Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Friday he’s running for president, pitching himself as the best candidate to tackle the worsening climate crisis.
“I’m Jay Inslee and I’m running for president because I’m the only candidate who will make defeating climate change our nation’s number one priority,” the governor said in an announcement video that is exclusively about climate change, running through comments he’s made on the issue going back years.
Inslee will kick off a “Climate Mission Tour” in Iowa next Tuesday.
Inslee is joining a crowded field of 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, but he’s the only candidate to join the race so far with such a tight focus on a single issue. Other Democratic hopefuls have made preventing the worst impacts of man-made climate change a goal of their campaigns — and one that sharply contrasts President Donald Trump’s denial of the science — but Inslee is trying to differentiate himself by making it his primary focus.
The governor’s campaign may be well timed. More Americans are concerned about climate change than ever, with about 7 in 10 of people saying they are "somewhat worried" about global warming, according to a polling results released January by climate communication experts at Yale University and George Mason University.
The poll found nearly half of Americans believe climate change is harming the US right now. A major federal climate report released last November, called the Fourth National Climate Assessment, concluded climate impacts are playing out across the US, from damaging wildfires to increased heavy rain and flooding to rising seas.
“We’re the first generation to feel the sting of climate change. And we’re the last who can do something about it,” Inslee said in his launch video. “This crisis isn’t just a chart or graph anymore. The impacts are being felt everywhere.”
During his latest state-of-the-state speech, he called for Washington state to transition from fossil fuels to running on 100% clean electricity, retrofitting buildings to more energy efficient, and more.
His presidential campaign laid out four principles of its "Climate Mission" on its new site: "Powering our economy with clean energy," "investing in good jobs, infrastructure & innovation," "fighting for environmental justice &economic inclusion," and "ending fossil fuel giveaways."
Inslee has a long track record of proposing climate policies in the state, but the results are mixed. Under his watch, Washington has offered discounts to state employees looking to buy electric vehicles, supported the construction of local electric vehicle charging stations, and set goals to boost the number of electric vehicles on state roads.
But he’s unsuccessfully proposed a carbon tax bill in 2018 and 2017, as well as a cap and trade proposal in 2014. (Washington voters have also failed to pass a carbon tax ballot initiative twice, including in the 2018 midterms.)
Prior to becoming governor, Inslee worked on climate legislation in the US House, and he cowrote the book, Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy.
With Trump in the White House questioning climate change and rolling back climate policies, Inslee has been among the most vocal state leaders criticizing the administration. When Trump vowed to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement in June 2017, for example, Inslee helped found the US Climate Alliance, the bipartisan governor's group committed to the global agreement.
Inslee’s focus on climate change has won him the support of former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, who shared a DC apartment with Inslee when both served in the House. Strickland told BuzzFeed News this week that he planned to back Inslee “very enthusiastically” if he runs. Strickland is one of few Democrats to win statewide in Ohio in the last 15 years and remains plugged into party activists there. His endorsement could come at another successful Ohio Democrat’s expense — Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is considering a run.
“That doesn’t mean I couldn’t support others,” Strickland said. But he added of Inslee: “I know this guy. I know his values. He is focusing on what I would consider the greatest threat to humankind — the threat to the climate.”
Several of the bigger-name candidates running in the Democratic primary have strong environmental records. When analyzed on their 2018 environmental voting records by the League of Conservation Voters, Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris from California, Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, Cory Booker from New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand from New York, and Bernie Sanders from Vermont all scored 100%.
These six, who are in various stages of running for president, were also cosponsors of the recently proposed Green New Deal resolution, calling for a plan that intends to simultaneously boost the economy with new green projects and help reduce poverty and social injustice.
After the Green New Deal resolution came out, Inslee said he was “thrilled” with it, adding, “[t]his is a clarion call to action from Congress, and now we need that same call from the White House.”
In his campaign launch video, Inslee outlines some of his own bold goals for the country: “We have an opportunity to transform our economy, run on 100% clean energy, that will bring millions of good paying jobs to every community across America, and create a more just future for everyone.”
Inslee is one of the few presidential hopefuls so far to sign the no fossil fuel money pledge, agreeing to “not knowingly accept any contributions over $200 from the PACs, executives, or front groups of fossil fuel companies — companies whose primary business is the extraction, processing, distribution, or sale of oil, gas, or coal.” (Sanders and Warren have also signed the pledge.)
“I'm excited to see Gov. Inslee get into the race. He's obviously a climate hawk with some real world experience working on the issue, and is making climate central to his campaign,” RL Miller, cofounder of the Climate Hawks Vote, a group in the no fossil fuel pledge campaign, told BuzzFeed News in an email. “All of the leading candidates have signaled an interest in climate, and I'm looking forward to hearing how they will differentiate their positions.”
Henry J. Gomez contributed reporting.