A conversation with Democratic gubernatorial incumbent Jay Inslee

'I can get things done, we can move the ball, and we demonstrated that.'

Why do you want this job for four more years?

Inslee: Because I love this state, and it’s the greatest state in the world in so many different ways. I get to get up every morning and help people realize their dreams, and there’s no better job — except Russell Wilson’s, I do point that out, that’s the only job better than what I’ve got.

I think that I’ve been able to help the state move forward, and am well suited to continue that progress. We made big progress in schools and early childhood education, full-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes, better paid teachers, reduced tuition, we’ve put $5.5 billion in and I want to continue that upward progress. I’ve always been highly motivated on education. My dad was a teacher at Sealth and Garfield, and worked at the foot of Queen Anne Hill as athletic director for a while.

I’ve always been oriented and motivated by educational issues, so I think I’m well suited to help us take the next step to solving the McCleary challenge. We know how important economic development is, and I think I’m well suited to help our businesses grow. We’ve experienced really robust economic growth. We have the No. 1 economy in the country. We have the largest rate of small business job creation in the country, and I’ve played some role in that in helping market businesses’ products overseas, and helping business to have a good training so they can train their employees to make sure they come and stay here and we’ve had success in that, in keeping the aerospace industry vibrant with more skills training.

We’re helping small companies around the state and that’s been part of our economic success. I can help on transportation and I have, we passed the largest transportation in the history of the state. It’s important to Queen Anne, because you know about Mercer, and I-90 and 99 and I-5, and we’re doing improvements on all of those things. Making sure the 520 bridge gets completed, that’s important to Queen Anne. The connections on 405, I know it’s on the Eastside but it’s still a Queen Anne issue. So I just think I’m well suited to continue the progress we’re making, and I love the job, because I get to help people do great things.

What are your top priorities for the next four years?

Inslee: Continue our educational progress of both in funding but also to continue the innovation that we’ve experienced to improve career and technical education. We are now starting the process of really robust apprenticeships in career and technical education so kids who aren’t going to have a four-year degree can still have careers that they’re ready to launch in high school even. So that has great promise, from starting the first apprenticeship program ever in a high school this year, in Tacoma.

We have the first ever computer apprenticeship program in the country, so we want to continue to grow that aspect of it. We want to have better coding experience for our kids, so that they all have some experience in coding. We want to work on the persistent occupation gap. That takes early childhood education, better dual-language programs, so an educational platform is something we’re going to focus on.


What do you think the state’s role is in addressing homelessness, and how do you work in tandem with cities and counties in that regard?

Inslee: Well I think it’s a partnership, and I think the state does have an important role. We have tackled this, we know it hasn’t been enough because the economy still is producing higher rents because people are moving here and rents are going up. I just met with the Homelessness Coalition this afternoon, so I asked them, fundamentally, why do we have this increasing homelessness problem? It’s because rents are going up faster than wages, fundamentally, and the reason rents are going up is because we’ve got a great economy and we’ve got 50-60,000 people moving here and they’re driving up rents. So we have been attacking that problem, and other problems, one by increasing housing stock, low-income housing stock, we’ve built 2,300 units since I’ve been governor, we’ve saved other 4,000 that otherwise would have been converted into higher rental properties. We have embraced the rapid rehousing strategy, which is now really kind of the avant-garde way of doing this. King County and Seattle, I think, is going to follow or join us in that effort, which is a more productive way to house people and get them into permanent housing.

We obviously need to attack the opioid epidemic, which is one of the reasons for homelessness, and we just rolled out my initiative to attack opioid abuse by reducing the over prescription of opioid abuse, by giving people better treatment opportunities by integrating mental and physical health. By the way, I’m very excited about something that hasn’t been written much about, but we got a huge boost to both our homeless and our mental health issues last week, when we got the green light for a $1.5 billion waiver in the Medicaid program. So the federal government now is going to free up about $1.5 billion to do creative work so we can have more integrated mental health or homelessness programs, and I’m very excited about those opportunities.


