With less than 10 months left for Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee to convince voters to make him the next governor of Washington, the clock is ticking for the candidate to reveal details for his plan to run the state, including proposals for the creation of green jobs and targeted education spending.

If he intends to help his party hold the Governor’s office, Inslee will take advantage of every opening between now and Election Day to convince voters he has more in his bag of tricks than a green-painted shovel for government-funded projects and throwing more money into an education system that a panel of experts recently condemned as failing because of a “policy leadership vacuum.”

But ten months in campaign time passes quickly, and Inslee so far has approached opportunities to present his qualifications and flesh out his pitch with all of the enthusiasm of a four-year-old facing a plate piled high with Brussels sprouts.

Though he threw down the gauntlet in December of last year to his opponent, Attorney General Rob McKenna, for a series of six debates (a hyped and premature challenge since McKenna had already prepared to meet Inslee for as many debates as could be agreed upon, potentially far more than six), Inslee has yet to agree to a single debate while McKenna has agreed to two, including one sponsored by the Association of Washington Business that created some campaign news last week.

The announcement by the business organization for a Spokane debate on June 12th despite being unable to get a confirmation from Inslee prompted the Democratic gubernatorial contender’s spokesperson to tell The Seattle Times that McKenna could have the stage all to himself:

“It’s extremely disappointing that AWB would issue an announcement without confirmation from us first,” Smith wrote in an email. “If they want to schedule an event for McKenna, that is their choice, but at this point there is no debate scheduled.”

Curious about what might prevent Inslee from blocking out his calendar five months in advance for a debate he went out of his way to ask for, I emailed Smith and inquired about Inslee’s reasons for not saying “yes.” I also asked Smith if Inslee had received other invitations and had he accepted them. Smith replied:

The question is why AWB feels the need to release an announcement about an event more than five months in advance and before both candidates have confirmed. Jay has already made it clear he is committed to a full series of debates throughout the state and with more than a dozen invitations already received and under consideration, voters can be assured that a full series of debates will take place.

I then emailed Smith again, asking for a direct answer to the original question: Did Inslee have a conflict with the AWB’s June 12th debate? No response was received from Smith or anyone with the Inslee campaign.

As to Inslee’s progress to meeting his personal goal of six debates, McKenna’s campaign manager Randy Pepple offered us his extrapolation.

“Our campaign has agreed to two debates… If Inslee agreed to others I’m not aware of, I have to assume we would be getting calls,” Pepple said. “So, I have to conclude that he has agreed to zero [debates].”

With a dozen or more debate invitations awaiting Inslee’s RSVP, it seems less likely that something other than logistics is the obstacle to his participation. The most solid and public evidence of what may be causing Inslee to hesitate grasping the lectern to face-off with McKenna came, ironically, when the Democrat sat down with two representatives of the “12th man” of the Democratic Party – the Seattle press.

In what had to be about as friendly a media setting as a liberal Democrat could ever hope for, The Stranger’s Dominic Holden sat down with Inslee last week for what passes for an editorial board interview at Seattle’s fringe weekly paper.

Inslee told Holden, “I will be a stand-up guy that will take positions that show some spine and some backbone,” a moment of stirring rhetorical bravado from the candidate that was followed by a long string of vague answers and dodges to questions about the congressman’s indistinct proposals for running the state.

From that point, Inslee lumbered through answers to The Stranger’s questions, exhibiting all of the grace of a pack of vertigo-challenged sumo wrestlers performing a hastily choreographed production of Swan Lake. Holden’s amazing journey into the enigmatic mind of Inslee took them into a conversation about how he would balance the state budget: [Emphasis added.]

Inslee hedged: “First off, I walk a fine line because I don’t want the governor’s contest to make the legislature’s life more difficult than it is already,” he said in deflecting our questions. He would commit to avoiding an all-cuts budget, but the most we could extract about his strategy was his support for closing tax loopholes for Wall Street Banks and generically supporting green job creation. Could he name any details?

I have decided not to articulate more than that at this time,” he said.

Yes, of course, just as I have “decided” not to give the specifics of my plan to convert ordinary table salt to pure gold using only a plastic grocery bag, tap water and a tube of toothpaste. But I digress.

Satisfied by his discovery of an interview loophole, Inslee stuck to his strategy of taking the Fifth:

Would closing bank loopholes be enough (although the state budget shortfall is roughly $1.5 billion this year, bank loopholes would save only about $100 million a year)?

I don’t know the answer.”

To be fair, there’s every chance he was giving a perfectly honest answer that time.

Can Inslee coast to victory by feeding the electorate a steady diet of campaign slogans drawn from Seattle’s provincial activist lexicon? Considering the universal impact the slack economy and broken state budget are having on voters across party lines, that seems unlikely and Washingtonians have a tendency to become impatient with politicians who refuse to even pretend to go through the mating dance.


[photo credit: WSDOT]