Political Climate Change


Forrest Baum


Governor Jay Inslee has joined the crowded Democratic field running for president in 2020. Despite the odds, his choice to run on a platform of fighting climate change may make him the most important candidate.

Who’s Jay Inslee?

Jay Inslee having a discussion with imigrants and refugees. Photo: Flickr; Jay Inslee

In a group of 14 viable candidates, the first hurdle seems to be recognizing his name — and few may know Inslee outside of the state. A former Washington state and U.S. Representative, Inslee has been Washington’s governor since 2013, but his name recognition has generally been confined to the state.

However, Inslee has upped the ante lately with highly visible resistance to the Trump administration’s policies. Washington state has sued the federal government 34 times since the beginning of Trump’s presidency in January of 2017. Inslee has pushed back on Trump’s immigration policies, trade war and anti-transgender executive orders. He’s even called the White House a “den of deceit.”


SCC Political Science and History Professor Thomas Esch describes “Electability” as an ability to get screen time on television and online video platforms. Democrats don’t yet have anyone close to Trump’s on-air presence. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has the flash, buzz and star power, but at age 29, she won’t be eligible to run for the presidency for at least six more years.

“Obviously we know of him here because he’s our Governor,” says SCC student Alex Gunkel, “But he hasn’t gotten much global press.”

Esch sees Inslee’s run as a way to increase his visibility, much as Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid led to him to become a well-known figure. “Do I have any students who are excited about (Inslee)? Yes, I do,” said Esch. “I have one who wrote to Inslee urging him to run.”

Sanders, along with former Vice President Joe Biden, face an entirely modern problem.

Old White Guys

The problem is that not everybody wants to elect the type of leader we always have.

Inslee joins Sanders, Biden, and Trump, in the “old white guy club.” All but one of the U.S. presidents has been in that club. But in the last three presidential election cycles, with Barack Obama’s election and Hillary Clinton’s popularity, many are ready for a change.

In fact, a number of the early contenders are women or people of color, and Kamala Harris is both. With so many candidates, a recent CNN breakdown found 86 percent of the Democratic candidates to be diverse. Since the U.S. will have the highest ever diversity of eligible voters, many are more interested in a candidate who reflects the variety of citizens.

Political Climate

Inslee’s marquee issue is climate change, and he’ll let you know it up front. He’s positioned himself as “The Climate Candidate,” and honestly, it’s a breath of fresh air. We need more candidates willing to admit that they’ve read Al Gore’s 2006 book “An Inconvenient Truth.”The Other Washington

That fresh air could be in short supply. During last year’s wildfires, Washington state had the world’s worst air quality. In a 2018 article published in Vox, Seattle was reported to be at 190 on the Air Quality Index. To put into perspective how unhealthy the air was, it was functionally equivalent to smoking seven cigarettes a day.

According to the 2018 National Climate Assessment, wildfire seasons have been getting worse as global warming dries out forests.

Wildfires present a problem that Inslee can’t sue to stop. Last year’s main source of smoke came across the border from Canada and shows the need for international cooperation on environmental issues.

The Talk

A number of the 2016 presidential debates omitted the discussion of climate and global warming entirely. Since then, the planet has had the top five hottest years on record, and the U.S. still managed to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, which provides a way for countries to set goals to reduce their emissions. Trump’s contribution to the discussion was to simply dismiss climate change as a “Chinese hoax,” so the real discussion on climate change will need to start with the Democratic candidates.

Elections have consequences on not just for the country, but the world at large.

The Reality

But for anyone hoping someone other than Trump will win, there’s some bad news: “I’m going to throw this out there,” says Esch, “I think Trump’s going to win a second term. It’s so hard to unseat an incumbent.”

The field is obviously still wide open. In a brief survey of Esch’s class, students are interested in Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Andrew Yang and, yes, Jesse Ventura. These candidates will also need to tackle climate change.

With much of the discussion around Inslee centering on the question of “Can he win,” people should really look at the bigger picture. Even if he doesn’t win, Inslee’s very presence will push the discussion of climate change, and that’s a victory all on its own.