Except for that January jaunt to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, Gov. Jay Inslee hasn’t exactly been a globetrotter, in the literal sense, over the past year. But for a guy whose job description explicitly states he is to tend to the welfare of the verdant state located in the country’s upper left-hand corner, let’s just say Inslee has been a tad peripatetic lately regarding domestic travel.
There he is in Miami, now Bozeman, Mont., now Altoona, Iowa (hmm…Iowa, where the caucuses are a mere 14 months away). Off again to New York City and Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. Catch him in Santa Fe, N.M., Westbrook, Maine., on Hawaii’s Kohala coast. Then there’s that Colorado swing: Denver, Aspen, Telluride.
Over a seven-month period, from January to August, Inslee spent 49 days traveling out of state in his capacity as chair of the Democratic Governors Association — and that’s not counting his fall forays to Georgia and Florida to stump for gubernatorial hopefuls. (His DGA term ends in December.)
In no way are we suggesting that Inslee has been derelict in his duties as governor. He remains a near-constant looming presence in Olympia and, heck, he even made it out to Yakima four times in 2018. So, it’s not as if he’s an absentee chief executive. But his forays to a dozen states for lectures, campaign events and assorted strategic confabs have not gone unnoticed here on the homefront.
If nothing else, whoa, think of the frequent flyer miles the guy’s accrued.
But think, too, of the expenses state taxpayers have absorbed paying for the State Patrol security detail that, by law, is required to accompany the governor and his family on these trips.
According to a report last week by The Seattle Times and Northwest Public Broadcasting, the patrol’s Executive Protection Unit, plainclothes officers assigned to Inslee for protection, exceeded its $2.6 million budget by $407,807 in the last fiscal year. As a result, the Patrol now is seeking an additional $1.3 million in its biennial budget to deal with overtime and travel expenses and expected costs they might incur in 2019 and beyond.
Taxpayers, mind you, did not pay for a penny of Inslee’s expenses during his road trips on non-Washington state business. The DGA picked up the tab. But the association did not contribute one slim dime to help cover costs for Inslee’s state-mandated security detail. Nor was it required to. But, in a way, we did pay for Inslee, because it certainly costs the security detail considerably more to jet to the East Coast or deep South than it does to hang out with the Inslee clan on the weekends at their Bainbridge Island home.
And given Inslee’s higher national profile in the wake of his sojourns, coupled with his coy hints that he might make a presidential run in the seemingly never-ending primary season, we have a right to worry whether the taxpayers will be on the hook for even more State Patrol overtime, airline tickets and hotel rooms if the governor traipses off to New Hampshire and Iowa, and multi-state whistle stops in between.
In the last presidential primary cycle, 2016, then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, under pressure by constituents, covered some of his state’s security-protection funds out of his campaign war chest. Asked whether the governor’s campaign might emulate Walker and cover the cost of security should Inslee run in 2020, his spokeswoman, Jaime Smith, deftly bobbed and weaved, saying, “I would imagine that in a scenario where we might continue to have an elevated amount of travel, there might be some conversation around that.”
Translation: The State Patrol might want to consider asking for even more funds to guard Inslee while he eats fried dough on a stick at the Iowa State Fair and sips hot cocoa at a New Hampshire diner a year hence.
Listen, we acknowledge the real need to keep our governor safe. These are dangerous and divisive times, especially for elected public officials. As the Times reported, last year a Ferndale woman was arrested after threatening to shoot Inslee. Going back a decade, an anti-government extremist was arrested after reportedly plotting to assassination then-Gov. Gary Locke.
Absolutely, continue to protect Inslee with all available resources as he goes about his job. But, should he decide to make a presidential run or campaign for others, it only seems right that the security funds come from the governor’s campaign coffers.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider and Sam McManis.