Inslee may push bounds of governor’s office

No one could be happier to see state lawmakers wrap up and head home than Gov. Jay Inslee.

They departed a week ago and won’t return until January 2015.

That gives the rookie Democratic governor nine-plus months to get some work done without interruption or interference from those who’ve foiled him repeatedly since he arrived in Olympia.

Inslee is still getting the hang of the give-and-take of the legislative process after two sessions. And it’s a challenge no amount of travel on the Olympia learning curve may help him overcome.

Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate are beginning to accept the congressman-turned-governor is a product of his past political life in Washington, D.C. They’ve come to expect he’ll rail on Republicans when he considers them obstructing his path and cast no unkind words at Democrats when they thwart his wishes.

As a result, his influence this session seemed muted on the most talked-about policy disputes like transportation, medical marijuana and revising the teacher evaluation system to secure a federal education waiver.

Several lawmakers wrangling on the waiver matter shrugged at learning two days before the end of the legislative session, Inslee traveled to Snohomish County to conduct his own closed-door talks on education — with second-graders.

They didn’t know he wasn’t in town and didn’t seem to think it would have made a difference.

Such an attitude underscores why Inslee is looking forward to not having lawmakers around for a few months. Ditto for his advisers who hope to capitalize on this opportunity to advance a mostly-stalled political agenda and leave his imprint on the state.

To accomplish this, there is an expectation Inslee will rely on every available instrument of power and exercise every available ounce of authority allotted governors through the state constitution.

He demonstrated a willingness to push the bounds in February when he declared a moratorium on use of the death penalty in Washington, putting an end to executions for at least as long as he holds office.

In the coming months, it is anticipated he will issue a variety of executive orders to undertake new policies, practices and initiatives outside the reach of legislators.

Already this year he’s signed noncontroversial ones creating a task force to boost the outdoor recreation industry and increasing the number of state employees working flexible hours and telecommuting.

The third, signed March 13 without notice, establishes the 23-member Interagency Coordinating Council for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities and Their Families. Inslee will appoint all the members, who in turn will advise the Department of Early Learning in developing early intervention services statewide.

His critics are nervous the governor might use the powers of his office to do something on much bigger issues like raise the minimum wage for workers paid under state contracts or require state agencies to only purchase fuel with less carbon in it.

Whether Inslee could make such moves or do anything close isn’t clear.

He’s got nine-and-a-half months to explore the possibilities and many of his political opponents couldn’t be less happy about it.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com

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