The Future Is Here
We may earn a commission from links on this page

Jay Inslee's Long Green Shadow Over the 2020 Race

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Image for article titled Jay Inslee's Long Green Shadow Over the 2020 Race
Photo: Getty

Washington Governor Jay Inslee may have ridden off into the sunset away from the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, but his influence continues to manifest itself—if you know where to look.

The first presidential climate candidate, Inslee released a six-part climate plan that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dubbed the “gold standard” before he dropped out of the Democratic race last month. When he ended his presidential campaign, Inslee made sure to note his plan was open source and urged candidates still in the race to draw on it. Now, at least two candidates have taken him up on the offer.


In the run-up to CNN’s town hall on the climate crisis with 10 Democratic candidates for president on Wednesday, presidential hopefuls have released a furious slew of climate plans in some kind of climate planapalooza. Over the past two days, four candidates have put out theirs. Both Julián Castro and Senator Elizabeth Warren hit up Inslee when crafting their climate plans; and in Warren’s case, she drew explicitly on the clean energy timeline Inslee laid out. It’s a remarkable show of respect for Inslee’s decades of engagement on the issue, and it also serves as an even more important reminder that the climate crisis can transcend politics. If the world is going to address it, it’s all hands on deck.


Castro plan, released Tuesday, adds to the former Housing Secretary’s suite of environmental policies, including a call to wipe out lead poisoning in the U.S. by cleaning up toxic infrastructure. His new climate plan includes a call for new civil rights legislation that would “dismantle” decades of environmental racism. Inslee had proposed something similar, telling Earther in July that we have to “deal with inequity in our society at the same time to give us a shot at survival.”

Warren also dropped a climate plan on Tuesday, continuing to add to the library of agriculture, military, procurement, and manufacturing policy proposals that she’s also woven climate into. In a Medium post announcing her plan, Warren wrote, “I’m embracing that goal by committing to adopt and build on Governor Inslee’s ten-year action plan to achieve 100% clean energy for America by decarbonizing our electricity, our vehicles, and our buildings. And I’m challenging every other candidate for President to do the same.” The plan would commit $1 trillion over a decade to transform the electricity and transportation sectors, money Warren said would come from rolling back Trump’s tax cut for the rich.

“Governor Inslee’s staff worked with Senator Warren’s, and a number of other candidates’, as they have put forward strong new climate plans,” Jamal Raad, a spokesperson for the Washington governor, said in a statement to Earther. “The governor is committed to ensuring that the Democratic nominee has a plan to do what it takes to defeat climate change and build America’s clean energy future.”

Numerous candidates praised Inslee during the presidential debates and sent him heartfelt farewells when he announced he was dropping out of the race. But the fact that Democratic contenders are drawing on Inslee’s plan and asking his team for input is the highest praise yet, and frankly what’s needed.


Inslee’s plan had a detailed, nuanced grasp of how to use the many tools at the president’s disposal to turn the U.S. (and the world) back from the brink of the climate crisis. And it was expansive, covering everything from R&D to international relations. But the fact that Inslee made his plan open source—meaning anyone is free to draw from it—is the biggest gift of all, and it would be a massive misstep by the remaining candidates to not borrow and build on it.

While each candidates’ plan reflects their priorities from Senator Bernie Sanders’ pledge to eschew nuclear power to entrepreneur Andrew Yang’s technofix visions, nobody has taken a view that’s nearly as granular as Inslee’s. The climate crisis is an all-encompassing problem, one that can’t be fixed with just one tweak here and another over there. Addressing it will require a radical transformation of government and society, and Inslee’s plan could help fill in some of the details missing in other climate plans (or provide inspiration at the very least). In a Washington Post piece describing some of the candidates’ climate plans, University of California, Santa Barbara political scientist Leah Stokes described the phenomenon thusly: “What would Jay Inslee do?” (WWJID is my new climate mantra, btw.)


Inslee was always a long-shot candidate. And while he never quite caught fire with voters in the way other candidates have, it’s clear his ideas resonated with the candidates themselves. But if candidates really want to honor Inslee, then they should also crib his idea to abolish the filibuster. Otherwise, even the best-laid plans won’t stand a chance of becoming reality.