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Gov. Jay Inslee talks tech regulation, climate change, and more at the GeekWire Gala. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

“We defeated fascism. We went to the moon. We can beat climate change. I fundamentally believe that.”

Speaking like a presidential candidate — though he didn’t confirm he is one — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee made the case for climate change as the central issue of the 2020 election. In an on-stage interview with GeekWire last week, Inslee challenged the notion that environmental issues can’t win an election.

“I believe that this issue, in its most fundamental character and its solution set, is really tied to basic American character and values,” Inslee said. He later added, “It is my belief that when you ask the American people to accept the challenge and they become unified to do that, we can move the world.”

Inslee has quietly started raising money to explore the idea of a presidential bid and told GeekWire, “I am seriously thinking about this.” Regardless of his personal ambitions, he wants the race to be a “referendum on climate change.”

It’s likely to be an uphill battle for any candidate campaigning on that issue. The environment consistently scores low on the list of issues Americans care about in polling. It didn’t even make the list of top issues in a November Harris poll conducted for the government data organization USAFacts.

But Inslee believes that Americans can get on board with his agenda if it is positioned as a job creator. He held Washington state’s clean energy industry up as an example.

“We’ve built the best economy in the United States and we have shown that we can create jobs in this clean energy space,” he said.

In November, Inslee lost a key climate change battle when voters rejected a carbon fee on emissions in Washington state. Undaunted, Inslee proposed a package of climate change legislation Monday to be considered in the next session. The goal is to eliminate the state’s fossil fuel usage by 2045. The new laws would also bolster his campaign if he does shoot for the presidency.

[Editor’s Note: GeekWire partnered with Steve Ballmer and his USAFacts initiative on the Numbers Geek podcast, exploring the data behind some of the most significant issues facing the country, as well as business and sports.]
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