What do you feel you learned over the course of your first term that you think would help you in your second term?

Inslee: Well, you know, you do learn as in any experience. Some are rather mundane, one is just time management. I learned that because of the real time pressures to run a 55,000-person organization, is you have to be real scrupulously disciplined in time. I have a little less time for friendly chit-chat at the beginning and ends of meetings that I might have four years ago, which is maybe less pleasurable but necessary. That’s certainly an issue.

I’ve learned that diligence pays off, because I’ve shown it, on this transportation package. For two years we were stonewalled, republicans refused to do a transportation package for a couple years, and I just kept working at it. So the good news is what I did bring to the table, which is persistence, friendly persistence, can pay off. So there’s two lessons.


You mentioned the transportation package, but what else do you think needs to be done to address traffic, particularly in the Seattle area.

Inslee: Passing ST3, and I’m fully supportive of it. It is a long overdue infrastructure program, and just putting it off another 5-10 years isn’t going to make this happen any faster, so I’m supportive of it, I hope it will pass. It was enabled by the transportation bill that we passed, and that was a coup because frankly the other party was very negative about doing light rail, so it was actually a big win to enable us to allow voters to make this decision. So that’s the biggest and most immediate thing.

Then we just have to make sure that we start churning dirt for the projects that are teed up. These projects are teed up, they’re fully financed, they’re ready to go, although engineering has to be done for a bunch of them, we just have to make sure those things happen and that people don’t come in and put a fly in the ointment and stop them from occurring, but we have projects all over the state. I mentioned some of them, I-90 we’re going to expand that, I-5 we’re expanding at JBLM, we’re improving 405, so we’re adding a lane on 405, we’re doing a connection at 167 in Pierce County at 405 to make it much less congested, so we have a lot of congestion relief programs right in this vicinity, and then throughout the state we’ve got, we’re finishing the North-South freeway in Spokane, we’re doing the Red Mountain interchange in Tri-Cities, I mean every county in the state.

We’ve got to enable new types of education too, helping people get access to plug in their electric cars. We’re building electric charging station corridors. We know technology is changing, we’re going to see when autonomous vehicles start to come on, which I believe they will, to find out how they’re fully integrated in our other system, we’ve got to make sure that works.


This city has added a lot of high paying jobs in the tech sector in recent years, but what would you do to protect and create living wage jobs.

Inslee: First increase the minimum wage. That’s happened locally in Seattle, but we need to increase the statewide minimum wage. It’s wholly unrealistic, you can’t live on $9.53 anywhere in the state of Washington: Ellensburg, Seattle, Spokane, or anywhere else, so we need to increase the statewide minimum wage. I’m fully supportive of that, my opponent is opposed to it. That’s the first thing. Second, we’ve got to do paid sick leave, which is an issue of, it’s not compensation but it helps your family maintain health. WE want to see that. We want to protect the rights of people to be organized and have collective bargaining rights, and one of the reasons that’s important is that we just have had a collapse of the economic productivity chain. For 200 years, people captured the benefits of their work. About a quarter-century ago, that stopped, and all their new productivity was going to the top of the pyramid. We need to restore that, and look for ways to do that. The two things I mentioned are two ways to do it.

The best thing we can do about wage growth is education, improving education capabilities of people on the skill sets, and that’s all of the things that have to do with education, so I just want to note, that’s an economic equity issue as well as an educational issue.


The things you mentioned are things that took hold in Seattle before any statewide movement, do you see Seattle leading the charge on worker protections?

Inslee: Well, I mean, I’ve been working these for some time too, it’s just, they were first mover, if you will. The Republicans have blocked minimum wage increases and so because there’s a republican state senate we had not been able to move it through the legislature.


In 30 seconds, what would your pitch be to voters as why they should support you for a second term?

