Presidential hopeful discusses climate change with students


David Boschwitz/Iowa State Daily

Washington Governor Jay Inslee speaks about climate change as part of his presidential campaign tour at a ISU College Democrats event Tuesday at the Memorial Union. “Revolutions start in small rooms, [like this room],” Inslee said. 

Jake Webster

2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington visited the Iowa State Memorial Union Tuesday to discuss climate change with students and the Ames community.

Inslee listened to a presentation by President Gabby Heidrich and Secretary Brad Wiesenmayer of the Climate Reality Campus Corps, a student organization. Al Gore founded the organization in 2011 with the main objective of raising awareness about climate change and environmental advocacy.

“Our mission is to catalyze a global action to the climate crisis by making urgent action a necessity across every level of society,” Heidrich said.

Senior in performing arts and presenter, Vivian Cook, discussed her participation in Climate Change Theatre Action. The organization, founded in 2015, is composed of groups from all over the world. Fifty international playwrights wrote plays and troupes, and organizations from all over the world signed up to be part of the initiative. The group combines the plays with an action in the communities in which they take place to make people aware of climate change.

“I think climate change needs to be everybody’s top issue,” Cook said.

Cook is undecided, but thinks that Inslee is someone who she could vote for. Inslee returned to the podium after these presentations and gave a stump speech interspersed with jokes, and then answered questions. Inslee said he started studying clean energy at the University of Washington in 1971, and joked that the audience should be very careful or they might end up doing energy work when they’re 68 too.

Inslee said climate change impacts all aspects of life already. Locally, he spoke of how Iowa farmers struggled to farm in the wake of severe flooding several years ago. Inslee said as a result of forest fires in the Pacific Northwest, air quality was worse in Seattle and Vancouver than in Beijing or New Delhi last year. The European migrant crisis was in part a result of people leaving areas in Africa that were no longer hospitable to life as a result of climate change, causing political instability in Europe, Inslee said.

Samantha Kuhn, a member of the audience who identified herself as part of Bold Iowa, a Des Moines based organization that seeks to build a rural-urban coalition to fight climate change, asked Inslee why he thinks other candidates are not prioritizing climate change the way his campaign is.

“I think perhaps they have not had as much experience as I have had,” Inslee said of other candidates.

Inslee said he wrote a book on climate change 11 years ago and introduced the “first meaningful climate change legislation” in Congress in 2003 and 2004. 

“I think it’s great that people mention climate change, but you can’t just mention it,” Inslee said.

Kuhn said it’s too early and the field of candidates is so wide that she cannot say who she will vote for.

“I love that he is prioritizing climate change,” Kuhn said.

She said that climate change is among her top three issues for deciding on a 2020 candidate to vote for. 

Inslee was asked how he would work to fight racial discrimination and diminish disparities as president by another member of the audience, to which Inslee responded that his state legalized marijuana during his time as governor, and he believes it should be legalized nationally. Inslee said it has not resulted in increased criminality or increases in youth usage.

“The racial disparity that has affected our system for decades has to be addressed,” Inslee said.

Inslee also said that Washington implemented the “ban the box” legislation, eliminating the box on job applications that employers use to ask whether an applicant has a criminal background.

College Democrats President Taylor Blair, whose organization co-hosted the event with Inslee on campus with Climate Reality Corps, said he likes how Inslee ties everything together with climate change.

“It provides a vision of where we need to go,” Blair said.

Inslee reiterated his support for institutional changes to the government of the United States. Inslee said that he supports abolishing the Senate filibuster that requires most legislation to have 60 votes to move through the U.S. Senate and abolishing the electoral college and electing the president by popular vote.

Of the current national emergency declared by President Trump at the southern border, Inslee said he believes it to be unconstitutional. Even many Republicans in Congress agree it is not the way to deal with the situation, Inslee said. However, if the courts rule this action is constitutional, he would be open to declaring a national emergency to fight climate change.