Washington Governor Jay Inslee puts climate change at centre of presidential bid

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee speaks during a news conference to announce his decision to seek the Democratic Party's nomination for president in 2020 at A&R Solar in Seattle, Washington, US, on March 1, 2019.
Washington state Governor Jay Inslee speaks during a news conference to announce his decision to seek the Democratic Party's nomination for president in 2020 at A&R Solar in Seattle, Washington, US, on March 1, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEATTLE/WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Washington Governor Jay Inslee launched a longshot bid for the US presidency on Friday (March 1) with a vow to fight climate change and promote policies to make the country more prosperous and inclusive.

Speaking in Seattle in the chilly garage of a solar energy company, Mr Inslee became the first governor to join the crowded field of Democrats vying for the party's White House nomination in 2020, a race expected to be volatile and hard-fought as the winner faces off against Mr Trump.

"I am running for president because, unlike the man who is in the White House, I believe in all the people who make up America," Mr Inslee, who regularly takes swipes at Mr Trump on Twitter, said to cheers.

The governor and former congressman has made fighting climate change the centrepiece of his campaign, saying in an interview with Reuters on Friday that the effort will help improve America's economy and health while also preserving the planet.

"You can't have a healthy economy if your towns are burning down," said Mr Inslee, who recently visited the devastation left by climate-fuelled wildfires in California. "You can't have national security without solving this problem."

At a rooftop restaurant above a bustling new Seattle technology and business corridor, Mr Inslee, 68, said his commitments to the environment and social inclusion had made Washington prosperous - and would do the same at the national level.

If elected, he said, he would support policies similar to those he pushed in Washington state - aiming toward an energy grid free of fossil fuels, construction of energy-efficient buildings, and incentives for individuals as well as large organisations to buy electric vehicles.

 
 
 

Mr Inslee enters the race as the only governor in a field of senators, a background that he says has forced him to learn to work on both sides of the aisle.

On some issues, he brings a moderate approach, and he is viewed as mostly business-friendly.

While he believes all Americans should have access to good healthcare, he has not endorsed or rejected government-funded insurance, known as Medicare-for-all.

In the interview, Mr Inslee said he was still studying the best ways to provide healthcare, including expanding Medicare to allow younger people to buy in, but had not yet settled on a single approach.

Mr Inslee said he would not take funds from fossil fuel companies on the campaign trail, or continue any subsidies to oil and gas industries if elected president.

He called for support for the so-called Green New Deal backed by progressive congressional Democrats, and said investing in renewable energy such as solar and wind power had boosted the economy of Washington and would create millions of jobs nationwide.

Mr Inslee's entrance into the race provoked a sharp response from Republicans.

Mr Michael Ahrens, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said in an e-mail to Reuters that Mr Inslee had "zero" chance of winning the presidency.

"His campaign will only force Democrats into embracing more extreme policies, like a carbon tax, which would kill jobs, raise energy prices and disproportionately hurt working-class Americans," Mr Ahrens said.

Although less known than rivals including US senators Bernie Sanders, Ms Elizabeth Warren or Ms Kamala Harris, Mr Inslee has a strong following among environmentalists and will have financial support from a newly formed environmental political action committee.

He took a stab at his US Senator opponents during Friday's interview, saying that if elected he would support ending the filibuster, a senate practice that lets a minority keep legislation from coming to a vote.

"The Senate aspirants are too wedded to that practice," Mr Inslee said.

Climate change did not register as a top issue for the general electorate in the 2018 congressional elections, but Democratic voters tend to cite it more often as being important to them.

Mr Inslee spent 15 years in Congress before being elected governor in 2012. He won re-election to a second four-year term in 2016.

Mr Inslee has made tackling global warming and protecting the environment a fixture of his administration, signing legislation to reduce his state's carbon emissions.

On Friday, an Inslee-backed Bill requiring the state to transition to 100 per cent carbon-free electricity by 2045 passed the state senate.

He also cites other progressive bonafides, including a 2014 move to put a moratorium on capital punishment and full implementation of the Affordable Care Act and accompanying expansion of Medicaid health coverage for the poor. He supports a ban on assault weapons.

He has also served as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, a role that helped expand donors' awareness of him as he campaigned around the country on behalf of other candidates.