EXCLUSIVE: A pre-debate interview with Jay Inslee
His press person said I could call it an exclusive. So I'm doing it.
Good morning and happy Thursday! Ya’ll ready for tonight’s Democratic presidential debate??
I’m not, if we’re being real. I’m extremely tired. But democracy is important, so I’ll be watching—and of course, keeping an eye out for that sweet, sweet climate content.
I won’t be writing a newsletter about the debate for tomorrow, though, because it’s my day off. That’s right: today marks the last day of HEATED’s first week. It’s been a real learning experience for me, and I hope it was OK for you, too. I’ve really enjoyed hearing from everyone about what you’ve liked/disliked so far, what you want to see more/less of, and what this whole endeavor has meant to you. I may be heated about the climate crisis, but your feedback has warmed my heart.
Looking forward to doing this all again next week, and many more weeks to come. Got a story suggestion or a tip for me? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
OK enough with the chit-chat.
I talked to Jay Inslee about the debate, etc.
Everyone who reads this newsletter knows who Washington Governor Jay Inslee is, right?
If you don’t, a quick primer: Inslee ran a campaign for president in the 2020 election centered around the climate crisis. His message was that climate change should be the next president’s number one priority, and that anything less basically amounted to denial of the science.
Inslee’s true goal wasn’t to win. It was to push climate to the top of the Democratic agenda. He also wanted the Democratic National Committee to hold a climate-focused primary debate. Despite widespread support for such an event from both the public and the rest of the Democratic field, the DNC refused. But by the time Inslee dropped out of the race in August, both CNN and MSNBC had agreed to hold extensive climate-focused presidential town halls. Inslee’s team also released more than 200 pages of climate change policy during his campaign—policies which are now being adopted piecemeal by the remaining field of hopefuls.
Inslee is now running for re-election in Washington state. So I asked him about that; his thoughts about tonight’s debate and last week’s CNN climate crisis town hall; and his failed attempt to work with big oil companies on climate policy—all during our 18-minute phone interview on Wednesday night. His campaign told me it was the only pre-debate interview he’s giving, so I should feel free to call it an exclusive. Which, duh, of course I’m gonna do.
HEATED: Hello and welcome to our exclusive interview.
I want to start by talking about last week’s 7-hour climate crisis town hall on CNN. What did you think?
INSLEE: I thought it was useful. A debate would have been better. I’m glad we had it. I wish we had a full debate. But you can’t argue the more discussion we have, the better off on this topic we’ll be.
Certainly I was pleased that it sort of required candidates to produce a plan [to fight climate change]. At least that happened for a number of candidates.
H: So what you really wanted was a climate debate, where all the candidates appeared on stage together. Not a climate town hall, where all the candidates appear one by one. Why is a climate debate preferable to a climate town hall?
I: It would have presented the sharpest contrast between candidates’ positions. It would have given candidates a chance to show their mettle in the heat of battle, which is important, because we need to identify the strongest candidate to defeat Trump.
I think it also would have helped identify the candidates who truly recognize that this is Trump's weakness. I really think this is Trump’s weakest point, and we need to identify the strongest candidate to expose that, and a debate is an effective way to do that.
H: The DNC is not going to have a climate debate. They argued about it, they voted on it, it’s done. The DNC’s chairman, Tom Perez, said it’s because if they let one single-issue debate happen, they’d have to let a bunch of other single-issue debates happen. I think that’s really dumb reasoning. But based on your work trying to push them on it, do you think there were any ulterior motives within the DNC to not have a climate debate?
I: I don't have any evidence of any other rationale other than the ones that people have given. I disagreed with them all, as you know. And I guess to some degree it’s moot, because we're moving on, and now we're trying to get candidates to be as ambitious as possible.
The debate about the debate was healthy in itself though, frankly, because it aroused people to this issue and demonstrated a lot of desire for climate questions. I think that promoted the networks to act, and have these town halls. And the town halls precipitated Democratic candidates coming out with climate plans.
So in a way, the debate about the debate was un-debatable.
H: Oh, oh wow. Well I think we can leave it there.
H: Just kidding. So we are going into debate night. It's not a climate debate, but hopefully climate will be talked about. What types of questions would you like to see?
I: Number one, anything that challenges the candidates to show why climate is our strongest argument against Trump; that it’s Trump’s weakest point. Number two, anything that would demonstrate the candidates’ real level of prioritization of the climate crisis, and allows them to articulate why it should be prioritized. Number three, anything that demonstrates the difference between candidates’ plans. Asking candidates to defend their positions. That’s what I’d hope a debate would accomplish. And I look forward to it.
