Column: Inslee and the White House, or why we have a federal system

The parlor game of thinking through future elections can be entertaining.  I advocated for Jay Inslee to run for President in 2015, for example, in a column that drew private comments from both my left and my right of the “Are you serious?” sort.

And, with the recent court battles led by AG Bob Ferguson against the White House, both Ferguson and Inslee have been elevated nationally as a result of their leadership.

That has generated quite a bit of buzz among Washington State’s political class about whether Inslee might be a candidate for president in 2020.  Likewise, folks are saying this elevates Ferguson to the easy front runner for the 2020 gubernatorial race should Inslee not seek a third term.

Today, my friend Joe Copeland has a piece in Crosscut that explores the idea.

State Republican Party Chair Susan Hutchison is trying to play to those questions, suggesting that Inslee might be interested in running for president himself. It’s one of the oldest political tactics used against a governor who deals with national politics: Get people to wonder whether their governor is working for them or just raising his own political profile. Hutchison claims to have “sources.”

Now, Hutchison certainly has her reasons for trying to spin Inslee’s activism to a negative, and I don’t knock her for it.  When a Democratic governor has risen as a viable threat to a Republican incumbent president – in the courts, in the media and potentially at the polls – it’s her job to throw some shade.

But, anyone who has watched Governor Inslee over the years can tell you this parlor game misses the mark.  Inslee is not taking on Trump to elevate himself nationally – far from it.  I think the reason is more straightforward.

  • Inslee is doing his job.  In a federal system of government, the states were explicitly meant to be a check on the power of the federal government, both when the Constitution was violated and when the federal government violated more basic human rights.  It is the explicit role of states to check the federal government, something particularly true when all three branches of federal power are unified under the same party.  From Federalist Paper #51:

In the compound republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments. Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself. Second. It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure.

  • Inslee wasn’t planning on running again.  I don’t know this with any special insight but in conversations I’ve had with a number of folks close to the Governor, the 2016 was probably going to be his last campaign.  An expected Hillary Clinton administration, and incumbent Democratic members of the Senate took higher federal office off the table.  Moreover, he has been very engaged – and happy to be – in the work of being governor.  Turning on presidential ambitions doesn’t happen overnight and Inslee shows no signs of organizing any effort to change that.
  • This is Inslee at his most authentic.  When you see Gov. Inslee mad about Executive Orders from the White House, that is not a made-for-TV anger or frustration.  Simply put, Inslee is irate and with good reason, I argue, and apparently four federal judges (two from Pres. Bush, two from Pres. Obama) agree.  This is not political posturing.  To paraphrase from AG Bob Ferguson, this is the kind of Constitutional question that is why elected officials go into office.

Look, I think Governor Inslee should run for President.  I think he should be thinking about it, and I think he is the kind of Democrat that caucus and primary voters would respond well to in a few years.

But that is beside the point.  That’s parlor game stuff.

What Governor Inslee is doing now is leading.  He is exercising his role according to the Constitution serving as a check on the power of the federal government.  And he is doing it with a level of authenticity and engagement that is unique in politics today.

It’s why he is a governor well suited for the times – regardless of what happens at future ballot boxes.


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