Opinion: Gov. Jay Inslee reacts to question about efforts to end his emergency order

Clark County Today Editor Ken Vance discusses governor’s response to question about lawmakers’ efforts to end his emergency orders

Ken Vance

Gov. Jay Inslee visited Vancouver Friday. He toured Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary School and talked to participants of the Vancouver Boys and Girls Club as well as Vancouver’s Free Clinic and vaccination clinic. At the end of his four-hour visit, the governor met with some community representatives and even took some questions from some hand-picked members of the media.

The governor’s staff indicated that in order to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions, only invited media outlets were allowed to attend. KOIN-TV was selected as the television pool reporter for the media scrum. I had one important question for the governor and I am thankful that the KOIN-TV reporter was able to ask Gov. Inslee my question.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee hears concerns from members of Clark County’s BIPOC community during a meeting at the Tower Mall vaccination site on Friday. Photo via KOIN-TV Live Stream
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee hears concerns from members of Clark County’s BIPOC community during a meeting at the Tower Mall vaccination site on Friday. Photo via KOIN-TV Live Stream

I wanted to hear the governor’s thoughts on the efforts of Rep. Vicki Kraft (Republican, 17th District) and other Republican lawmakers in the state to put an end to his emergency powers before the end of the current legislative session.

“That bill is going nowhere because people understand we still have a problem in our state,’’ Inslee said. “We have an increasing number of cases. We have increasing hospitalizations. We are in the middle of administering a vaccination program which is rapidly accelerating. This is not a moment to stop our efforts. Our efforts are working in the state of Washington. We have saved thousands of lives in our state. If we had the same fatality rate as New Jersey, we would have had 15,000 more dead Washingtonians. Just in the average, we’ve saved 7,000 people just comparing us to the average state. We’re saving thousands of lives. This is not a moment to stop saving thousands of lives in the state of Washington.’’

We will never know if it was a coincidence, but that was the last question the governor took before abruptly ending the media scrum.

“With that, I’ve got to get back and fight COVID, thank you very much, take care,’’ Inslee said.

Kraft and other Republicans, not to mention many residents of this state, will likely not be happy with Inslee’s response to the question. But, it obviously comes as no surprise. For the past year, citizens have called on Inslee to lessen the restrictions he has placed on businesses and residents of the state. Lawmakers have also fought Inslee’s ability to hide behind his own emergency orders to unilaterally manage this crisis with seemingly no input from the members of the Washington State Legislature.

Last year, Sen. Lynda Wilson (Republican, 17th District) pre-filed legislation requiring all gubernatorial emergency orders to be approved by the legislature after 30 days. Wilson had served on the governor’s pandemic-related business-recovery task force until it was abruptly disbanded in May, after just five weeks.

Rep. Vicki Kraft
Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-17

Last week, in an opinion published by Clark County Today, Kraft called for an end to Inslee’s emergency powers. On Monday, 22 other lawmakers joined Kraft in her efforts, signing a letter addressed to Democrat and Republican leaders in both the House and Senate. Kraft authored the letter in which the lawmakers asked that the governor’s state of emergency concerning COVID-19 be ended before the Legislature adjourns April 25. 

Earlier this week, Kraft was a guest on Seattle’s KVI radio to discuss the issue with host Ari Hoffman, who asked the Vancouver lawmaker if she was receiving any support from the House Democrats.

“It really was drafted with the intent of a bipartisan approach,’’ Kraft said of her letter. “As we all know, the Democrats are in the majority, so ideally they will need to be the ones to get on board and make a difference and a change to the direction.’’

We all know the chances of that are less than slim. So, will Washington residents have to live under Inslee’s reign until he, himself, declares it over? Not so fast, Kraft said. The Republicans do have one tool in their tool belt.

“I will say, though, the Republicans do have the capital budget bond vote, which requires a 60-percent majority vote,’’ Kraft said. “That is a possibility and a tool that could be used to say, ‘listen, unless we really deal with this issue of changing course and reigning in the governor’s emergency powers, we’re not going to necessarily support the bond.’ I’m not stating that for all of my fellow members, but I am saying that it is a tool, being in the minority, that we have. I think at this point we would prefer to see a bipartisan approach. That is always the better option, but there has to be something done soon.’’

For the record, Inslee has proposed a capital budget so large that it would exceed the state’s $3.3-billion bond capacity for the 2021-23 biennium. His plan is to tap into $1.25 billion in future bond capacity, which would obviously leave the state with reduced bond capacity in future years. And, the governor’s attempted cash grab comes after the state has already received billions in federal dollars to help fund the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Count me as one Washingtonian who would love to see the Republicans use that tool. Perhaps it could help bring an end to Inslee’s reign of power during this pandemic and also curtail some of his excessive spending at the same time.