Spin Control: Will a presidential run interfere with governor duties?

March 17, 2019

OLYMPIA – In March 2012, congressman Jay Inslee resigned from the U.S. House to concentrate on his run for governor.

Logistically, it made sense. The trip from one Washington to the other is a long one, and as things heated up in the race for the open seat, the campaign took up more time and attention. Inslee was pretty well-known in the Seattle area after more than a decade in Congress, but not so well-known around the state.

Politically, it was a bit tricky, because by stepping down before his term ended, Inslee was leaving his congressional seat vacant and his constituents without a vote nearly eight months until the November election. But by staying, he was open to criticism that he was collecting his congressional salary but not doing the job.

Fast-forward to March 2019.

Inslee is a governor running for president, and while that election is more than 20 months away, it’s a much more crowded and far-ranging campaign, which will take an increasing amount of a candidate’s time. For example, Inslee left the state Thursday night, and won’t be back until Wednesday night.

It’s also a pretty safe bet that his role as governor, as chief executive of the state government machinery, requires at least as much time and attention as being one of 435 members of Congress. Unlike a congressman, state law has a ready-made process for having the lieutenant governor to fill the opening.

Which begs the question: Will Inslee resign the governor’s seat at some point to concentrate on a White House run?

“I don’t foresee that,” Inslee said Thursday afternoon. He pointed to what he considers a good first half for his legislative priorities in the 2019 session, where fellow Democrats have strong majorities in both chambers.

“So far we’ve been very successful, being very active in the affairs of our state,” he said. “I think this is evidence that we are able to lead the state while I am looking at another potential option.”

But the rule in governing is the same as in life: Stuff happens. Expect Republicans to ramp up criticism anytime Inslee’s off on the campaign trail when a problem arises in the state.

Scheduling problem

Inslee’s out-of-state trip last weekend did cause a hiccup in the Senate that Saturday as lawmakers began their morning debates. Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib was presiding over the chamber for the first several items when word came down that Inslee was gone, which made Habib acting governor.

Habib didn’t know that, because the official notice of Inslee’s departure incorrectly listed a later time. When word reached the rostrum, the parliamentary experts huddled. As acting head of the executive branch, Habib couldn’t preside over a chamber of the legislative branch. Sen. Karen Keiser, the president pro tem, had to take over and the Senate had to backtrack and revote on several noncontroversial matters that already had passed. Fortunately, they were able to skip all previous comments.

The speaker’s first bill

For nearly 20 years, Seattle Democrat Frank Chopp has been the speaker of the House, which de facto makes him one of the most powerful politicians in the Legislature as well as the state. In all that time, Chopp has advocated for many issues and co-sponsored much legislation.

But he had never been the prime sponsor of a bill. Sure, his name has been first on resolutions, which are basically statements of opinion on issues big and small, but without the force of law. But as for an actual House bill with four digits behind it that would direct policy or call spending money on something, one that he had to introduce on the floor when time came to debate and vote – he hadn’t done it.

That ended Wednesday, in the final minutes before the clock ran out on bills to be voted out of the House. The proposal for a new mental health campus for the University of Washington School of Medicine came up for debate. There were a few minor amendments, some described as necessary because the sponsor was unfamiliar with writing legislation.

“Rep. Chopp” was called on to make the motion to move the bill, and he made a short, impassioned speech citing the prevalence of mental illness and the need for better care. Rep. Richard DeBolt, the former minority leader, commended Chopp for his efforts whille noting that the rules of the chamber somewhat suspiciously were changed earlier this year to prevent hazing of lawmakers when their first bill came to the floor. The chamber gave Chopp a standing ovation.

When the bell rang for the vote, many legislators, even some Democrats, initially voted no, which is about all the hazing currently allowed. But when Acting Speaker John Lovick called to lock the voting machine, all of the no votes switched to yes, and it passed unanimously.