Jay Inslee says he hasn't lost ties to Eastern Washington

Jay Inslee emphasized his history and ties to Eastern Washington on Monday in his first Tri-City campaign appearance since announcing his run for governor.

Inslee, a Democrat and current U.S. representative for suburban Seattle, once lived in Selah and represented part of the Yakima Valley in the state Legislature before being elected to the Fourth Congressional District -- which includes the Tri-Cities -- in 1992.

He left the area after being unseated by current Fourth District Rep. Doc Hastings in 1994, but told members of the Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that he hasn't forgotten his time as a hay farmer and small business owner east of the Cascades.

"It's important to have a governor who knows a 'Day's Pay' is not just what you earn," Inslee said, referring to the B-17 bomber named in honor of the World War II-era Hanford workers who each donated a day's pay to buy the plane as a contribution to the war effort.

"It's important to have a governor who knows the Bulldogs aren't just Garfield High in Seattle, but also the Pasco Bulldogs," he said.

But it also is critical for the state's next governor to understand Eastern Washington's economy, and to see the potential for economic growth in its industries, he added.

Inslee said he sees the potential in Eastern Washington for industries that could make the entire state prosperous, namely the technology and energy businesses that are putting the Tri-Cities on the leading edge of what he termed a "new industrial revolution."

"I'm a person who is an optimist and bullish on this community," he said. "The future of our economy depends on innovation. We have blossomed here because of innovation. ... This community has in it the seeds for the next great horizons of economic development."

If elected governor, Inslee said he would work to create industries focused on innovation in particular fields of technology or research.

"You have the seeds of one in biotechnology," he said. "You have opportunities in solar and wind. You can be a leader in energy efficiency."

But for cutting-edge industries to prosper, the state needs to produce an educated work force, he added.

"The most important part of any economic development plan is the education of our citizens," Inslee said.

Inslee would like to develop mentoring programs to help improve the state's high school graduation rates, especially among Hispanic students, who have about a 50 percent dropout rate in Eastern Washington, he said.

"We need to get to these kids early," he said. "Having kids not ready to read by third grade -- they stay behind and become dropouts. We have got to break down the achievement gap."

He also would like to see funding restored to the state's higher education system to restore access to college for lower- and middle-income students, and more students being educated in science, engineering, math and technology fields.

And he promised that if he is elected governor, Eastern Washington would get more attention from Olympia.

"This is where I raised three feral boys in the apple orchards near Selah," he said. "This is the place where I learned to promote economic development. It's part and parcel of who I am."

Attorney General Rob McKenna, who is running for governor as a Republican, will visit the Tri-Cities today. His stops also include a visit with the Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, as well attending the opening of a home for homeless veterans.

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com