OLYMPIA — Can a little known thoroughbred from the Pacific Northwest capture the 2020 derby of Democratic presidential candidates?
It sure looks like Jay Inslee is saddling up to try.
It’s premature to dismiss outright the two-term governor’s chances of outflanking, outmaneuvering and outlasting what is expected to be a large field of political horses. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were far from front-runners two years before either of them wound up in the White House.
Next week will begin a critical phase in Inslee’s preparations and calculations.
He’ll be rolling out his proposed budget. It’ll be his road map for spending $50 billion in the next two years advancing values he considers to be of most importance to the people of Washington and tackling problems he believes are of greatest magnitude facing the state.
It may be the most scrutinized budget proposal of his tenure. If he decides to run for president, priorities and policies embedded in it will garner a great deal of attention from a much wider audience than simply the political class populating the Capitol.
Look for Inslee to sprinkle a few bold ideas atop layers of cautious steps. He needs wins, real wins, ones which he can call his own if he endeavors onto the exploratory campaign trail.
He can miss on a couple things. But he cannot come up empty too many times next session with his own Democratic Party controlling both chambers of the Legislature. That would be embarrassing and invite questions out loud about Inslee’s ability to carry out a legislative agenda with partisans in Congress.
His effectiveness on climate change already gets voiced around here. His track record in six years is long on preaching and short on accomplishment. There are more electric vehicles on the road and utilities are getting more power from alternative sources. But greenhouse gas emissions aren’t tumbling and every attempt by Inslee to compel a reduction of carbon emissions through taxes, fees or executive order has failed.
That doesn’t seem like a big deal right now beyond this state’s borders. When it comes to this subject, he seems to be the most quotable elected leader west of the Mississippi not named Jerry Brown. And Brown isn’t running for president.
And besides, presidents aren’t elected because of their white papers and policies. They do it with pomp and promises of which Inslee is well-endowed. He excels in his ability to extend the field of political possibility with his ideas. His critics may find them poppycock but to his supporters they are visionary.
Which leads to next week’s other notable moment. On Dec. 15, Inslee must stop raising money for a potential re-election campaign. The freeze on fundraising lasts for all elected state officials until the 2019 legislative session ends.
But he can raise money for his new federal PAC. It’s an opportunity to gauge whether there are many folks willing to invest in seeing him offer those ideas to the nation. Inslee told The Hill that he’d reveal his decision on a presidential run in April, giving him five months to stockpile dough.
Inslee already has enough gall. In the same article he took a light dig at other potential candidates, saying, “I’m not a senator, I’m a governor. Governors govern, and senators orate.”
Sounds like this longshot is at the starting gate.