Anyone who follows national politics knows there are only two reasons why governors from other states go to Iowa. The first is to test the waters for a potential presidential bid and the second is to test the waters for a potential presidential bid.
In a few weeks, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will head to Iowa to speak at a big Democratic fundraising dinner. Like anxious fans tailgating at a pre-season game, we can’t resist the political speculation game.
Will he or won’t he? Inslee’s timing is fortuitous, as he will finish his second term as governor in 2020.
Are we getting ahead of ourselves? Maybe, but consider that in 1974 the governor of Georgia went to Iowa and was greeted as “Jimmy Who?” Jimmy Carter left the Midwestern state a viable candidate for the presidency, which he won two years later by defeating incumbent Republican Gerald Ford.
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Politico Magazine called Iowa “the first cattle call of the presidential race.” And we already know our governor likes to bull his way in front of the herd. In February, Inslee confronted President Trump on gun control at a White House governors’ luncheon. “I think we need a little less tweeting here, and a little more listening,” he said.
It was a sound bite heard around the world, and it got the attention of Iowa.
Tess Seger, spokeswoman for the Iowa Democratic Party, said Inslee was tapped to be the headliner this month because he exemplifies a lot of “good progressive policies in Washington.” Plus, he’s already met criterion number one: Must stand up to Trump.
For Inslee, Trump is a nemesis of Marvel Comic proportions; to describe the president, he rolls out phrases like “moral depravity,” “chaotic behavior,” “inhumane policies” and “abysmal record.”
As chair of the Democratic Governors Association, he has articulated that the 2018 governors’ races should be a mandate against all of Trump’s policies. Name a progressive issue important to Democrats — the Affordable Care Act, net neutrality, women’s reproductive rights, clean energy and gun control, to name a few — and chances are Inslee’s helped lead the charge.
He’s even been trumpeted by some national conservation groups as the greenest governor, though he’s yet to convince his own Legislature to back a state carbon tax on pollution.
Certainly his party and our country could do worse. The last two presidents didn’t come into office with Inslee’s administrative profile; both Trump and Barack Obama appealed to voters who chose to put their faith in blank slates. But after America’s white-knuckle ride with Trump so far, Inslee’s hands-on experience in real governance looks good.
It’s safe to say that any issue Inslee might confront on the national scale, he’s met several times in 5 ½ years as governor (and counting), plus more than a decade in Congress, first representing a district east of the Cascades, then a Puget Sound district. And on a handful of critical issues, such as free trade, his position is more attuned to Republican thinking than the party’s own standard bearer.
Who knows, now that Starbucks founder Howard Schultz is freeing up his calendar for a potential political future, we might see two Washington state leaders standing under the Iowa sun, attracting welcome attention to Evergreen State concerns on a bully pulpit made of hay.
In Iowa it will be anyone’s game. Twice, Obama won 31 out of 99 counties, but in 2016, those counties threw their support to Trump.
Whether Inslee actually runs for president in 2020 remains to be seen. But in a primary crop that could include a cornucopia of far-left and far-right candidates, he just might present a reasonable choice for American voters.