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Gov. Jay Inslee on climate change, tax policy and reparations

More than a dozen candidates are running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. Among them is Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state, who has made addressing climate change the cornerstone of his campaign platform. He sits down with Judy Woodruff to discuss his plan for creating a “clean energy economy,” the value of executive experience, tax policy and slavery's racist legacy.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    More than a dozen Democrats are vying for their party's 2020 presidential nomination.

    One of those candidates, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington, joins us now.

    Governor, welcome to the "NewsHour."

  • Gov. Jay Inslee:

    Thank you. This is an honor. Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, thank you for being here.

    So, you are making climate change a centerpiece of your campaign. You ask voters about it, many of them agree it's important, but it is not number one when they look at what's most important in choosing a president.

    How do you force action if it's not a top priority for people?

  • Gov. Jay Inslee:

    Well, actually, it is actually becoming a top priority.

    Actually, there was a poll in Iowa showing this was the top priority for Democratic voters certainly, now tied with health care. And this is changing in the American public because we are witnessing Paradise, California, burning down to the foundations.

    We're seeing the floods today in Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa that are just historic. We're now seeing smoke in Seattle, Washington, and Washington, where we have had to close swimming pools because of smoke from raging forest fires. This is changing.

    And we know, look, we're the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation who can do something about it, and we know we can build clean energy jobs, too.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you're talking — you have been talking about this issue for, what, well over a decade.

  • Gov. Jay Inslee:

    Indeed, yes, or two.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Or two.

    There are progressive Democrats out there talking about it, too. They put out something called the Green New Deal. I know you have taken a look at that.

    What are the main differences between you and other Democrats on this issue of climate change?

  • Gov. Jay Inslee:

    Well, the first — and it is a profound difference — I am the only candidate who has said very forcefully and vocally that this — defeating climate change has to be the number one priority of the United States.

    And I believe it has to be the first, foremost, and paramount obligation of the United States. I'm the only candidate who has made that priority decision. That's just the start of the differences.

    Second, I have been doing things and getting things done for 20 years on this, where the other candidates have not. So there are profound differences.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about the role of the federal government? I mean, in order to get something done fast, you're talking about government intervention.

    How would you use the government in a way that the other candidates wouldn't, do you think?

  • Gov. Jay Inslee:

    Well, I have had success in my state. I think the difference has been, as a governor, I have had executive experience getting things done in Washington, building a $6 billion wind industry, electrifying our transportation system, soon, hopefully, to have a 100 percent law on the books for clean electricity.

    So I have actually got things done, rather than just speechify about it, number one. And, number two, look, if this is not job one, it won't get done. And, as a governor, I have learned prioritization is the first choice. To govern is to choose. I have made that choice. I believe America is ready for this.

    And we can build a clean energy economy and jobs by the bucketful doing this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're talking a lot about climate change, but, clearly, there are other issues as well on voters' minds.

    How do you separate yourself from the — what are the main differences you see between yourself and the other candidates? And if I asked you to put yourself on the spectrum between the Democratic socialist in this case all the way to the most moderate, where is Governor Jay Inslee?

  • Gov. Jay Inslee:

    Well, look, there's other good candidates in the race. I think all make fine vice presidents.

    (LAUGHTER)

    So, we have got good possibilities there.

    But, listen, I have been an executive. And being an executive is a leadership skill set that I have developed that has been important. And we have developed the number one economy in the United States. We have the most rapid GDP growth, wage growth and job creation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In Washington state.

  • Gov. Jay Inslee:

    In Washington state.

    And the reason we have been able to do that is, I have succeeded in actually having action, rather than just action plans. So we have got the best paid family leave for families in the United States, one of the best minimum wages.

    I have passed the first net neutrality statute in the United States. We have passed the best — maybe tied with California — best voting rights bills in the United States. We have passed the biggest transportation package perhaps in our state's history. They can't build a bird box here in D.C.

    So we have a record of accomplishment that is, I believe, unparalleled and unique in the field. And I'm happy to join that with a vision statement of building a clean energy economy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Number of the issues I want to ask you about, but one of them, of course, is taxation. You have got other Democrats out in this campaign season talking about taxing the wealthiest Americans, and basically went after billionaires and their assets.

    Others are talking about changing the federal estate tax. Non-candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she's not running for president, but she's talking about a tax that would essentially, what, go back to the 70 percent rate on individuals.

    Where do you come down on all of this?

  • Gov. Jay Inslee:

    Well, I think where we should start is be fair to American taxpayers, and reel back in the $20 billion-plus of subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.

    Look, we shell out billions of dollars of tax benefits to the fossil fuel industry, who doesn't need it. Right now, at the very time we're trying to reduce pollution, that's a place to start. We know we need to roll back the Trump tax cuts.

    And we know, in general, we should have a fairer tax system for working people. That's why I am proposing a capital gains tax in my state, because we need a fairer system to end inequality.

    Basically, look, we need a middle-out strategy to build a middle-out economy, rather than a trickle-down. This is important in this issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But not — you're not calling for some sort of big increase in the top individual rate, the marginal rate?

  • Gov. Jay Inslee:

    I think looking at our rates is a rational thing to do. I haven't proposed a specific rate.

    But I think having a more progressive system, which you can acquire in multiple ways, one of which is to increase the marginal tax rates, I'm certainly open to that. But we got to do the things we start with, reel back those inordinate tax breaks we're giving to fossil fuel companies, reel back in the Trump tax cuts, then look at these other issues.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Another issue that's come up in the last few months in this campaign has to do with paying reparations to descendants of African-Americans who came to this country as slaves.

    Some of your Democratic opponents are saying they are flat out for this or they're prepared to take a look at it. Where are — they're for cash payments or maybe something different. How do you think about that?

  • Gov. Jay Inslee:

    Well, I think that we have a history in this country that we need to remedy.

    And I think we should look at the things that have the broadest applications to do that. And the kind of things we should do, I think, should focus on ending intergenerational poverty.

    This has been a pernicious result of racial disparities for a long time in our society. That's why I have been so focused on increasing early childhood education. Being in a zip code shouldn't be your destiny in poverty. It's why I have had such diversity in my people that I have hired.

    It's why I have offered pardons to people because of the drug war has resulted in significant racial disparities. So, I think a lot of these things that can end the pernicious effects of decades of racial disparities are the things we ought to be focused on.

    And I think they will have broad support of the American people. And so that's the direction I want to go.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor Jay Inslee, Washington state, running for the Democratic nomination, we thank you.

  • Gov. Jay Inslee:

    Thank you.

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