It might not be a surprise that Jay Inslee felt as though he needed to step down from his congressional seat to focus on his gubernatorial campaign. Inslee has a savvy competitor in Attorney General Rob McKenna (who noted that the departing Chris Gregoire kept her job at the AG's office while pursuing the governor's mansion). What is a surprise is that Inslee and fellow Democrats apparently think it's no big deal to leave his seat vacant for eight months.
Washington will be down one Congress member until November by virtue of Inslee's timing. If he had resigned by March 6, the governor would have called a special election to fill his seat. But instead his announcement came this past weekend.
"I asked this question: Where could I do most good for the state of Washington?" Inslee said, explaining his decision.
State Democratic Party Chair Dwight Pelz went even further in rationalizing why Inslee's months of missed votes won't matter: "We all know Congress is gridlocked and not much is happening there," Pelz told The Seattle Times.
Really? So little is happening in Congress that members might as well not show up for the better part of a year? That has to be one of the most cynical views of Congress ever expressed. But hey, if that's true, maybe all of Congress should take eight months off and put the saved salaries into reducing the deficit.
Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for the congressional watchdog nonprofit Public Citizen, doesn't believe it's true, however. While he concedes there has been especially bad gridlock, he says a number of important pieces of legislation are lined up: "the JOBS act, the budget itself, the STOCK Act." Indeed, he calls the latter, which would ban insider trading by members of Congress, potentially "the most significant ethics achievement of the 112th Congress."
Inslee, moreover, is not just any member of Congress. As a seven-term veteran, he's one of the Democrats' leaders. Considering the scant attention paid to the looming vacancy, one might be forgiven for thinking that this is just the way politics is played. But Holman, a 10-year veteran of Capitol Hill, says "it doesn't happen all that often" that a Congress member will resign to run for another office.
Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii and Nathan Deal of Georgia did so in 2010, but both resigned in time for a special election to be called, according to Holman. The Seattle Times suggested that Inslee may have timed his resignation to save the state the cost of a special election. Maybe, but it sure seems as if the best thing he could do for the state would be to fulfill his duties in office. Had he been a Republican, Democrats would surely have slammed him—just as they did when a certain former vice-presidential candidate decided, post-election, that she didn't feel like being Alaska's governor any more.
Inslee's move, says Holman, "is every bit as irresponsible as what Sarah Palin did."