WASHINGTON ― Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) was elected Monday to become chair of the Democratic Governors Association, charged with leading their efforts to take back dozens of top state posts across the country, a crucial step in rebuilding their party in 2018 and beyond.
Unlike the Senate, where they will be almost entirely on defense in next year’s congressional midterms, Democrats have an opportunity to pick up seats in 26 gubernatorial elections, including in 13 states whose Republican governors are currently term-limited.
The stakes for Democrats are high. Republicans control 32 state legislatures across the country, and winning more governorships would give Democratic officials a crucial stake in the decennial redistricting battles that will take place after the 2020 census. The process could allow party officials to draw more evenly shaped congressional districts in order to compete for additional House seats.
For now, though, the prospect of adding to the ranks of Democratic governors would bolster the growing “resistance” movement focused on fighting President Donald Trump and his policy agenda. West Coast governors like Inslee have worked to block early iterations of Trump’s travel ban, for example, which was aimed at refugees and immigrants from Muslim countries.
Inslee, who is serving his second term as Washington’s governor and his first as the chair of the DGA, predicted Republicans would come to regret their association with an exceedingly unpopular president. He said he was positive that, short of the U.S. ending up in a “shooting war” with a foreign power in the next 11 months, Democrats would exceed expectations next year.
“They cannot hide from him,” Inslee said of Trump in an interview on Monday. “He is an anchor they will tow around and cannot free themselves from.”
Inslee said that Democrats are “highly confident” about winning governorships in New Mexico, Nevada and Maine, whose Republican governors are term-limited, and that they have a good chance of winning in places they usually don’t compete well in: red states including South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Kansas.
Last month, Democrats made big gains across the country by taking key state legislative seats, two governorships and full control of the state governments of New Jersey and Washington. Democrat Ralph Northam’s victory over Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, in particular, gave party officials hope they would see a blue wave in next year’s midterm elections.
Inslee said that Democrats will tailor their message to voters by focusing primarily on economic growth and jobs, like they did in Virginia. The Republican tax proposal that is advancing in Congress, which has similarly received poor marks from the public, will also be in the mix.
“We’re going to hang this around their necks because its not trusted by American people. They know a scam when they see one,” Inslee said, arguing that the GOP tax plan would hurt rural voters by giving handouts to corporations to the detriment of the middle class.
Republicans in Virginia and nationwide have gone on offense over so-called sanctuary cities: jurisdictions whose law enforcement agencies can refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officers. The issue received national attention last week when a jury acquitted an undocumented immigrant of murder in the 2015 death of a woman in San Francisco, which has designated itself as a sanctuary city.
Trump blasted the verdict in Kate Steinle’s death as a “miscarriage of justice,” signaling that the issue of sanctuary cities is likely to become fodder in state races.
Inslee said he wasn’t worried about the GOP messaging on the issue, however, pointing to the result in Virginia, where Gillespie employed a similar tactic.
“It just didn’t work. He sank like a rock. It actually failed,” he said.
Inslee said it was “extremely important” for Democrats to win governorships next year in order to be able to influence the congressional redistricting process after the 2020 census. He called the current system heavily tilted toward Republicans, adding that Democrats simply wanted to restore the balance to districts Republicans favorably drew for themselves after the 2010 census.
“Just having a fair shake is all we’re asking for. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, incoming chairman of the Democratic Governors Association
“I don’t think Americans have to worry about it getting all of a sudden gerrymandered by the Democrats,” Inslee said, referring to the process of manipulating district boundaries. “Just having a fair shake is all we’re asking for.”
Inslee’s leadership role at the DGA will put him in a position to travel the country and rub shoulders with Democratic officials and donors outside of Washington. The high-profile position has already prompted some chatter about him possibly running for president in 2020.
Asked whether he had plans to do so, Inslee said he was focused on his two jobs at hand.
“I’m totally engaged in being governor, and I’m excited about being [DGA] chair,” he said.
With unified control of state government for the first time in his tenure as governor as a result of last month’s elections, Inslee will have plenty on his plate during his second term in office. He said he plans to move forward with a trio of progressive proposals: measures to charge carbon polluters, strengthen voting rights and expand abortion rights.
“This is a place where Trump cannot stop us,” he said.