Jay Inslee, the Democratic governor of Washington state, is running for president in 2020, making him the first governor to do so.

According to a recent interview with The New Yorker, Gov. Inslee’s singular focus for 2020 is addressing climate change. This issue focus sets him apart from other candidates in that he’s rolling out an ambitious plan to combat what he calls “the defining challenge of our time” on his campaign website.

Along with the Green New Deal, which he endorses, Inslee is calling for a “climate mission” that would involve sweeping investments in renewable energy.

“This Climate Mission is Jay’s ambitious and actionable plan for our nation to defeat climate change and invest in our clean energy future, fueled anew by the growing movement for a Green New Deal, and he has the proven experience to turn this plan into action,” Inslee’s website states.

To his credit, Inslee was called “the greenest governor in the nation” by environmental news site Grist in 2012 in his initial run for his state’s highest office. Inslee was previously a member of Congress from Washington state’s 1st Congressional District, and even prior to his gubernatorial run, Inslee established himself as a leader in environmental issues:

During more than a decade in the U.S. House representing areas north and west of Seattle, he pushed aggressively for climate legislation, environmental protections, federal support for cleantech, and a wholesale shift to a green economy. For Inslee, clean energy is not just another issue; it’s his motivating passion. He coauthored a book on the subject in 2007: Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy. He cofounded the House Sustainable Energy Caucus. He’s written posts here at Grist calling for clean air, international climate action, and passage of his New Apollo Energy Act.

However, Inslee has already run into one roadblock that may cost him some youth support. The Sunrise Movement — which many Americans were introduced to in their recent viral confrontation with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) — has been leading the charge on getting members of Congress to commit to supporting the Green New Deal. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) spent her first day in Washington with the Sunrise Movement, who was calling for then-presumed Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) to support the Green New Deal.

Given the full-throated support of soon-to-be voters whose first foray into political activism is calling on politicians to support climate change, it would be assumed that Inslee would refrain from patronizing them. But instead, the Pacific Northwestern governor did just that in his New Yorker interview:

Inslee praised the young climate activists who have coalesced around the Green New Deal for their energy and their emphasis on communities, often poor and of color, that are on the front lines of climate change… But he still seemed to envision that the movement would soon be turned over to the adults. “They’ve raised the ambition level. They’ve married this to environmental justice. Now it’s my job and others’ to put policy behind it.”

Gov. Inslee is wrong in suggesting that the children leading the Sunrise Movement have “ambition” but not policy. The group’s website has an extensive section on the Green New Deal, and even a handy FAQ for those curious about the proposal. And the bill is far from a long shot, as it has nearly 100 co-sponsors in the House and nearly a dozen in the senate.

To be fair, Inslee did say “the youth movement on [climate change] is fantastic” in a Vox interview. However, the generational divide between Americans who will be long gone by the time climate change homes home to roost (Gov. Inslee will be 70 in 2021, the year he would be inaugurated if he won the 2020 election) and Americans who will have to see it through is still fairly wide.

The Sunrise Movement has yet to meet with the Washington governor, though it could be reasonably expected that such a meeting may happen soon, as enlisting the movement’s support would be a big boost to Gov. Inslee’s campaign.


Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.

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