Man with a ($9 trillion) plan

climate guy
Democratic presidential candidate Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state interviewed in Las Vegas May 24. (Photo: Hugh Jackson)

Unlike Pete Buttigieg or Beto O’Rourke, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee hasn’t been a flavor-of-the-month yet.

Nor does Inslee have a national following on the scale enjoyed by Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris. He doesn’t have Joe Biden’s name recognition. Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand have more name recognition than Inslee.

One thing Inslee does have is a lengthy economic plan heavily integrated with Inslee’s signature issue, climate change, or as he often calls it, the “climate mission.”

Want your Green New Deal, a recipe that mixes a vision of economic justice with aggressive action to stop disrupting the climate?

Some say Inslee, who co-authored a book on the threat of climate change a decade ago, may have the most comprehensive yet pragmatic version on the table.

Inslee’s plan calls for $300 billion a year of federal spending for ten years, which he says will “catalyze” another $600 billion a year in private investment, to total $9 trillion in economic spending and investment over a decade

That private spending “is what we believe will occur over multiple avenues and multiple incentives,” Inslee said in an interview with the Current last week.

“First off, you have the $300 billion a year of direct public investment, that in a lot of ways end up in a partnership” with private spending, Inslee said.

“But the standards that are required are going to drive” that private investment, he said, referring to clean energy and infrastructure proposals around which much of his plan is centered. “So even without spending a dollar of federal investment, we would drive significant private investment.”

He used the electrical power infrastructure as an example. “When you tell people in electric utilities you’re not going to be able to run coal after 2030, that’s going to cause investment to go into the utility grid that they will be required to make,” he said.

“So it’s not just the catalyzing effect of federal investment as a ripple in the economy. It’s much more than that. It’s driven by our standards and our requirement of performance that is embedded in multiple places throughout our proposal.”

The plan’s 28 separate initiatives are organized under five areas: energy; infrastructure; manufacturing; scientific research; and “ensuring good union jobs with family-supporting wages and benefits.”

Some of the agenda is very familiar in the current era of perpetual Infrastructure Week, such as the need to dramatically increase spending on water systems and public transit.

Some of it is much less familiar, such as making the U.S. government — a giant purchaser of building materials — “Buy Clean.” The U.S., according to the document, “is the largest importer of ‘embodied’ climate pollution — meaning the goods it imports are produced with more climate pollution than any other nation’s imports (twice as many, in fact).”

Familiar: Raising the federal minimum wage.

Less familiar: Increasing federal tax exempt Private Activity Bond capacity for local and state governments to spur investment in affordable housing.

It goes on like that, between big-picture recognized proposals and lesser known initiatives, for 35 pages. Running through it all is Inslee’s focus on climate policy. As the plan states in its introduction: “Through an assertive agenda of reinvestment that is guided by strong local input, Governor Inslee’s plan seizes the opportunity to build a clean energy economy that provides inclusive prosperity — upon a foundation of economic, environmental, racial and social justice.”

In the interview in Las Vegas last week, Inslee described the $3 trillion in direct federal spending as  “several megatons less than the damage the federal government will be paying if we do not act. This is a cost-minimization strategy. If we do not act, it is anticipated that several decades from now we will have economic losses twice the level of the last recession. Think how cataclysmic the last recession was. Now double it.”

That is what a continuation of Trump  policies “would doom us for, not once, but forever,” Inslee said.

“So do the math on that.”

Inslee’s other argument

Because of his focus on climate disruption, “there’s been a tendency for people to forget the second pillar of my candidacy,” Inslee said.

“The second thing we need is a nominee who can have a demonstrable record of success of unparalleled dimension, of pushing successfully progressive advances that can result in the best economy in the United States.”

“I want America to have what Washington has,” Inslee said, referring to the state he has governed since 2013. He ran through what he called his “headlines” — “best paid family leave in America, the highest minimum wage, the first net neutrality statute in the United States, the first public option in the United States, the first long term elder care program to deal with the emerging baby boomer retirement crisis that we face, the best gender pay equity policies in the United States, …the best program for financial aid for college students in the United States, one of the biggest expansions of early childhood education in the United States.”

“So I have a record of success for progressive policies that is really unparalleled in the field, and I think that’s important because people want more than speeches and rhetoric. They want results. And I’ve been able to get that. And that story is not known well yet, because it’s kind of been in the shadow of what I’ve talked about on clean energy.”

“I’m not a one trick pony here,” Inslee said, adding that when voters learn about his record, “people will be awestruck at what I’ve been able to accomplish”

A few hours before Inslee sat down with the Current, he qualified to participate in Democratic debates by getting 65,000 individual donors.

Also that day, the New York Times published a story under the headline, “Climate Change Is Catching On With Voters. Why isn’t Jay Inslee?

Inslee is currently at less than 1 percent in recent polls, which is, by most of those polls, about 5 points behind Buttigieg & O’Rourke.

Hugh Jackson
Editor | Hugh Jackson has been writing about Nevada policy and politics for more than 20 years. He was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and wrote the then-groundbreaking Las Vegas Gleaner, which among other things was the only independent political blog from Nevada that was credentialed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He spent a few years as a senior energy and environmental policy analyst for Public Citizen, and has occasionally worked as a consultant on mining, taxation, education and other issues for Nevada labor and public interest organizations. His freelance work has been published in outlets ranging from the Guardian to Desert Companion to In These Times to the Oil & Gas Journal. For several years he also taught U.S. History courses at UNLV. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and then assistant managing editor at the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming’s largest newspaper.

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