Jay Inslee looks to be enjoying his best legislative session as governor.
By the time everything wraps up, the Democratic governor should get 15 of the 18 bills he specifically requested through the Legislature.
He’ll have bipartisan wins in transforming how the state cares for those with mental and behavioral health illnesses, expanding early childhood education, combating opioid abuse and providing greater protection for orcas.
And there are partisan victories too, such as those bills dealing with climate change and one increasing publicly funded health care options.
At this point, a couple of his bills that have yet to pass could be dealt with directly in the final budget deal.
All in all, the chief executive is having a real good 2019.
It only took seven sessions, a few more Democratic lawmakers, a tweak in strategy, and a campaign for president, which has kept Inslee from getting in the way in Olympia.
Inslee entered office in 2013 to find Democrats in charge of the House and Republicans running things in the Senate. This division of power lasted five sessions. In that time it became painfully clear Inslee’s talent for winning elections didn’t extend into the legislating arena. His skill at selling a vision to voters simply didn’t translate under the Dome with many of the 147 elected members of the Legislature.
Early on, Inslee and Republican lawmakers displayed open disdain for each other. Republican senators used their power to fire his transportation secretary. They’ve grown to tolerate one another and, on some days, get along.
At times in this same period, Inslee struggled to win over Democrats, usually moderate ones, on environmental and fiscal matters.
The situation improved slightly last year when Democrats regained narrow control in the Senate.
But his fortunes really turned around with the election in November.
Thanks to voters, Democrats gained seats in both chambers. They now have a 57–41 edge in the House and a 28–21 advantage in the Senate. Those margins enable Democrats to pass bills even if a couple of their members peel off or are absent — which has happened.
Voters in November also rejected a carbon tax initiative Inslee campaigned to pass. It was quite a blow for the governor who had spent years preaching the absolute importance of putting a price on carbon to defeat climate change.
He and his advisers had to regroup. On climate change for sure. Also, on how to approach the 2019 session in which they wanted to make the most of those new majorities.
They found a way, crafting legislation that would be a comprehensive response to a specific issue like reducing greenhouse gases, saving Southern Resident killer whales, or treating those with mental illness. The bills they wrote proved broad enough in their content to serve as vehicles for debate rather than be used as templates by lawmakers wishing to write their own versions.
It’s worked out well.
Inslee’s absenteeism to campaign for president is a big help too.
It’s no secret the governor doesn’t engage very deeply on issues unrelated to climate changes. It’s also no secret that lawmakers find that it can be difficult negotiating with him because he’s not always clear about his intentions. It’s messed up members of both parties at some point in his tenure.
This session, with Inslee gone a lot, those staff members are doing the heavy lifting on his behalf.
They are loyal to his agenda and experienced in the ways of Olympia. They’ve earned respect and trust of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and of lobbyists. These professionals understand the fate of a bill can hinge on the strength of a relationship rather than the content of a provision.
Republicans will quietly acknowledge Inslee’s cross-country campaign jaunts are probably a reason it’s been a generally civilized session. (Though they sure would like him to pay for his security detail on the road rather than stick taxpayers with the bill.)
Democratic lawmakers will too, but not out loud.
Inslee was just in town, so they don’t want to jinx things.
He’s not the only one having a good year.