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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Inslee's Climate-focused White House Bid

Air Date: Week of

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In Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s 2019 State of the State address, given on January 15, 2019, he implored legislators to act on climate change. Gov. Inslee is contemplating a run for President in 2020. (Photo: Office of the Governor, Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0)

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, hasn’t yet officially announced his run for the presidency, but he’s positioning himself to be “the” climate change candidate if he does run. With his focus linking economic prosperity with environmental policy, Governor Inslee says the nation has great potential if it has a common purpose, and “there’s no better common purpose than to defeat climate change.” He’s considering making a bid to convince the American people that he can bring the progress he’s made in Washington State to Washington, D.C. Governor Inslee talks with Host Steve Curwood about why federal climate action is urgently needed and how it can be achieved.


BASCOMB: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bobby Bascomb.

CURWOOD: And I’m Steve Curwood.

We're back now with Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State and a likely Democratic candidate in the 2020 presidential campaign. So, Governor Inslee, you know, the surveys show that a majority of Americans care about climate change, think it's a problem, but only a minority think that urgent action is needed. Most folks say, hey, there's -- the studies predict disaster a dozen years out -- figure, hey, we have a dozen years to get our act together. How do you get people to move now?

INSLEE: Well, that actually is changing very dramatically. And actually, just since last March, because people have watched Paradise California burn to the ground. And that's pretty stunning. I was there a few weeks ago.

CURWOOD: How did you feel about that? When you saw it.

INSLEE: Devastated. You know, I drove for an hour -- by the way, this is not a small village, this is 25,000 people -- I drove for an hour. And every so often you'd see one house that wasn't destroyed. But otherwise, that whole town was burned right to the foundation. When you see that, as Americans are; when people now see the massive flooding in Texas; the sea level rise in Miami, where I was a few weeks ago, where I went with the mayor where they had to, they've had to build the roads up a foot and a half. So now in Miami Beach, you have to walk down to the shops because the streets have to be up above and they're still getting inundated. When you see the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world's largest living systems -- half of it is dead today. Not 50 years from now; today. Here in Seattle, I've lived here for decades; for the first time, ever, people woke up in the morning and there was ash on the hoods of their cars, because we had these catastrophic fires in the eastern Cascades and in British Columbia. It's never happened before. And people were kind of shocked by this. Our air quality this summer was so bad, we had to close swimming pools because of the forest fire smoke, and kids cannot go out and go swimming. Our air quality last summer was the worst, and I hate to say this, but it was the worst in the world. Not Beijing, not New Delhi; Seattle, Washington. And unfortunately, this could become the normal if we do not act, because our forests are so stricken because of drought and heat conditions. So, the point is, people are now recognizing the urgency of this. And the scientific community has made this clear. And unfortunately, two years from now, in November 2020, it's going to be worse. And there's going to be more people who understand that because the science makes this clear that it's getting worse every year. So, we need to skate where the puck is going to be, rather than where it is right now. And it is going to be in a place where more and more people realize we've got to act.

CURWOOD: Now, there's something called the Environmental Voter Project, that says the most green voters, those who put the environment like number one or number two of their top priorities -- these are registered voters -- are young folks, and people of color -- black people, and Hispanics. But these registered voters don't vote because, in part because the researchers say, no one asks them for their votes. Politicians typically will do little surveys and go after the folks who regularly vote. So, if you don't vote, you don't get asked. How are you going to find these super green voters and get them to support your candidacy? Should you finally decide to run.

INSLEE: Well, the same way that Stacey Abrams did in Georgia, who ran such a good race, who energized young people and people of color, and we are dedicated to that and I've had some success in this. We picked up 10 seats in our legislature this year, in part because we went to communities of color. And this message is very important. I remember meeting a woman, a 14-year-old Latina young woman who on the banks of the Duwamish here in Seattle, it's the industrial area; where she said that she was 11 years old before she found out that some kids didn't have asthma. All her friends at asthma, because she lives next to the freeway and in this industrial area, where there's a lot of pollution. The people who get hurt first by climate change are the people who live in poverty and the marginalized communities. And that's why the climate change issue is an issue of equity, social and economic equity, because the first people who are going to be saved are those who lived on the edges of our society next to the freeways, and the toxic waste dumps, and the cancer alleys. For the young folks, we have gone to campuses. In fact, this year, I started a competition between the colleges to see who could register the most young voters. And so, the winner's coming down to lunch next week to celebrate that victory. So, we have been very intensely focused on that. And they are all over this, they get this big time and they are looking for a candidate who will champion this mission. And I could be that candidate.

