The question is whether they’ll notice the difference.
That might sound a little cruel, but the funny thing is that Congressman Jay Inslee himself is arguing that they won’t. When the Democrat announced March 10 that he would resign after seven consecutive terms to focus on his campaign for governor, he said the voters of the north-Seattle suburbs could get along without him. And while Inslee’s exit might seem a coldly calculated decision designed for maximum political advantage, you might also see it as the humblest declaration ever made by a member of Congress, sitting or not.
Inslee says he is making the supreme sacrifice because he recognizes he can do more good in the governor’s mansion than in the Other Washington. So he’s going “all-in.” More cynical observers might think there is a connection with the fact that Attorney General Rob McKenna is mounting an unusually strong Republican campaign. All the early polls showed McKenna with a big lead, and while a couple of recent ones show the race tightening up, it should be noted that they come from Democratic interest groups – and we have no idea what questions they asked. Certainly campaigning will be easier for Inslee if he doesn’t have to take the Red-Eye back to D.C. every weekend. And it wasn’t as if he had any future in Congress anyway – he was going to have to step down in November, because he can’t run for two positions on the same ballot.
It might even look like a good gamble. Of the nine sitting members of Congress who ran for governor last year, four of them won, including the two who resigned to do it — Republican Nathan Deal of Georgia and Democrat Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii.
And then there’s the timing of it all. Inslee announced his resignation March 10, after months of denials, right after a March 6 deadline that would have triggered a special election. Because there wouldn’t have been a primary, the election surely would have gone to the GOP. For months Democrats have been squabbling about who gets to fill Inslee’s seat; one strong Republican faces a crowded Democratic field, and it’s hard to imagine that the Ds would be willing to settle things in advance in a backroom somewhere.
Yes, suspicious souls might think there was the tiniest bit of political calculation in there somewhere. And there sure seem to be a lot of them. Joel Connelly of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, seldom one with a negative word for Democrats, has written that Inslee is “pulling a Palin.” Danny Westneat, columnist for the Seattle Times, who proudly describes himself as a liberal, is calling Inslee a quitter.
The most striking thing about the exit is that it will leave those who have supported Inslee since 1998 without anyone to speak for them in Congress. The timing of his resignation leaves the seat vacant for the maximum amount of time possible, either eight or nine months, depending on whether state elections officials decide to call a special election to fill his seat between Dec. 6 and Jan. 3.
So let’s share the good news. There will be no problem whatever. At his March 10 news conference, Inslee said, “My people are still going to be represented well by [Sens.] Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, my staff will still be available and they will be working for the state, for the House of Representatives, helping our constituents and dealing with agency issues.”
It is a breathtaking exit. Lest anyone think the decision has something to do with political gain, Inslee is arguing that his constituents will not be harmed in the slightest by his absence. That his presence in Congress doesn’t matter. That he doesn’t make a difference.
The cruelest thing would be to agree with him.