The Sunday Observer: Inslee’s Interesting Chicago Detour
The Sunday Observer is a weekly article in the Washington Observer, the Wire’s new sister publication. To learn more about the Observer, see it on Substack.
Much ink was spilled by Governor Jay Inslee during his November trip to the climate summit in Glasgow, but we were more intrigued by a political side trip he made to Chicago en route to Scotland.
We encountered this in our semi-regular troll through the Governor’s Calendar¹ for some story perspective. Inslee’s schedule is always dotted with interesting little signs showing his frequent trips from elected official to national politician / Democratic central fundraiser.
One of those pointers is Tracy Newman, longtime Inslee fundraising consultant, who appears to frequently devote “personal time,” also known as shaking the rich over various types of political money.
While some of Inslee’s official advisers traveled with him to Scotland, the Chicago portion of the trip was attributed to Newman, making it politics, not governance. ³ The plane ticket and the hotels were blamed on Inslee’s nominal re-election campaign in 2024, according to his file with the Public Disclosure Commission. Washington taxpayers can retrieve security details on these trips, as Seattle Times Jim Brunner reported during Inslee’s run for president.
Here’s why you should care: Inslee went out of her way to make a trip that wasn’t a vacation and that appeared to have absolutely nothing to do with the governance of Washington. Instead of the relatively quick trip to Glasgow via a direct Sea-Tac flight over the Pole to London Heathrow or another convenient European airport, he flew to Chicago, which isn’t really on the way. That’s two more trips to COVID-infested airports and at least one more day from Acting Governor Denny Heck. Neither official Inslee spokespersons nor his political agents wanted to talk to the Observer about it.
The only public part of this trip was this appearance at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics with environmental reporter Amy Harder. That’s pretty standard Inslee: he pricks football over climate victories in Washington while sounding the alarm bells about global climate change.
But it’s clear Inslee didn’t take this trip just to evangelize environmentally conscious students. He can and does it here at home.
The schedule indicates that the real reasons for the trip were before and after the event. Previously, he met Mark Devaney, chief technology officer of the terrible Lion Cave Capital⁶ and a pretty big whale among Democratic political donors, according to the Federal Election Commission database.
Afterwards, he had dinner with a certain David Axelrod, who happens to be UChicago, class of ’76, and founding director of the aforementioned Institute of Politics. They had dinner at Bar David, which, it must be said, looks really strong, on the kitchen side, for a restaurant inside a university building.
The political nerds among you – and let’s face it, almost all of you – will recognize Axelrod as one of the architects of Barack Obama’s historic 2008 presidential victory. Along with the concert at his alma mater, Axelrod is all over CNN, does a podcast and usually makes the scene as a political sage.
He’s also an Inslee fan. The Governor participated in the podcast, and here is Axelrod on Inslee as the Governor bowed his presidential bid a few years ago:
“Jay Inslee didn’t find his niche, but he impressed me with his smart and serious advocacy around climate change. He leaves with his dignity intact and his reputation enhanced, which is not always true in presidential races.
So all of this begs the question: Is Inslee thinking about his next act, and do those thoughts extend to a possible presidential bid in 2024? Because if you thought about it, you’d be looking for someone who had a longshot elected over a politically problematic candidate from the establishment of his own party.
Under normal circumstances that would be fundamentally unthinkable, and certainly nothing a Democratic governor would say out loud. The current president is a Democrat in his first term. And although he is bowing out due to his advanced age, the vice president is clearly ambitious for the top post. The next real opportunity for any other Democrat should be no earlier than 2028.
But here’s the thing: Joe Biden is really unpopular. As of this week, he’s gotten a 42.9% approval, according to the FiveThirtyEight tracker. That puts him south of Jimmy Carter’s average and a few points north of Donald Trump’s. Kamala Harris is in the same situation. If those numbers stay low, the party’s loyalty may crumble and a transfer from Biden to Harris may not work. Add to that the continued federal inaction on climate change, and Inslee may well see a way for himself.