Gov. Inslee at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for new electric vehicle fast-charging stations in Tacoma, Washington on Aug. 7, 2018.(Photo: courtesy of Forth Mobility / Jay Inslee, Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0)

CURWOOD: Governor, you've pretty confidently said, you're ready to go up against President Donald J. Trump. How do you even envision having a debate with him about climate change, especially when every time the country faces an especially cold spell, he hints that, it's all a fiction.

INSLEE: Well, I would be eager to have that opportunity. I feel very confident in that matchup. I feel that the nation is an optimistic nation, and he is a pessimistic man. I feel we're a courageous nation, and he is a fearful person. He is driven by insecurities. We know where bullies come from, beliefs come from a sense of insecurity. And it's clear that that is at his core. So, I've had a confrontation with him once already in the White House. And I have felt confident from that, that I will be in good shape on any stage with him.

CURWOOD: Tell me how you took him on in the White House.

INSLEE: I was there with the National Governors Association, and we were discussing gun safety after the school shootings. And his answer was, we'll have first grade teachers just wear Glock pistols on their, on their waist and that'll solve the problem, which I thought was ridiculous. And so, does the vast majority of Americans. So, I told him that; I stood up and told him about that. And he just sort of, he adopts this sort of petulant, arms crossed and he rocks, he rocks back and forth when he's insecure, you can see it and I told him eventually -- I just closed by saying, you know what, you need to tweet less and you need to listen more. You need to listen to teachers about this ridiculous idea of yours and you need to back up. And he just didn't really respond. So, I had a person-to-person confrontation with him and feel very confident about my ability to do it. Now on the climate change aspect of this, the country gets this on the science. There's no question about the science. The vast majority of Americans understand that. So, we're past that. I think that the climate change message in a race against him is not just about the science of climate change. It's about the character of the American people. I represent a vision based on optimism and a can-do spirit. He represents a vision of a cramped, pessimistic, fearful nation that has to retreat behind walls, and can't innovate its way out of a box. I represent a nation that wants to lead the world and be a leader in the world as we historically have. He wants to think the only industry we're going to have is the ones that were here in 1900. So, those are debates about the American character that I think we have the winning side on, and that's why I'm confident about a matchup against him because it's about America as much it is about the science of carbon dioxide. So yes, I would be eager for that.

Washington state is blessed with plentiful sources of carbon-free energy. Wind energy and solar contribute modest amounts of electricity to its grid, but by far the largest source of the state’s energy is hydroelectric power.(Photo: CJ Anderson, Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)

CURWOOD: I know you're officially still thinking about this; are you prepared to have not very good food; sleep in really lumpy beds; not see your family very much; get hammered by the press; have, some nights, horrible results from the polls to become president of the United States?

INSLEE: Well, I'll just give you an anecdote about that. We were trying to get to New Hampshire last weekend, and they canceled our flight. We drove about four or five hours over icy roads from New Jersey to New Hampshire. We got to a motel at, I don't know, midnight, one o'clock? Got out of the car and it was, you know, nine degrees and the wind was blowin' like a banshee. And I turned to my buddy who was accompanying me saying, Hey, man, this is heaven on earth. Because I'm in New Hampshire, potentially running for president of the United States with a vision that I really believe in. And that's how I felt. This is a grand opportunity for us. It's a time of great peril. But it is a time of great promise, of economic growth. And for those who are down in the dumps, because we got a climate denier in the White House -- listen, we got a mission here, to fight. And there's nothing better than when you're fighting on a grand crusade with people who you believe in. And that's what we're doing here. So, these are good days to be alive. And I may end up being a candidate, we'll see.

CURWOOD: Jay Inslee is governor of Washington State and considered by many to be a Democratic candidate in the 2020 presidential elections. Thank you so much, Governor.

INSLEE: Thanks for having me. Don't forget to vote.



The Atlantic | “Jay Inslee Is Betting He Can Win the Presidency on Climate Change”

About Governor Inslee

Governor Jay Inslee’s book “Apollo’s Fire”


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