Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says he won't run for a fourth term

First elected in 2012, Inslee is only the second person to serve three consecutive terms as the state's governor.

Gov. Jay Inslee in his office

Gov. Jay Inslee will not be seeking a fourth term. (Amanda Snyder/Crosscut)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has decided not to seek an unprecedented fourth term for the state’s highest elected office.

First elected in 2012 after serving multiple terms in Congress, Inslee is only the second Washington governor – after Republican Dan Evans (who served 1965-1977) – elected to a trio of consecutive four-year terms. Inslee announced his decision on Monday morning.

Inslee’s announcement effectively clears the way for candidates in the Democratic-leaning state – such as Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz – to pursue a gubernatorial bid in 2024. Those two statewide elected Democrats were considered contenders for the job before Inslee announced for a third term.

Washingtonians – whether they like it or not – live in a state whose politics have been reshaped during Inslee’s tenure in Olympia.

After a divided state Legislature came under full Democratic control in 2018, Democrats passed a slew of laws to fight climate change, impose stricter firearms regulations, protect reproductive rights and advance a host of other progressive priorities. Those wins included a tax on some capital gains, a proposal favored by Inslee for years before it passed, which the state Supreme Court upheld in a decision released last month.

Inslee oversaw state government during a series of high-profile natural disasters and public emergencies, from the 2013 Skagit River I-5 bridge collapse to the 2014 Oso mudslide and devastating wildfires.

No doubt the most impactful: the once-in-a-century pandemic that hit in 2020. The governor imposed some of the strictest public-health measures of any state during the pandemic, finally lifting the emergency in autumn 2022.

Washington experienced some of the fewest deaths per capita from COVID-19, and the state’s economy remained fairly resilient. But the governor’s sweeping orders spurred new levels of resentment among conservatives, never big fans in the first place. His uses of emergency executive power included orders to temporarily close some businesses early in the pandemic and a strict vaccine mandate for state workers.

Over the years, the governor also built a record of transparency, by declining to invoke an executive privilege recognized by the state Supreme Court that would have allowed him to shield taxpayer-funded records. In 2018, Inslee vetoed a bill by lawmakers to exempt themselves from the voter-approved Public Records Act.

The governor wrestled with a series of scandals and problems across Washington’s state agencies.

In late 2015, the governor announced that the Department of Corrections had for more than a decade miscalculated sentences of incarcerated individuals who were in prison with sentencing enhancements. The error caused as many as 3,200 incarcerated people to be released early.

During the pandemic, the state Employment Security Department lost hundreds of millions of dollars due to fraud while distributing COVID-19 aid. The situation, combined with high need among state residents, contributed to long waits for many trying to get their benefits as jobs and livelihoods remained in flux.

Over his tenure, Inslee and lawmakers have also presided over a pervasive homelessness crisis and chronic issues in Washington’s mental-health system, despite years of proposals to fix these with billions of dollars in attempted improvements. Lawmakers and the governor have continued that work this year, as those troubles persist.

Inslee has spent much of his career fighting for measures to stop climate change, and even briefly ran for president in 2020 on a climate-first platform. But he only recently has gotten a big taste of success in that realm, with the Democratic Legislature in recent years sending him a series of climate bills that he had long sought. Those new laws – which include a carbon cap-and-invest program and a clean-fuels statute – are starting to go into effect.

Inslee also has long been a supporter of stricter firearms regulations, and has supported a slew of legislation over the years, such as this year’s bill to ban so-called assault weapons.

It’s another issue that has long been on his mind. Before serving several terms in the U.S. House from Western Washington, Inslee was a one-term congressman from Central Washington. He lost reelection to that job in 1994, after he supported a federal ban on assault weapons that last decade.

In an interview in January, Inslee described discussing with another representative what they would do shortly before they voted in favor of the weapons ban.

“I said, ‘Look, I’m going to do this, I may go over the falls, but I’m going to do this,” Inslee said.

“I’ve long believed it’s the right thing, and I’ve never regretted it,” he added. “Because I always thought, if you’re going to go to Congress, you should go there for a reason, to actually do something.”

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