H: Which candidates appearing on the debate stage have actively reached out to your campaign regarding climate policy, and which haven't?
I: I had a good talk with Senator Warren last week. I talked to Cory Booker. I talked to Senator Klobuchar. I talked to the Vice President. I talked to Senator Sanders. Secretary Castro—I’m not sure if our staffs have talked or not. I talked to Beto O’Rourke.
Some of the others have talked to my staff, I’m not sure everyone. But my staff is open to all candidates. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of my staff talked to some of the other candidates I don’t know about.
H: Many of the candidates are starting to use and adopt parts of your 6-part, 200 page climate policy. But I notice in that whole thing, you never propose a $1,000 freedom dividend to every American to help them move to “higher ground,” as Andrew Yang has. Why is that?
I: Well, if I'd stayed in the race longer, my next plan would have been a $2,000 dollar a month payment to every person, and an ice cream sundae every Sunday.
But to give a serious answer, I do think that there is probably a more effective way to help people transition in the new clean energy economy, rather than giving everyone $1,000. We have widely disparate ramifications of climate change, disparate ways it effects people. If you want to target resources most effectively, it’d be better to do it in a way dependent on the consequences people are experiences, rather than spreading butter across the United States. So no, that wasn’t part of my plan.
H: After you dropped out of the race, you received a great deal of praise from almost all of the major Democratic candidates. Now they’re all sucking up to you and trying to be like you. I'm not going to ask you if you are vying for any cabinet position, because I know you're running for governor. But I will pose a hypothetical question: If you were offered a cabinet level position within the next Democratic administration, which one would be the coolest?
I: The governor of the state of Washington.
I: I really am serious about this. That’s my goal and I’m intent on it. I’ve had a good run, and I intend to my continue. There’s a lot of work to be done in my state on climate change, and I think I’ve demonstrated the ability as governor to move that ball as well.
H: You have certainly demonstrated your commitment and effectiveness working on climate issues in the state. I do wonder, though, if you learned anything from your attempt last year to put a price on carbon. I’m talking specifically about the recent story in InsideClimate which noted your attempt to work with the oil giant BP on carbon pricing. They attracted some concessions from you, but then at the last minute, dropped their support. How is that going to affect how you approach climate policy now? Are you still going to work with big oil companies?
I: Well, I usually try to think the best of everyone. But our experience was that oil is slippery, and sometimes so are the companies who purvey it. And that's a harsh reality.
I’m still going to remain open to anyone who’s willing to help fashion solutions. I still have an open door. I'll talk to people. But it has been very frustrating that the industry as a whole has put out glossy publications; that put out all kinds of ads showing how green and clean they are; and they said a thousand times that they're for a carbon price. And they've killed a thousand carbon prices. So that's been disappointing.
But if we can break that record, I think that’d be a great thing. We remain willing to talk to people.
Some weekend reading material
Before I sign off the newsletter game for the weekend, I wanted to let you guys know that on Friday, TIME magazine is releasing a special issue devoted entirely to climate change. It’s called “2050: How Earth Survived,” and it represents the fifth time in the magazine’s history that the editors have chosen to dedicate an entire issue to a single topic.
The cover story is by environmentalist and noted HEATED subscriber/fan Bill McKibben. In it, he imagines it’s the year 2050, and he’s looking back on all the awesome, courageous things humans did to decarbonize society and preserve a livable planet. In climate journalism, we tend to focus a lot of the hypothetical awful things that could happen in the future if we don’t do anything. (I have a story coming out in the next issue of The New Republic that does just that—sorryyyy!) So I really like this idea of focusing on the opposite of that. What are all the hypothetical incredible things that could happen if we did everything?
There’s a lot more to look forward to. Climate reporting from literally every continent. Commentary from Al Gore, Jane Goodall, and Michael Mann. A whole section called “Women who will save the world,” featuring 15 women calling for action on climate change. A story on Paris’ plan for the first green Olympics.
Here’s the cover:
I hope it’s good!
Also, logistic-wise, if you want to watch the debate tonight, it’ll be on ABC from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. EST. It will also be livestreamed on Twitter, Facebook Watch, YouTube, ABCNews.com, Good Morning America and FiveThirtyEight.
Like I said, I won’t be writing an issue about it; but I’ll probably be tweeting about it. My handle is @emorwee.
OK, that’s all for now—thanks so much for reading HEATED! If you liked it, hated it, or want to pitch me a story idea, let me know at email@example.com.
See you on Monday!