Governor welches on offer to meet with Republicans, discuss COVID numbers

Spokesman says Inslee will break a promise made in front of television cameras, reporters

Senators say governor’s reversal shows disrespect for news media, Legislature

Video of Feb. 28 news conference clearly shows Inslee promised to meet with Republicans to discuss COVID numbers. To see video, click here.

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee has welched on a public promise to meet with Republicans to discuss COVID numbers and the state’s continued state of emergency, according to a spokesman for his office, and senators who were looking forward to the meeting say they are keenly disappointed.

“The governor made a promise to reporters and then refused to follow through,” said Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview. “That’s if we can believe the statement made by his spokesman, Mike Faulk.

“I sure hope this isn’t true. Around the Capitol, we put a high value on honor and integrity. And if the governor goes back on a promise he made in front of the reporters of the state’s major media outlets, he is showing disrespect for the news media, too.

“I hope the news media organizations of Washington state will ask the governor about this at his next news conference. Did his spokesman reflect the governor’s position accurately? Does the governor really mean to go back on a promise he made on television? Did the governor really think nobody would respond? Half the Legislature can’t get an answer out of him, but I am sure he will respond to inquiries from reporters.”

The furor concerns remarks Gov. Inslee made at a news conference Feb. 28. Inslee declared flatly that he would be happy to meet with Republicans to discuss statistics regarding COVID infections and hospitalizations, which he says justify Washington’s continued state of emergency.

“I will be happy to talk to them about the numbers,” Inslee stated.

Inslee, like other governors, declared a state of emergency two years ago when COVID swept the nation, giving him extraordinary powers to suspend laws and issue orders. Today most states have lifted their emergency declarations, but not Washington. This is one of just four states that allow their governors to decide when emergencies begin and end, allowing them to choose whether they wish to relinquish power.

At the news conference, Inslee was asked about Republican criticisms of the open-ended emergency and his lack of an exit plan. Inslee announced his Healthy Washington Roadmap to Recovery Plan a year ago, but has not revealed the criteria under which he will move the state to Phase 4, termination of the emergency order.

Inslee said at the news conference, “If they want to sit down with me and look at the numbers, I am hopeful – I am very willing to talk with them. They are open, they are available. The numbers are the numbers.”

The four Republican senators who comprise the Senate Freedom Caucus immediately wrote the governor to accept his offer. They note that the governor has not been communicative with Republicans since he assumed emergency authority in 2020. The Senate Republican Caucus has sent the governor more than 50 letters concerning matters of policy since the emergency was declared, but the governor has offered a substantive response to only three.

In their letter, the senators said, “We agree with you, there really ought to be some sort of justification for this continued assumption of power and authority by the governor’s office, and we are excited that you are willing to share it with us.”

The senators suggested multiple times when a meeting might be scheduled. But the governor never responded.

And on Thursday, the final day of the 2022 legislative session, Inslee spokesman Faulk said the governor has no intention of following through on his promise.

Faulk told a reporter for The Center Square, an online news outlet covering state politics, that the governor will not meet with Republicans after all. “The letter froths with duplicity,” Faulk said. “The numbers aren’t ‘the governor’s COVID numbers,’ they’re IHME’s, DOH’s, and CDC’s ‘COVID numbers,’ respectively, and each makes their modeling research publicly available.”

The senators say they are mystified by Faulk’s explanation. The governor’s words left no room for ambiguity. They say it doesn’t matter which agencies came up with the numbers that the governor chooses to use. What matters is the governor’s conclusion that the numbers justify a continued state of emergency.

“We were looking forward to hearing why other states can look at the same numbers and conclude it is time to end their emergencies, but Washington’s governor feels he should retain extraordinary authority and should continue to make all COVID-related decisions,” said Sen. Jim McCune, R-Graham. “This isn’t just a question for Republicans. The entire state of Washington is wondering.”

Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, noted that after Inslee made his promise at his Feb. 28 news conference, the governor followed his statement with a lengthy digression into the reasons he does not like Donald Trump, the former president who left office more than one year ago. The connection with the emergency powers issue in Washington state was not immediately apparent.

“If the governor can get past his ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome,’ we might be able to have a reasonable discussion about his numbers,” Fortunato said. “It saddens me that the response from the governor’s office is to accuse members of the Senate of deceitfulness when we are simply asking for the governor to live up to his word.”


To see video, click here.

Transcript of remarks:

Keith Eldridge, KOMO-TV: Republicans are asking – they don’t believe the numbers you are using are really up-to-date. They believe that the metrics are already in place, that there is enough room now to reopen and have everything happen today. And they don’t believe you need to continue the emergency powers. Why not end that emergency today? And let them join you in all these decisions – and if you need another emergency, just call it?

Gov. Jay Inslee: Well, I don’t know what you are referring to, Keith, so if they want to sit down with me and look at the numbers, I am hopeful – very willing to talk with them. They are open. They are available. The numbers are the numbers. There is no question about this. …With all due respect, I will be happy to talk to them about the numbers.”