Inslee wishes for fewer statewide elected officials

Inslee wishes for fewer statewide elected officials

December 3, 2021 0 By Jeremy Lott

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee told a group of students that having fewer statewide elected officials in Washington would increase “accountability.”

“Right now, you can’t blame me for what the insurance commissions are doing, because I don’t run the insurance agency,” Inslee said. ”So I’m not accountable for that. I would rather have more accountability that I can give to the public, so you can hold somebody accountable.”

Inslee’s answer, given Monday during a live Q&A with students around the state, might be interpreted as a shot at Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. The commissioner’s continuing efforts to ban credit score-based pricing have hiked premiums for an estimated one million Washington residents with good credit.

The governor’s answer was in response to a question by Ciara Smith-Sletten, an eighth-grader at Bellevue’s Open Window School who pointed out he appoints many of the people who run state government agencies.

“Do you believe these positions should be independently elected to make our state more bipartisan?” she asked.

“I don’t think elections necessarily increase bipartisanship,” Inslee said and used the head of corrections as an example.

“For the person who runs the prison system, right now I appoint that person,” he said. “If that person was elected, I don’t see any reason to believe that would become a more bipartisan effort.”

The governor also played with the idea of going in the “opposite direction” in terms of the number of statewide elected officeholders.

“I actually think if I was going to change anything it would be in the opposite direction,” Inslee said. “We have, like, the most elected positions of almost any state in the United States. So most states, you know, they’ll have the AG, attorney general, will be appointed by the governor, or the secretary of agriculture or the insurance director will be appointed by the governor instead of elected. So we have the most distributed system of almost any state.”

Hugh Spitzer, law professor at the University of Washington, said the reasoning behind Washington’s divided executive approach was power.

“It was a reform thing to try to reduce the governor’s power and disburse the power among many elected officials and was very common” starting in about the 1840s, Spitzer said.

He characterized the divided executive approach to governance as a “late Jacksonian development” and said the framers of the Washington Constitution, ratified in 1889, “wanted those officials to be directly responsible to the people.”

By dividing the executive and delineating responsibilities among statewide elected officers, they hoped it would “decrease the influence that big businesses have,” Spitzer said.

State constitutions ratified or reworked well into the 20th century tend to go more in the direction Inslee advocates, by consolidating power.

“In Alaska, people elect the governor and lieutenant governor and that’s about it,” Spitzer said. “Same in New Jersey.”

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