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Rep. Jay Inslee announced his run for Washington state governor today, touting the region’s strength as a center for innovation and proposing a plan to use funds from the state pension fund to help cultivate more startups. Inslee, a Democratic congressman who has served the 1st Congressional District north of Seattle since 1999, will likely face off against Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna in 2012.

“The number one job of the next governor is job creation,” Inslee said, noting that he’s driven bulldozers in Bellevue, taught community college classes in Yakima and practiced law in Tacoma. “I know the full scope of the great work that Washingtonians do.”

Interestingly, Inslee chose Targeted Growth, an agricultural biotech company in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, to kick off his campaign.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the announcement — at least as it relates to the tech community — was Inslee’s proposal to use some of the state’s pension funds to support startup companies. Efforts to create government-led startup investment vehicles have been somewhat mixed in the past, including lack of focus at the state’s own Life Sciences Discovery Fund.

But that’s not stopping Inslee from pushing forward with a plan to boost the amount of capital going into the region’s businesses. In his remarks today at Targeted Growth, Inslee said that the state “has some work to do” in terms of making sure that businesses are well capitalized.

“When we are trying to build a business now in the state of Washington, it is a little easier for some of these businesses to get capital down in the Silicon Valley,” said Inslee. “We need to find a way to get startup capital for these new innovators. That’s why, when I am governor, I will propose to using a small, defined portion of our state pension funds to create a pool of capital available for startup innovative companies that pledge to start here, and pledge to stay here.”

During his remarks, the 60-year-old politician referenced the “power of imagination” that has helped to create new industries around aerospace, software and biotechnology.

“The secret we have in the state of Washington is innovation,” said Inslee, who called himself a child of the innovation agenda in the state. “We should continue to aspire to these new technologies, and make sure that we keep our eyes on the prize,” he said.

Inslee said that he will work hard to compete for new businesses, building industry “high-tech clusters” around “the industrial strength technology that we have.”

You can watch Inslee’s announcement for governor in this Ustream broadcast.

UPDATE: Rob McKenna tells Seattle P-I’s Joel Connelly that Inslee’s proposal to use pension money to back startup companies is a bad one, echoing what some GeekWire readers noted in this comment thread.

“Start-up capital is risk capital:  Any venture capitalist will tell you that you must be willing to risk it all.  Gambling on a start-up with pensioners money is not a wise policy,” McKenna. “I have looked at the idea, as has the state investment board, but this is simply not the proper use for these funds.”

Previously on GeekWire: Rob McKenna: Friend or foe of tech?

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