Inslee: It depends on who they are. I would kind of tailor my answer to what is of interest to them. I think the most broad based interest is that I believe I can help grow a stronger economy, that I’ve been successful helping grow jobs in this state, that I’ve demonstrated an ability to bring people together in a divided government and produce real tangible meaningful robust results in education with the largest increased investment in education in the history of the state, and the largest transportation infrastructure package in the history of the state. I can get things done, we can move the ball, and we demonstrated that. It’s not hypothetical, it’s real, we want to keep it going.


How important do you think it is to have Democratic state senate come November?

Inslee: Well, obviously — or at least obvious to me — very important. We have been successful in bringing people together, on transportation, on education, we even got the Republicans to do the DREAM Act eventually. It took a long time, but we did it. But there still is resistance in that party to doing things that are necessary. We have to deal with climate change. Climate change is damaging our state significantly. Our forests are burning down more frequently because of carbon pollution. Puget Sound, when you look our over Queen Anne is beautiful, but it’s 30 percent more acidic than it was in pre-industrial time. We have to reduce carbon pollution, and unfortunately that party is wholly incapable and unwilling to do that, and that’s unfortunate, so having Democrats who can at least work with us instead of saying we should do nothing, as my opponent has said, he basically said the state shouldn’t have a role in dealing with climate change. It’d be a lot easier to have Democrats in charge. When it comes time to women’s rights and justice issues, the republicans are constantly attacking women’s rights. They brought 11 bills either to the floor or had votes on in the last couple biennium, trying to restrict a woman’s right of choice. It’s kind of an obsession, and we’d rather work on education together rather than fight off these efforts of republicans that are constantly trying to reduce a woman’s right of reproductive freedom, so yeah, it’s important.

And when it comes to education, look, I have finally gotten the republicans to agree to come to the table, and participate in this task force to identify the price tag of the McCleary decision, and that wasn’t without having to drag them kicking and screaming, because it August, when the Supreme Court ruled that we had to do this, their instinctive response was they wrote a letter to the Supreme Court saying, “Drop dead, we’re not going to do it.” So I think it’s very confident to say we’re going to have a lot easier time satisfying McCleary with a group that wants to do it, rather than a group that doesn’t fundamentally want to do it.


And besides the funding issue with education, what do you think needs to be done to improve high school graduation rates, and getting kids into apprenticeships, for instance.

Inslee: Starting with apprenticeships. We’ve started this apprenticeship program, we have the first one in the state, state history, starting next year in Tacoma, and it will be for aerospace apprenticeships. We need to find a way to finance and create public, private partnerships on our ability to finance that, to just expand those apprenticeships.

We have to improve access to skill centers. There’s still about a third, or 40 percent of our kids that don’t have good access to skill centers. We’ve got to improve access to our technical colleges and our community colleges, and that’s why I want to expand and extend the opportunity grant scholarship — which is the first of its kind in the nation — to community college and technical college students. As far as the opportunity gap, there’s a lot of things we got to do, and the graduation rate. One, we got to increase the — this goes by different names — graduation coaches, graduation teams, family engagement, different high schools call it different things, but it basically means the high school is going to embrace every single student. They’re going to monitor that student on a daily basis, and whatever that students needs to get them through the door, they keep them in the door. And schools that have done this have had dramatic, Pasco has increased their graduation rate by 25 percent. Everett is now over 90 percent. Foster, they have over 150 languages spoken and they’ve increased their rates 15-18 percent. By intensely focusing on surrounding each kid with a group of adults who are going to do whatever’s necessary to get them through the high school program, and these programs have been really successful.

But, this starts at age 3. That why I’ve continued to increase our early childhood education so kids don’t fall behind. Do it by full day kindergarten, smaller class sizes, better mentoring, I didn’t mention my mentoring program. All of these things to prepare kids so that opportunity gap, once it gets started its hard to repair. That’s why we have to get these kids at age 3. So if there’s a kid who’s homeless, who has a speech difficulty, living in a home with domestic violence, we have to help deal with all of those issues, to try to give them an ecosystem where they can thrive early.