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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Inslee Vs. Bryant: A Preview Of The 2016 Washington Gubernatorial Face-Off

Campaign photos
Washington Governor Jay Inslee, left, faces a challenge from Port of Seattle Commissioner Bill Bryant

Washington Governor Jay Inslee will run for re-election in 2016. The first-term Democrat hasn’t made an official announcement yet, but said he would run in an exclusive interview on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program.

Ask Governor Inslee to sum up his first term in office and you’ll get a comparison to what he calls the “other” Washington -- where he previously served in the U.S. House.

“I would say that we are doing in the real Washington what cannot be done very well in the other Washington, D.C.,” Inslee said. “That we are moving the needle on a bipartisan basis.”

Inslee highlighted a $16 billion transportation package and a $2.3 billion jump in state education spending in the current budget as examples of bipartisan accomplishments.

“I can point to three-year-olds that are going to get speech pathology help [that are] going to be ready for first grade,” the governor said. “They’re going to go to college instead of going to Walla Walla penitentiary.”

But the list of policies Inslee hasn’t been able to get past a divided legislature is long. At the top of that list: a cap on carbon emissions. Inslee is currently pursuing a carbon cap through executive rulemaking. He called global climate change a “scourge” and a “beast” and said there’s an economic and moral imperative for Washington state to address the issue.

“I would like to have a Washington and I am committed to having a Washington where there are trees in the forests and snow in the hills and water in the rivers,” he said. “And fundamentally those things are being damaged by carbon pollution today.”

Inslee’s chief Republican opponent, Port of Seattle Commissioner Bill Bryant, is a self-described fiscally responsible, social libertarian who said he’s concerned about the environment.

But Bryant said the governor’s unrelenting focus on capping carbon is misplaced.

“I think it’s a very personal agenda that he feels very strongly about,” Bryant said. I do not think it should be the priority of the governor when we’re leaving so many kids behind.”

By leaving kids behind, Bryant is referring to a statistic that shows nearly a quarter of high school freshmen in Washington won’t graduate.

“That’s not only morally wrong, it’s undermining our economy” he said.

Both Bryant and Inslee talk about creating jobs. Inslee believes the clean energy sector is Washington’s ticket to the future. Bryant has long worked in the agricultural export business. He said Washington regulations are too intrusive and not conducive to job creation.

Minimum wage is one economic issue where the two candidates diverge: Inslee supports a statewide minimum wage hike. Bryant does not, although he did back an $11.22 an hour wage at Sea-Tac airport.

“Statewide level, the concern I have is that we can’t or we shouldn’t pin a minimum wage to the cost of living in King County,” Bryant said. “So I don’t think we can have a one-size-fits-all system.”

Bryant faces an uphill climb as a Republican in a blue state who’s not well known by voters. Inslee has the power of incumbency, but he also has a record. For instance, in 2012, Inslee was quoted in the Seattle Times as saying, “I would veto anything that heads the wrong direction and the wrong direction is new taxes.”

But then a year ago, Inslee proposed a tax package, including a new capital gains tax. He later backed off that proposal when state tax collections improved.

“And when we didn’t need it, we didn’t use it,” Inslee said. “If you don’t need it, you shouldn’t put it on the books.”

Inslee said he wants four more years because there’s more work to do -- especially in the areas of education funding and clean energy. Bryant intends to try to make the campaign a referendum on Inslee’s leadership.

Less than a year out from the 2016 election, Inslee enjoys a nearly four-to-one fundraising advantage over Bryant.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."