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Washington Gov. Inslee enters 2020 race with singular focus: Climate change

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee gestures to supporters during a news conference to announce his decision to seek the Democratic Party's nomination for president in 2020 at A&R Solar in Seattle, Washington, U.S., March 1, 2019.  REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson
Washington state Governor Jay Inslee gestures to supporters during a news conference to announce his decision to seek the Democratic Party's nomination for president in 2020 at A&R Solar in Seattle, Washington, U.S., March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday became the latest Democrat to launch a 2020 presidential bid, asserting that he is the only candidate who will make combating climate change the nation’s top priority.

“Whether we shrink to this challenge or rise to it is the vital question of our time,” Inslee said at an event at a solar installation company in Seattle. “We have one chance to defeat climate change, and it is right now. It is my belief when you have one chance in life, you take it.”

As with a video released earlier in the day announcing his candidacy, Inslee made clear that his bid would be built largely around a single issue that he called “the most urgent challenge of our time.”

In his remarks, Inslee argued that fighting climate change is central to progress on an array of other fronts, including health care, national security and racial justice.

Minorities, he said, are disproportionately affected by climate change in part because they are more likely to live near pollution-spewing plants.

“I am running for president, because, unlike the man in the White House, I believe in all the people who make up America,” Inslee said, in one of several barbs directed at President Donald Trump.

Inslee, 68, is the first governor to enter the crowded Democratic contest and has the longest political resume of anyone in the race.

In 1992, after two terms as a state legislator, he was elected to represent a largely rural, Republican-leaning congressional district in central Washington. In Congress, Inslee attracted national attention by voting for the 1994 assault weapons ban, immediately making him a target for the GOP.

Inslee lost in that year’s Republican wave, but he mounted a comeback in a neighboring district four years later.

In Congress, Inslee was a member of the center-left New Democrats. He focused most on climate and environmental issues; in 2007 he published “Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy,” a book about ways to transition the country from dependence on fossil fuels to renewable energy.

He ran for governor in 2012, winning a narrow victory over a popular Republican attorney general. Inslee was comfortably re-elected in 2016 and joined the loud resistance to Trump, bringing the state into lawsuits to stop a ban on refugees and immigrants from some Muslim-majority countries.

During his remarks Friday, Inslee cited a number of his accomplishments and suggested they should be replicated on the national level, including raising the minimum wage, investing in infrastructure, abolishing the death penalty and legalizing marijuana.

“It’s about time we do it nationwide,” he said of the latter measure.

Inslee will have to overcome a few major hurdles as he begins his run. Despite spending more than two decades in elected office in Washington state, he lacks the national name recognition of several of his would-be opponents.

And despite his calls for drastic action to combat climate change, Inslee’s most ambitious climate change initiative — the institution of a tax on carbon emissions — was voted down in the state’s elections last November, thanks in part to massive opposition spending from oil companies.

In response, Inslee introduced a new batch of legislation, which he calls “a clean energy smart deal,” that he believes would stop the state’s utilities from relying on fossil fuel power by 2045.

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During his remarks Friday, Inslee decried the influence of fossil fuel industries on politics and vowed that if elected president, “That gravy train is over.”

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