Washington Governor Jay Inslee joins the 2020 field as the climate change candidate

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Governor of Washington Jay Inslee (right) with Former Vice President Al Gore in 2017 (Jim Bennett/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

Former U.S. House representative and current Washington Gov. 
Jay Inslee (D) became the latest Democratic challenger for the 2020 nomination Friday morning. Inslee is an outspoken climate change activist and promises to make environmental issues a major part of his campaign.

In his announcement video, Inslee sought to differentiate himself from the crowded Democratic primary field by focusing clearly on the looming threat of climate change, saying, “I’m Jay Inslee and I’m running for president because I am the only candidate who will make defeating climate change our nation’s number one priority.” The video concludes with supporters, including climate change activist and television star Bill Nye “the science guy,” stating “This is our moment.”

The email sign up on his campaign website even states “Join our climate movement.” Also on his campaign site a banner boasts that he won’t be accepting fossil fuel or corporate PAC money, going further than other candidates by ruling out an entire industry. 

Inslee has hired former advisors of Tom Steyer, billionaire Democratic megadonor and environmental activist who himself had weighed a presidential run. The connections to Steyer, who plans to spend significantly on the 2020 election, could be helpful to Inslee who placed dead last among the contenders in a recent poll of national Democratic primary voters.

A new super PAC named Act Now on Climate was launched on Feb. 21 in anticipation of Inslee’s entry and plans to back him. The super PAC is headed by Corey Platt, who served as Inslee’s political director when he chaired the Democratic Governors Association.   

Inslee has a long career in government going back to his time in the Washington House of Representatives from 1989 to 1993. He first served one term in the U.S. House from 1993 to 1995, before losing his reelection bid to Republican Doc Hastings in the GOP wave of 1994. Inslee returned to the U.S. House in 1999 where he stayed until 2012 when he left to run for governor. He has served as Washington governor since 2013.

His bio on his campaign website notes that Inslee voted against the repeal of Glass-Steagall and against the Iraq War, two positions popular among the Democratic base.  

Inslee has long been a leading, if lonely, voice on climate change and environmental policies. The popular “Green New Deal” proposal is reminiscent of a 2007 book he wrote titled Apollo’s Fire which outlined potential solutions to climate change. As governor, Inslee pushed clean energy projects but often failed on passing high-profile climate legislation like a carbon tax through the legislature and watched a voter referendum on the proposal be decisively voted down.

He has had success at the national level as the chair of the Democratic Governors Association during the 2018 midterm cycle, during which Democrats picked up seven governorships across the country.

As a member of the House, Inslee was a solid fundraiser, bringing in almost $11.5 million throughout his career. He also drew a significant amount of PAC money with most of it, more than $1.6 million, coming from business PACs.

For someone who has been outspoken on climate change, the environmental industry gave surprisingly little to Inslee during his congressional career — just $216,231. However, the environmental industry has been a traditionally light campaign contributor. His top industry, electronics manufacturing and equipment, contributed $622,192. Within that industry was his top all-time contributor, Microsoft, which is headquartered in Washington and between its PAC and individuals gave Inslee $440,415.    

One of the other large industry donors to Inslee was pharmaceuticals/health products with $293,934. His second-biggest all-time contributor is Amgen Inc, a multinational biopharmaceutical company, which gave him $89,669 between individuals and its PAC. The amount of money he’s received from pharma companies could prove to be a drawback as the industry has been a recent subject of progressive Democrat scorn.

Another key supporter of Inslee during his time in Congress was labor groups. Labor PACs contributed more than $1.3 million to him throughout his career. Many of his top all-time contributors were labor unions like the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Engineers.

Inslee also had a leadership PAC called New Apollo Energy from 2004 through the 2012 cycle. In the 2012 cycle, the last it was active, the PAC only made one contribution to a federal candidate — $2,000 to then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Recently for the 2018 cycle, Inslee launched a new committee called Vision PAC. During the midterms, it raised $242,680 and didn’t make any contributions to federal candidates. Most of its money, $18,000, was spent on campaign strategy and communications consulting.

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