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Gov. Jay Inslee signs a signs Washington state net neutrality bill into law. (Screenshot via Facebook / WAStateGov)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is making a habit of taking on the Trump administration. In the past week, he did it twice.

At a White House summit of governors last Monday, Inslee slammed President Donald Trump’s proposal to arm teachers in the wake of the deadly Feb. 14 school shooting. “We need a little less tweeting here and a little more listening,” Inslee said.

A week later, on Monday, Inslee signed a bill enacting net neutrality protections in Washington state, in direct defiance of a vote by the Federal Communications Commission to repeal nearly identical protections.

“Washington retains its right to have consumer protection laws,” Inslee told GeekWire. “This is, at heart, a consumer protection law and we are providing a mechanism to protect consumers from illicit behavior in the marketplace.”

The new law requires internet service providers (ISPs) in Washington to treat all lawful internet content the same. They are prohibited from slowing some content while speeding up other traffic, presumably for a premium.

Inslee discussed the net neutrality law, his confrontation with Trump, and Democrats’ newfound passion for states’ rights over federal authority in an interview with GeekWire. Continue reading for the edited Q&A.

Monica Nickelsburg: What’s next, now that this is the law? What will the implementation of it look like?

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at an event in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Gov. Jay Inslee: Well, we will make sure that our providers are aware of the law, which I’m sure they are, but we’ll make sure of that. Our attorney general will be alert to any violations of that, and we’re hopeful that it will be respected. We believe that the companies that respect this will certainly be appreciated by their consumers and if not, they’re going to end up on the short end of some legal action. We feel confident in our ability to move forward. There have been threats from the federal government to attempt to prohibit us from protecting our citizens, but there’s a lot of threats that come out of the Trump administration, that don’t get effectuated. He threatened to have Mexico pay for the wall. That hasn’t happened. There’s a lot of things they’ve threatened that don’t come to pass. So, we hope this is one of that long list because we think we are on very firm ground and the state of Washington retains its right to have consumer protection laws. This is, at heart, a consumer protection law and we are providing a mechanism to protect consumers from illicit behavior in the marketplace, and that’s where it’s at. At its very core function, that’s what this bill does. We feel good about that and we’re hopeful that the federal government will focus its energies on the Mueller investigation and not come bother the State of Washington doing its work for consumers.

MN: Do you expect legal challenges to Washington’s new net neutrality law?

Gov. Inslee: Not necessarily. As I’ve indicated, you just hear threats, so many threats coming out of there. Every tweet that comes out of the White House is a threat to somebody and a good portion of them don’t come to pass. We hope that’s the situation here. Jeff Sessions was going to threaten to shut down the marijuana industry but he hasn’t. Trump has threatened to have Mexico pay for the wall and he hasn’t. No, we don’t have an expectation, we have an awareness of their previous statements, but we believe we’re on firm ground. I hope that mature, rational voices will speak in the White House, and they’ll decide to go trouble someone else in some other way.

MN: Okay, but if there were challenges, would they come from the White House or would they come from ISPs under the preemption law?

Gov. Inslee: Well, we don’t know but in our discussions with some of our companies here, they’ve expressed an intent to honor consumers. I hope that ISPs, when they realize that their consumers will be extremely ungratified with that behavior, will not take that position. It’s not a huge marketing advantage to ISPs … and once their marketing department talks to them hopefully, they will see fit to want to comply with this and allow us to move forward.

By the way, I should note too, because it’s not necessary, I have not yet executed an executive order that would not allow procurement by the State of Washington of companies that don’t comply with this. If that becomes necessary, that’s something we could do so if you wanted to do business with the state of Washington, you’re going to need to comply with these statutes. I haven’t done that yet, but it would be one tool that we could use if that became necessary. We hope it doesn’t.

MN: I was going ask about the executive order because I know when the FCC voted, you said that one possibility was restricting access to utility poles. Is that still a possibility?

Gov. Inslee: It’s probably not necessary. It’s something that you could consider if there’s mass failure to abide by this law but I don’t think it’ll be necessary. This is the alpha and omega of consumer protection. The executive orders on procurement would be great, the full access would be great, but we don’t need those things. This is the umbrella that everyone’s protected under, so we don’t need those particularly more limited tools. We have the ultimate tool here, which is a statutory consumer protection rule that defines appropriate behavior. So there’s no need for carrots or sticks, we got the most important thing, which is the law, which is the same law that we had in America, until President Trump repealed it, in part, to protect his corporate interest friends. So, we feel that we’re on very good grounds and we’re well-protected by the statute.

MN: A role-reversal seems to be occurring where the Democratic establishment is trying to empower state and city governments, in defiance of the federal government. Is Washington at the forefront of that?

Gov. Inslee: Oh, we’re active. We’re resolute. We’re undaunted. We’re un-intimidated. Because of that, we frequently find ourselves in the van of this effort but I’m not alone. There’s a lot of governors, a lot of people across the country that are resiting in many ways, the depredations of this administration, and I’m glad to have an alliance in many ways. We’ve got the United States Climate Alliance, 15 states that are moving to defeat climate change. We have many people who are acting on — or several governors who’ve acted on — executive orders on net neutrality. Of course, ours is the first statute, the first global protection, so we’re proud of that.

We have a lot of states and governors who are joining me in an effort to stop the president’s discrimination and the immigration policies so, we’re not alone, but we certainly are the first here, I will say that. We get the gold medal here.

MN: What does it mean for Washington state to lead on net neutrality?

Gov. Inslee: Well, it means, in its most obvious sense, protection for consumers, which is our goal, but it also means that Washington is standing up on its two feet being counted. We tend to do that in Washington state, I did that at the White House on this gun issue when the president wanted to arm first-grade teachers last week, and we do have a tendency to do that in Washington state.

MN: I want to talk about that meeting. It was a tense discussion with President Trump. What were your impressions coming out of it?

Gov. Inslee: My impression was it was a good chance for, at least, one governor to speak up to the president about a particularly bad idea. How I look at it, was carrying the voices of about 5 million educators in the United States, and many in the law enforcement community, that believe that this one idea, the president’s, was a bad idea. My impression was, it was a good chance to have the voice of teachers resonate in the White House, a place where the president cannot escape hearing that. It was a good chance to do it, so I seized upon that. That was the right thing to do.

The president needs to hear the things that he doesn’t always agree with. That doesn’t happen a lot because the voices he listens to are restricted to Fox News on TV and he needs to hear a broader discussion. Unfortunately, one of the great dangers we have in this country is that we have not had enough voices who have spoken against some of his bone-headed ideas and we need that. We need people who will stand up and confront him in a civil, professional way, and I believe that’s what I did. We’re not getting that from Republicans in the Senate or the House. We’re not getting that, as far as I know, from his staff. So, we need this. We need people to resist this and he needs to hear it in an appropriate fashion. He did in this one instance.

MN: Are you going to run for president?

Gov. Inslee: I [was] really happy to run to sign this bill as fast as I could today, that’s as far as I’m running.

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