“You win the election by contrast,” Inslee told UCicago children. “You create a contrast with your opponent.” He was talking about beating Republicans with climate change at the center of a campaign, but the maxim also applies to the primaries.
The next day Inslee had an even more intriguing reunion before taking an Aer Lingus jet⁹ to Dublin: he went a few blocks from the city center to see Shelia Nielsen, some sort of high-end professional advisor. Among its services are assistance: “for both lawyers and non-lawyers in difficult career counseling issues and decisions”.
Apparently you sometimes have to fly to Chicago to get the right advice.
A few weeks later in New Orleans…
Lieutenant Governor Heck returned to Governor Heck from December 10 to 12 when Inslee flew to New Orleans for a weekend with the Democratic Governors Association.
For those of you unfamiliar with DGA, this is a black money political action committee that collects huge sums of money from very wealthy donors by selling access to governors. All this collection of money is done without much transparency in real time¹⁰. The financial strength of the DGA is manifested above all when it spent money, triggering state-level disclosure laws. For example, he donated $ 800,000 to the Washington State Democratic Party in 2020, the last year Inslee, a former president of the DGA, was on the ballot.
Most of the money goes to Democrats who protect or challenge the residences of governors across the country. But in 1992, the DGA played a big part in electing Bill Clinton, the last Democrat to move from one of those mansions to the more posh pad of Pennsylvania Avenue in the other Washington.
All we know of Inslee’s schedule is that he and his wife spent two nights at the Ritz-Carlton and attended various events at pre-war mansions that appear to be primarily used for weddings. truly ostentatious destination.
This trip seems to have been mainly on the tab of the DGA. The only trace in the governor’s financial information is about $ 1,000 in airline tickets for First Lady Trudy Inslee, charged to Inslee’s campaign surplus account. Also of note in the most recent disclosure of the surplus fund: a transfer of $ 90,000 to Jay Inslee for Washington, that nominal campaign for his re-election in 2024.
1 Pour one for the ghosts of Jolene Unsoeld and the many transparency-conscious “yeses” to Initiative 276 of 1972 that have since passed away.
2 While Inlsee’s 2024 “campaign” normally costs around $ 30,000 per month, which is enough to maintain a permanent political operation, it is likely to raise larger funds for national PACs that have no generally not accountable to campaign finance watchdogs.
3 Civil servants are not allowed to practice politics on time. As a result, the governor’s press shop declined to comment on the Chicago ruling. The people who work for his political operation have not responded to us.
4 By law, the lieutenant governor takes over when the governor leaves the state. Luckily for Inslee, Heck is a reasonable man, so there is none of that awkwardness with reversing random executive orders.
The silence of Inslee’s various assistants and agents poses a slight epistemological problem: we don’t really know that most of these events actually went as planned. We’re just going to assume they did.
6 If I analyze the language correctly on Lion Cave’s grimly minimalist website, it’s either the good guys or the bad guys from “Flash Boys,” Michael Lewis’s excellent book on electronic stock trading.
7 For example, in 2020, Devaney gave over $ 15,000 to the Biden Victory Fund and north of $ 20,000 to PACs helping US Representative Lauren Underwood, D-Illinois, defend her competitive headquarters in suburban Chicago.
8 We’re just going to assume that Inslee went for the chanterelle butter steak fries over roasted salmon with miso harissa frosting because a) the fish was almost certainly farmed and b) ordering salmon in Chicago in November. ?
9 An Airbus A330-300, most likely. Apparently not worried about transporting Snohomish County in 2024.
10 What happens at DGA usually stays at DGA, but the Observer knows a lot of people who have been behind the curtain. IRS statements periodically provide insight into where the money is coming from. According to the right folks at Open Secrets, top donors in 2018 included the pharmaceutical industry, insurance companies, labor unions, and Microsoft.
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