Jay Inslee’s failed presidential bid has been vindicated

Inslee could have been, and was, a contender.
Inslee could have been, and was, a contender.
Image: Reuters/Scott Morgan
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Washington governor Jay Inslee was a 2020 Democratic presidential contender but dropped out of the crowded primary race in August. As such, he was not at yesterday’s climate crisis town hall. Yet Inslee has never been as popular.

Of the 10 candidates who spoke last night, four mentioned Inslee admiringly. No other former candidate got shoutouts—no one mentioned Kirsten Gillibrand, for example. But Inslee made contending with climate change central to his campaign, saying he was basically running to save the planet for his grandkids. And now that he’s gone, other candidates are quoting him, openly cribbing his policy ideas, and noting his important contribution to the presidential race.

It began with the first candidate to enter the stage last night, former San Antonio, Texas mayor Julian Castro. Before Castro took a single question, he spoke of his former competitor, saying, “I also want to give a shoutout to governor Jay Inslee, who did a fantastic job of bringing this issue to the forum of this campaign.” 

Castro’s comment about Inslee seems to prove the point that it’s worth running, even against two dozen other candidates, many of whom are better known, particularly if you have something important to say. Certainly, Inslee’s time was not wasted, at least not based on Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren’s town hall presentation.

The governor’s ideas clearly impressed Warren. The candidate famous for having a plan for everything took some of Inslee’s policies and made them her own proposals. She explained, “I want to say, I proudly adopted many of governor Inslee’s plans. He said have at them, they’re open source. My view is you go everywhere where there’s a good idea.”

She cited Inslee as inspiration, for example, when she spoke of reducing Americans’ overall carbon footprint. Noting three areas that generate the most carbon pollution—in buildings and homes, cars and light-duty trucks, and electricity generation—Warren said, “So you may remember that governor Jay Inslee said let’s get tough on this and let’s put in place some real rules about this. So what I’ve adopted is, by 2028, we don’t have any more new building that has any carbon footprint. By 2030, we do the same thing on vehicles, on our cars and light-duty trucks. And by 2035, we do the same thing on electric generation. That will cut 70% of the carbon that we are currently spewing into the air. That’s how you make a real difference.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota also spoke of Inslee early in her appearance. Unlike Warren, who turned to the governor’s policy proposals, Klobuchar cited Inslee’s emphasis on individual action. Thus, Inslee’s influence extended from the big picture to the tiny details. Explaining what she’d do to address the climate crisis in her first week as president, Klobuchar said:

On day one I will bring us back in to that international climate change agreement. On day two, bring back the clean power rules…On day three, bring back the gas mileage standards…On day four, five, and six I will work on sweeping legislation…And on day seven you’re supposed to rest, but I don’t think I will. So that is—that’s the first seven days, and from there you make this a top priority to get this passed, and then individual efforts like governor Inslee talks about so well. Things like even using cold water for your clothes saves five times the amount of energy, and you don’t drink your clothes, right? The light bulbs—you name it.

California senator Kamala Harris also took a little something from Inslee. Harris noted that she would strengthen environmental regulation weakened under the Trump administration. “I’m going to steal the line from governor Inslee,” Harris joked. “Governor Inslee, I’m stealing your line. And he said, you know, so—so Donald Trump says wind turbines cause cancer and Jay Inslee famously and very—with great humor said no, they don’t cause cancer, they cause jobs. Right.”

Whether Inslee was delighted by his influence, dismayed he’s no longer campaigning, or indifferent about the mentions is unclear. Quartz reached out to his former campaign for comment but has received no response. And Inslee, who did urge people to watch the town hall in a pinned tweet on Twitter, has so far not opined about the climate event on social media.

However, it is evident, from all the mentions, that the time he spent discussing the climate crisis has helped to shape the Democratic presidential race even if he is no longer a contender. If Inslee’s experience is any indication of the role for amiable wannabes with slightly unusual ideas, candidates will start campaigning on a platform of love soon enough should self-help author Marianne Williamson drop out of the running.