone-faced,” she said. “There are hundreds of scientists with Ph.D.s who disagree with his conclusions.”
Inslee received his loudest applause from Democrats when he said he would sign the Reproductive Parity Act to require health plans that cover maternity services to also cover abortions.
“Washington women need the freedom and privacy to make the health care decisions that are best for themselves and their families,” he said. “Let’s get this done.”
The bill died in a swirl of politics last session. Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, and Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, re-introduced the bill this week though it’s uncertain if Litzow’s coalition will let it advance.
House Republicans and the leader of the Senate Majority Coalition, Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, have repeatedly stressed fiscal matters and not social issues, such as the Reproductive Parity Act are the focus of the session.
Sen. Nick Harper, D-Everett, praised Inslee for making his position clear.
“That sets the stage for what I hope we will see out of this administration — leadership and courage,” he said.
Republican lawmakers did laud Inslee for saying his top priorities will be jobs and retooling the operations of state agencies.
“Where I agree strongly agree with the governor is the need for fundamental reform of government and to focus on the services they provide to make sure our businesses are dealt with efficiently, effectively and respectfully,” said Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton.
Inslee, 61, became the state’s 23rd governor shortly at 10:42 a.m. Wednesday when, in a break from tradition, he took the oath of office in the rotunda of the Capitol as hundreds of people looked on. Governors are typically sworn in with the rest of the statewide office holders in front of the Legislature.
“There’s a new governor in town,” Inslee declared minutes later when he and his wife, Trudi, entered the lobby of the office that will be his for the next four years. They were there to meet with now former governor, Chris Gregoire.
Following that sitdown, Inslee delivered the inaugural address to the Legislature. In mid-afternoon he and invited friends played basketball at the governor’s mansion, using a new hoop he had installed on the garage. He returned to the Capitol last evening for the Inaugural Ball.
The Bainbridge Island resident who lost a 1996 bid for governor, served eight terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, the last seven in the 1st District which included south Snohomish County.
He enters office facing a divided government as Democrats hold a majority in the House while the Senate is guided by the coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats.
Topping the list of challenges for him is erasing a projected $900 million deficit in the next state budget.
And there is the task of complying with a Supreme Court order to increase state aid to public schools.
In his speech, he gave no indication he’s open to new taxes or fees or keeping some temporary taxes in place as a source of money — though Democrats in the House and Senate are pushing such ideas.
Inslee said a commitment to education should be honored “through systemic, sustainable reform of our schools.”
On gun violence, Inslee cited the slayings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in pledging to tackle the vexing problem in Washington.
“Any failure to address the issue of violence in our communities and our schools will be intolerable,” he said.
He suggested a “common-sense solution” lies in doing a better job treating those with mental illness and keeping guns out of the wrong hands “while respecting the right of my son to hunt and my uncle to defend his home.”
As he did on the campaign trail, Inslee endorsed drafting a broad transportation plan. He said it should recognize “creativity is as important as concrete” and deal not only with roads but also trains, light rail, buses, bike and pedestrian routes and other nontraditional modes.
Inslee’s full remarks as prepared can be found online at www.governor.wa.gov.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com