Jay Inslee wants to be Democrats’ climate change candidate. He paints animal portraits, too

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is seeking the Democratic Party's nomination for the 2020 presidential election. He campaigned in Sacramento on May 4 during a "March for Science" rally. He says climate change is his biggest priority.

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is running for president to defeat climate change. He’s frequently visited California, and he recently came to Sacramento for a “March for Science” rally.

Here are five things you need to know about Inslee as he campaigns in the Golden State:

1. Climate change is his top priority

Inslee is deeply committed to combating climate change, making the issue central to his campaign. During a four-day trip to California, he rolled out an ambitious proposal to achieve 100 percent clean electricity by 2035 and eliminate the country’s coal production by 2030.

In the wake of a barrage of wildfires, the environment has become an increasingly important issue for Californians. A January poll from the Public Policy Institute of California showed it as the second most important issue for likely Democratic voters.

“Don’t tell me it costs to defeat climate change,” he said during a taping of the “California Nation” podcast. “It costs too much not to defeat climate change.”

Asked where he could work with Republicans if they maintain control of the U.S. Senate, he said he’d be open to working with them to help solve the problem. But he said “the fact is there aren’t any (Republicans) right now” willing to tackle the subject.

2. He’s close with Jerry Brown

Inslee grew close to former California Gov. Jerry Brown while they led West Coast states. Inslee said he especially appreciates Brown’s contributions to protecting the environment.

Inslee this month signed a state law that requires Washington utilities to go carbon-free by 2045. California has the same goal from a law signed in 2018 by Brown.

Inslee in a 2017 interview with The Sacramento Bee called Brown a “super-leader” on climate change and clean energy.

Inslee is also a fan of the former governor’s corgi, Colusa. During a recent interview with The Bee, he pulled out his phone to show a painting he gave to Brown in recognition of his dog.

“His ears are more pronounced in that one,” Inslee said of Colusa.

Inslee’s rendition of Colusa isn’t his only painting. The Associated Press last year noted that his office is decorated with some of his artwork. He debuted a painting of a bear walking in the woods last year at a National Governor’s Association conference.

3. He’s not afraid to attack fellow Democrats

Inslee has done his best to portray himself as the biggest environmental advocate among the flood of more than 20 Democratic presidential candidates.

When former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke released his plan to combat climate change, Inslee was quick to respond, saying O’Rourke “will need to answer why he did not lead on climate change in Congress and why he voted on the side of oil companies to open up offshore drilling.”

Asked whether the country wants a 68-year-old white man with a long career in politics to be president, Inslee took a jab at South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

“I am getting tremendous excitement from young voters because they understand what is at stake here,” he said. “I think they would think it’s better to have a 60-year-old that can defeat climate change than a 37-year-old that’s never lifted a finger to do anything about it.”

4. Inslee’s biggest regret: 1994 crime bill vote

In 1994, then-Congressman Inslee voted in favor of a 1994 crime bill that included a federal “three strikes” provision. He said he regrets supporting the “tough on crime” policy because it led to mass incarceration for people of color.

“I took a vote that history has shown has resulted in some racial disparities in criminal justice,” Inslee said. “Now that I know that, I’m making every effort that I possibly can to reduce racial disparities.”

Earlier this year, he announced he’s offering pardons to thousands of people convicted of lower-level drug offenses in Washington.

Though he regretted the position he took in the 1990s to crack down on crime, he said he took many other difficult votes that he was proud of, including an assault weapons ban that later cost him his congressional seat.

5. His high school basketball jersey is retired

Inslee was active in sports during his time in high school. He said he was an aggressive basketball player who could rebound and pass well. About 10 months after being sworn in as Washington’s governor in 2013, he had his high school basketball number retire — despite the fact that he only averaged about seven points per game.

He was a key player on the Ingraham High School Rams were undefeated state champs during the 1968-69 season.

Asked how he earned the honor of having his jersey retired, he offered four different theories. “You could either conclude it was because of my very aggressive defense, or my good passing ability, or my tremendous rebounding ability, or you could conclude it’s because I’m governor of the state of Washington. I’ll leave it to your imagination.”

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.