Guest Opinion: Inslee’s State of the State zeros in on climate change — again

“Washington’s Unwritten Chapter” was the title of the State of the State address on Jan. 15.

“Strange Case of Governor Jay and President Inslee” might have been better.

In the half-hour political soliloquy, Gov. Jay Inslee reminded wielders, peddlers and seekers of influence in the state Capitol why they sometimes cringe at mention of this state’s chief executive becoming the nation’s next leader.

Yet in those same 30 minutes, the two-term Democrat, decked out in ambition, offered donors, consultants, and voters in other states a portrait of possibilities with Inslee in the White House. If not the Oval Office, in the line of succession; Secretary of Energy, for example, is around 14th.

He opened his oration checking off the boxes of unfinished business with the mental health and public schools system, and an everyone-can-love initiative of saving Southern Resident orcas.

Inslee devoted the largest block of time to climate change, the primal force of his political being and defining issue of any national campaign — and one for which he’s garnered few legislative successes in his gubernatorial tenure.

It’s received attention in every State of the State he’s given. Judging by the evolving verbiage, it’s getting serious and he’s getting frustrated.

In 2014, he talked of addressing the “threat of carbon pollution.” A year later, he was “fighting” it. He shifted in 2016 — an election year — to a singular reference to clean air.

In 2017, it was in the spotlight as he spoke of “combating the devastating threats” of carbon pollution and the “scourge of climate change.” Last year, climate change became an “existential threat” and last week it had intensified into an “imminent threat.”

He failed to mention the situation is getting worse on his watch.

A new report from Inslee’s Department of Ecology found emissions of greenhouse gases increased by about 6.1 percent from 2012 to 2015, a period in which the economy registered an annual growth rate of nearly 3 percent. What a frustrating conundrum.

Washington may be the best place to work and the best place to do business as Inslee routinely boasts, but darn the state’s booming economy is befuddling attempts to curb the rise in pollution.

Back to the speech. In the home stretch he ticked off wins in Washington in arenas of women’s rights, civil rights, immigration, health care and gun control and vowed more victories are coming. He launched salvos at the policies and persona of President Donald Trump, whose name he never says, in many of those areas.

It’s a melody lefties in Nevada, liberals in Iowa and college students in New Hampshire will enjoy hearing. And Inslee loves singing it for hosts of cable television talk shows in Washington, D.C. who are blissfully unaware of the governor’s limited role in many of those successes.

Finally, at the finish line, Inslee went all Chicken Soup for the Soul, unleashing a dizzying flurry of inspirational messages for would-be authors of the future.

Rise up and write a “golden chapter that’s worthy of our best selves,” he implored lawmakers. “This chapter will show that we defended the values we stand for. And more than anything this chapter will show the heart of who we are.”

At that moment, it didn’t really sound like he was talking to Democratic and Republican legislators seated in front of him. Rather, he was test-driving an anthem for America.

Governor Jay was gone and Mr. Inslee was making a case for president.

Contact The Herald (Everett) columnist Jerry Cornfield at 360-352-8623, jcornfield@herald net.com or on Twitter, @dospueblos.

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