Inslee counts on constituents
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:10 PM
"Jay Inslee hopes constituent service and a record he says reflects the values of the local electorate will turn the volatile 1st Congressional District into a safe seat.I get my marching orders from people in the neighborhoods, Inslee told the Review in an interview this week. My successes come from being home grown.The Bainbridge Democrat is trying to fend off a challenge from Dan McDonald, the former Republican floor leader in the state Senate, for the congressional seat that Inslee took from Rick White in 1998. The horseshoe-shaped district takes in Bainbridge Island, the Kitsap Peninsula from Silverdale north, portions of northern King County and southern Snohomish County, and wraps around the east side of Lake Washington to encompass Redmond, northern Bellevue and much of the Eastside high-tech corridor.The congressional seat, which changed party hands three times during the 1990s, is considered one of the few districts nationwide that is genuinely in play. Holding the district is seen as critical to the Democrats' chances of regaining control of Congress, where the Republicans now hold a slim 11-seat margin.In fact, a recent New York Times article identified the district as one of only two genuine swing districts in the country. Districts seldom change hands, the article said, because incumbents have so many advantages, particularly the ability to serve constituents in a highly visible manner. The Times said Inslee has learned that skill well. Inslee doesn't quarrel with that assessment.I work hard for the people in the district, he said, citing efforts to obtain back pay for some underpaid civilian workers at the Bangor Naval base, to keep job-training money for laid-off Boeing workers, and to obtain a service medal for a Poulsbo woman whose brother was killed in the military.Incumbents also have a record on which to run. Inslee provides a visitor with a brochure containing more than 50 single-spaced pages of text that spells out - seemingly in real time - the events of Inslee's first term, and his positions on the issues.One of Inslee's principal legislative issues - banking privacy - grew out of constituent service.I got a letter from a constituent on Bainbridge Island saying that his bank was going to sell information about his account to a telemarketer, Inslee said. He thought that had to be against the law. The staff looked, and we found out it wasn't.Inslee, a member of the House banking committee, introduced legislation to prohibit banks from sharing or selling account information unless the account-holder affirmatively consents. It passed, although it was weakened by amendments that require the account-holder to affirmatively request that information not be released, and that allow banks to share information with their affiliates.We have to work on closing those loopholes, Inslee said.The privacy provision was the subject of intense lobbying by the banking industry, Inslee said, which led him to another area of concern - campaign finance reform.I watched the impact of money on the process, he said, and I'm convinced we have to reduce that. He is a House co-sponsor of Sen. John McCain's campaign-finance reform bill to curb so-called soft money, and believes it stands a chance to pass because it affects both houses of Congress and both parties equally.As a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, Inslee has been involved in environmental legislation, and sponsored an amendment to limit a mining company's ability to dump waste material on public land. He strongly supports President Bill Clinton's executive order limiting construction of new logging roads in roadless portions of national forests, which he says is linked to salmon-habitat issues.He advocates a land and water conservation fund, which he says could provide some $900 million for communities to buy recreational land.That's tailor-made for this community, he said, pointing to the need for new soccer fields and baseball diamonds on Bainbridge.Inslee grew up in north Seattle, and graduated from Ingraham High School, the University of Washington and Willamette Law School in Oregon. He practiced law in Yakima for years, then was elected to the state Legislature in 1988 and to Congress in 1992, where he served one term.When he and wife Trudi and their three sons moved back to western Washington in 1994, they settled on Bainbridge. He worked for a law firm, made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1996, was regional director for the federal Department of Health and Human Services for two years, then won his congressional seat in 1998.On other high-visibility issues, Inslee is pro-choice on abortion; favors the Democratic approach to Social Security and Medicare reforms, including a prescription-drug benefit for Medicare recipients; wants to help school districts build more classrooms and lower class sizes; and wants to use the current surplus to pay down the national debt.Like his Republican opponent, Inslee advocates tax relief, but wants to target relief to the middle class. Inslee supports ending the estate tax, which principally benefits the very wealthy, but said that ideally, repeal of that tax would be conditioned on other tax relief for the middle class. He admits that estate-tax repeal is popular, in part because of a substantial information gap.Only 1-2 percent of the people will ever pay that tax, but 75 per cent of the people think they will, he said.Inslee says his proudest accomplishment is not letting the job consume his life.I've come home every weekend but two since I've been in Congress, he said. And those weekends, the family came back to D.C. "