Look who's relevant now!
Jay Inslee is the longest-serving current governor in the nation, but throughout most of his tenure, he was viewed by many political players and observers as a detached leader. His laser-like focus on climate change, it seemed, precluded his leadership on other issues. Unlike his predecessor, Christine Gregoire, he was not one to knock heads and forge legislative compromises. Lawmakers hashed out differences without him.
Welcome to his second act. The curtain rose just in time.
The two burning issues of the day are the coronavirus and climate change (literally burning). The latter recently was punctuated by the sixth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report outlining our increasingly dire circumstances. As if choking on summer smoke weren't signal enough.
Inslee now looks visionary on global warming, and he has issued bold, definitive vaccine and mask requirements in response to the spread of the delta variant.
Now it's his political opponents who are on the sidelines, hapless to respond to the fast-changing COVID-19 landscape. They say they want legislative input, but what they really want is to gum up the emergency measures needed to control this much-more-transmissible variant.
Count me as one who is extremely grateful Inslee is calling the shots, because no governor in the nation is following the advice of public health experts as closely. The day after Washington's indoor-masking mandate was reimposed, I spent a half-hour at a local supermarket where the entire staff and most of the shoppers were masked. (Psst! You with your nose exposed: That's where delta dawns.)
It was a dramatic turnabout, and I felt safer going about my business. Ah, freedom! The lesson is clear: Mandates work. People may not like them, but most will comply.
Schools, government offices, restaurants and other businesses are increasingly requiring proof of vaccination, and the result is that more people are getting shots — even the "anyway" crowd. You've met them, right?
"Anyway, it's just the flu."
"Anyway, the vaccine is unproven!"
"Anyway, if you do your own research, you'll chug horse dewormer."
Anyway, even some of those doofuses are relenting because they want their kids in school and their travel plans unspoiled. I'm thrilled about this, because it means my college-age daughter can return to campus (finally!) under safer conditions.
In announcing the new mandates, Inslee has provided cover for all entities who want to do the right thing. School districts, stores and restaurants can say, "It's out of our hands" as they enforce safer practices.
If you wonder whether there are second acts in political life, just trace the arc of Inslee's career over the past two years. A Spokesman-Review editorial from Sept. 1, 2019, provides a good starting point. The headline was: "Washington needs a new governor, not four more years of Inslee." The impetus was his failed attempt to run for president on a climate-change platform.
It said, in part: "Next year, voters need to elect a governor whose political aspirations and interests are firmly focused on promoting the best interests of all Washingtonians..."
The good news is, we did! By re-electing Inslee. It helped that Republicans nominated a conspiracy-addled candidate who was so unqualified that even the Spokesman-Review endorsed Inslee, for the first time. Quick: Name that candidate! In fact, name any prominent Republican who is fighting the virus as aggressively as they're fighting phantom menaces, such as "stolen" elections and critical race theory.
Antipathy toward Inslee was nothing new among the state's editorial boards. During Inslee's first run for governor, nearly every daily paper in the state endorsed Rob McKenna, the moderate Republican attorney general (back when such Republicans were viable candidates). The first seven years of Inslee rated "meh," even among people like me who voted for him anyway.
Now I'm relieved to have the most courageous governor in the nation.
Inslee has been an exemplary crisis manager, calmly entering the fray while other governors have retreated. It's as simple and stark as this: His actions have saved lives.
Meanwhile, the governors of Texas, Florida and other red states are actively blocking crucial public health measures as hospitals and clinics clog with COVID-19 patients who refuse to vaccinate. Other governors are punting masking and vaccination requirements to school boards, which are getting overrun by unmasked mobs demanding that those be individual choices, a move that has proved continually disruptive to schools and has hastened the delta variant's spread. In Tampa, Florida, it took only four days for more than 5,000 students and staff members to head into quarantine. Schools in South Carolina have had to retreat to online learning.
That hasn't stopped protesters from disrupting school board meetings in Spokane and Spokane Valley. Fortunately, these board members are backed by the governor.
The noisy anti-mandate protests grab media attention and mask the truth that most Washingtonians — and Americans — supported the first lockdown and now support vaccine and mask mandates to control the new variant. The vaccinated have had it with the unvaccinated and they're happy to see a crackdown on the resistance.
Critics point to Inslee's unilateral, sweeping decisions and compare him to royalty. To which I heartily reply: "Long live the king." ♦
Gary Crooks is the former editorial page editor for the Spokesman-Review.