Challenges lie ahead for Inslee’s new campaign | THE PETRI DISH

Gov. Jay Inslee is beginning the last year of his first term with every expectation of winning re-election in November.

Gov. Jay Inslee is beginning the last year of his first term with every expectation of winning re-election in November.

But challenges stacking up for his administration will test his executive mettle and political skills as he pursues a second term.

• His Department of Corrections is trying to pinpoint why a software error allowing convicted criminals to be released too soon went unfixed since its discovery in late 2012. A fix, delayed 17 times, is supposed to be completed Jan. 13. Meanwhile, officials have tied the deaths of two people with criminals mistakenly released early.

• His Department of Social and Health Services is struggling to comply with a federal court order requiring the state’s psychiatric hospital reduce wait times for mentally ill inmates held in county jails. The agency leader — who announced his resignation Tuesday — is due in a Snohomish County Superior Court on Thursday where a judge wants to hear when the hospital intends to be in compliance.

• His Department of Transportation is endeavoring to iron out wrinkles in the operation of the new express toll lanes on I-405. The most recent involved an error in toll collections that resulted in readjustments and credits on bills sent to thousands of drivers.

• His Department of Ecology is continuing to draft clean water rules predicated in part on fish consumption that will meet federal mandates. The Environmental Protection Agency tired of waiting, wrote its own rules last year and is advancing to impose them if the state fails to act.

Then there are a couple matters involving education: The state is still in contempt of a state Supreme Court directive in the McCleary school funding case and getting fined $100,000-a-day. The threat of closure looms for several charter schools and parents are appealing for help from the state.

Although Inslee’s authority in these is limited, he can influence the outcome as chief executive.

Overall, this is not the kind of list on which a strong resume for re-election is built. At the same time, it’s too soon to calculate their potential impact but not too soon to be concerned.

An Elway Poll released Wednesday shows Inslee leading Republican challenger Bill Bryant 39 percent to 30 percent with the rest undecided. The survey of 500 voters was conducted at the end of December.

Bryant is widely unknown around the state and the survey makes clear he’s got an uphill battle to find enough votes to win.

Inslee isn’t sailing along either. His job performance rating dipped since the last Elway Poll in July and has declined a little every six months since January 2014.

There are other findings that hint at Inslee’s potential vulnerability and need to shore up his support.

To that end, Inslee has started directing the conversation away from the challenges engulfing his administration to the changes he’s looking to bring to Washington.

On Wednesday, for example, he announced the launch of a statewide initiative to reduce gun-related deaths and injuries. On the same day, he put out the draft of new clean air rules that could force the state’s largest polluters to eventually reduce emissions.

And last month he proposed closing some tax breaks and using the money to give public school teachers a pay hike.

Those are among the policy pursuits he’ll put in bold on his resume for the coming campaign.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com and on Twitter at @dospueblos.

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