Jay Inslee: The Climate Candidate

Inslee is a climate-focused Democrat with a solid message and strong record. The question is as follows: will Democrats buy what he’s selling?

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For decades, the Democratic Party has made a point of addressing climate change; in recent years, as the effects of not taking enough action have come into clear focus and as Republicans have made aggressive denial of the existence of the problem of a major part of their agenda, its rhetoric surrounding climate change has become scarier and scarier (and rightly so, given the scale of the threat). The Democratic Party’s message on climate change is clear: climate change has the potential to seriously uproot significant elements of civilization as we know it, causing extreme weather events (such as massive flooding and droughts), damage to infrastructure, food shortages, and crises of mass migration.

It’s odd, then, that most of the Democratic Party’s 2020 candidates are focusing on domestic economic policy and not on the imminent apocalypse. With major climate crises fast approaching, the 2020 Democratic primary is a contest for whose Medicare for All proposal can best balance wonkiness and idealism.

Enter Jay Inslee. The two-term Washington governor has put climate change at the front and center of his campaign. The homepage of his website makes the gist of his campaign crystal-clear, with a blue-green color palette and the following featured text: “This is our moment to defeat climate change.” It’s important to note that Inslee is far from the only candidate addressing climate change. This is the Democratic primary, after all, and his policies―heavy investment in providing clean energy and clean energy infrastructure jobs, fighting for environmental justice, and cutting subsidies to fossil fuel producers―are hardly controversial in and of themselves, but he is the only one prioritizing it. And that matters, because what politicians prioritize is what they spend their human and political capital on. A President Inslee would be more likely to make serious progress on climate change than a President Warren.

Inslee’s platform isn’t just about addressing climate change―he’s a fairly standard Democrat, supporting LGBTQI rights, public school and infrastructure investment, female reproductive rights, affordable healthcare, and creation of clean energy jobs. Under his governorship, Washington has had a powerful, business-friendly, and successful economy, with low unemployment and the eighth highest wages in the country.

Inslee is facing some trouble, though. He generally polls somewhere between zero and one percent, and in his own home state, his popularity is middling. It’s not clear how much of an appetite there is in the Democratic party for a climate-focused campaign; there’s a reason most candidates are focusing on those domestic economic policies. But a recent Des Moines Register found that 80 percent of Democrats in Iowa, where the Democratic Primary will officially kick off next February, rank climate change as a top priority, putting it just one point below healthcare as the most important primary issue. If Inslee can claim early ownership of the climate lane, he may well emerge as the leader of the 2020 field. Don’t count him out.