OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee delivered his third inaugural address in a way he couldn’t have imagined when he first took office eight years ago.
The raging COVID-19 pandemic prevented the tradition of the governor speaking to a joint session of the Legislature inside the chamber of the House of Representatives.
Instead, he formally launched his third term with a videotaped speech charting a course through continuing challenges and uncertainty wrought by the public health crisis toward “a new normal” and “a new era.”
“Out of the darkness and anxiety of 2020, will come the relief of a new era,” he said. “Let this new era be a time that lifts our hearts; that renews our dreams and ambitions; and that lets us as Washingtonians finally embrace the future we’ve been building up to now.”
The speech was played on the walls of mostly empty House and the Senate chambers as this year’s session is being conducted remotely.
In the House chamber, only Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, was present at the rostrum, along with newly sworn in Lt. Gov. Denny Heck, who also serves as president of the Senate.
Inslee touched broadly on issues he’s focused on making progress in during the 105-day session, including policing reforms, climate change, and achieving greater equity in the application of laws, running of state institutions and providing of public services.
He also vowed “to keep supporting small businesses with every resource at our disposal. And when workers lose pay because they’re sick or laid off, we’re going to help see that their struggles don’t spiral.
“We’re going to get these businesses open eventually, we’re going to get people back to work, and in the meantime we are preparing for that day when we can fully reopen the economy,” he said.
On education, he pledged to continue to expand early childhood education and fund college financial aid programs.
“We’re going to get students back into the classroom, and make sure it’s in safe and healthy settings,” he said, without elaborating on a timeline and means of doing either.
Absent from the 19-minute speech were details of specific policies and spending proposals he’s put forth thus far.
He did not mention the two new taxes he’s seeking — one on capital gains and the other on health insurers — assumed in his two-year, $57.6 billion budget proposal.
Nor did he delve into his strategy for addressing climate change but made clear its long-term threat cannot be ignored.
“Both the virus and climate change have fatal results,” he said. “Both can be solved through science and ingenuity. We can and we will pursue solutions to both at the same time.”
Inslee is pushing, again, for a clean fuel standard and a carbon pricing approach to cap emissions and generate revenues for the state. Both have stalled in Democratic-controlled legislatures in recent years.
Afterwards, Republicans criticized the speech for its lack of policy details, such as the taxes they oppose, and mention of pressing matters like the state’s sluggish vaccination rate. They called for moving teachers up the line for their shots in hopes of reopening schools sooner.
Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, gave the Republicans’ videotaped response. In it, he called for tapping the state’s emergency reserves to provide low-income families with children a one-time allotment of $300-per-student to assist them with education expenses.
He also called for funding the Working Families Tax Credit which would give tax rebates to eligible families.
Later, in a news conference, House and Senate Republican leaders expressed disappointment that Inslee did not talk about the distribution of vaccines which is critical for halting the spread of coronavirus, preventing the loss of life, and allowing a reopening of commerce and public life.
“We want him to succeed. We need him to succeed,” said House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, adding there are vulnerable people in every family “depending on him to be successful.”