Gov. Jay Inslee’s presidential bid is no mere vanity project.
It may be slightly quixotic, given that among the burgeoning field of contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2020 Inslee is polling at around 1 percent. But it’s a sincere effort by a politician who for decades has maintained a sustained commitment to tackle one of the world’s most pressing problems, climate change. We believe Inslee when he says he and wife Trudi want to look back on their lives and say they’ve done everything they could to help the planet.
But Inslee’s 2020 run, regardless of any altruistic motivation, should not be aided at state taxpayers’ expense — even indirectly.
That, unfortunately, seems the inevitable consequence. State taxpayers must absorb costs for the State Patrol security detail that, by law, is required to accompany the governor and his family on trips inside and outside the state, no matter the reason for the forays.
Now that the campaign season is ramping up — Inslee already has made several stops in early primary or caucus states such as New Hampshire, Iowa and Nevada, as well as done photo ops in Oregon and California and made the rounds on cable TV news shows — expect the hefty travel expense reports to start trickling in.
Not for Inslee himself, or his aides. His campaign foots the bill there.
Rather, taxpayer expense will be incurred for the plainclothes security unit — a state version of the Secret Service — that will protect the governor. The Washington State Patrol says it plans to nearly double the size of its security detail, adding six new troopers at a cost of more than $4 million over two years. Taxpayers will pick up the tab for the new trooper salaries, overtime, hotels, flights and other travel incidentals.
Inslee should recognize the burden he’s putting on the patrol and, by proxy, taxpayers, and offer to reimburse the agency. It seems the right and equitable thing to do, given that he wouldn’t be traveling out-of-state nearly as often if he wasn’t running for president.
But Inslee, remember, is not required to pay up. Protecting the governor is a state mandate, and the Washington State Patrol cannot shirk its duties no matter the tab. As Inslee’s supporters note, the governor has not requested extra security, but the patrol has determined further staffing is needed for what figures to be a frenetic campaign schedule for the governor, even before the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses and Feb. 11 New Hampshire primary.
Even though the patrol’s cost estimate assumes that Inslee will remain in the race well into the 2020 primary season — which may not happen, unless his climate-change message especially resonates with voters and his name recognition shoots up — it’s put a strain on patrol resources even in the early going.
Those projections seem dead-on, given that troopers already had to tail Inslee across the land last year when he served as chair of the Democratic Governors Association and campaigned heavily for others in his party. During just a seven-month period in 2018, the patrol’s Executive Protection Unit exceeded its $2.6 million budget by $407,807 in the last fiscal year, according to records acquired by The Seattle Times.
The strain on the department was detailed in a memo the Times obtained last year from a sergeant in the unit writing to his superiors: “We are literally sending troops all over the nation with sometimes only a couple days notice,” wrote Sgt. Leonard Crichton. “I am pretty sure we cannot continue at this level without something breaking.”
When reporters last fall asked whether Inslee’s campaign would reimburse the patrol, spokeswoman Jaime Smith hedged: “I would imagine that in a scenario where we might continue to have an elevated amount of travel, there might be some conversation around that.”
Now, that scenario has come to pass. Inslee is running — and running all around the country, with troopers on his heels, watching his back. But last month in Iowa, Inslee told reporters he does not plan to have his campaign coffers pay for security. On Tuesday, questioned about reimbursement by Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (5th District), Inslee curtly said, “We plan to follow the current law.” Meaning, no.
Republicans in the Legislature have tried to politicize Inslee’s actions, with House minority representatives sponsoring a bill that would create an account where campaigns can reimburse the state for security costs. The bill died in committee, without a hearing. But Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, has hinted that Republicans will try to add amendments seeking security reimbursement to the current biennial state budget talks.
It’s doubtful the Democratic-controlled Legislature will make Inslee’s campaign cough up money to cover security services. And it shouldn’t have to. Inslee’s campaign trips only tangentially (at best) involve state business, so it’s only fair his campaign come forth and pay up.
And, while he’s at it, maybe Inslee could contribute some “carbon offsets” to deal with all that carbon dioxide his air travel spews in order for him to spread his climate-change message.