Inslee delivers historic third inaugural address

The address was delivered via video to Washingtonians and a remote Legislature.

WA Governor’s Office
Jan 13 · 12 min read

Gov. Jay Inslee today delivered the 2021 inaugural address as he begins his historic third term as governor of the state of Washington.

Prior to the address, the governor and Washington’s eight other newly-elected and re-elected officials were sworn in to office by Chief Justice Steven González.

The governor delivered the address via video, a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and new security concerns.

In the speech, the governor said that now is a time for “relief, recovery and resilience.”

Gov. Jay Inslee being sworn in for his third term with Chief Justice Steven González.

Remarks as prepared

. . .

Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us today. I am so appreciative of this chance to serve again. We are embarking on a truly historic third term and legislative session.

So let’s talk straight: The last year has been challenging in ways none of us have ever experienced. It’s the kind of moment where we are called upon to dig deep, to work together and to be resourceful like never before. Washingtonians are answering that call.

At the end of this legislative session alone, we will be able to say our state is more equitable; a state with more opportunities for careers and affordable housing; and a state that is more committed to fighting climate change than ever before.

We have big challenges that demand we take big steps. We are not going back to normal. We are going forward toward a new normal. We are on a path in this legislative session to a more just normal, a healthier normal. And we’re not just talking about the pandemic.

These halls may look empty, but when you scratch the surface, there’s a robust and incredible story about Washingtonians that’s still unfolding. I’ve been honored to be your governor for the past eight years, which have been part of the story that brought us here.

We’re already looking to the future. The aftermath of 2020 alone demands it. More than 3,500 Washingtonians have lost their lives to the pandemic. Many thousands more continue to struggle on their path to recovery from this virus. Families, business owners, workers and students have been through too much. There is still a palpable anxiety in the air.

However, beneath it all are the ingredients of relief, recovery and resilience.

Members of the Washington State National Guard pack boxes of food at a foodbank for families struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic (April 2020).

And yet, no matter what has come our way, I am confident, because Washingtonians have risen to the challenge. We have seen remarkable heroism, diligence, and a stalwart commitment in our frontline workers; and we have seen it in all Washingtonians who know they are safer when every one of us is healthy. Washington is a resilient state. Washington knows how to recover. This is not going to stop Washington state’s eternal march of progress to a more just and equitable community.

A new year is often when this building’s marble corridors come to life with civic discourse. But the last eight years were pre-pandemic. When I first took the oath of office, with Trudi nearby, there was pretty much no elbow room in this rotunda. It was the same in the House chamber four years later.

The governor’s first inaugural address, in 2013.

We miss those shared experiences now. And in this era of the internet, we no longer share common sources of the truth as we once did. But this pandemic is as big as any shared experience, it gives each of us our own struggles, but a common challenge. Everyone has a COVID story, even if they or their loved ones were never infected. Everyone has their place in this struggle. We cannot be alone in our challenges.

We all share a thirst for more justice. The police-citizen violence we saw in 2020 alone has traumatized the nation. And we need not only conversations but action — action on truths that have been overlooked for far too long. Our collective consciousness is at a crescendo. Let’s ride that wave, head first. Let’s recognize our opportunities for growth, even in these dark times.

We will incorporate equity into how our laws are applied and how our institutions are run, including independent investigations and prosecutions. We owe it to countless Washingtonians who live with the realities of racial injustice every day, and who are less free because of it. We’ll also be working to incorporate an equity lens into health care, jobs, education, pollution and more.

Progress is what we’re known for. When I first took the oath in 2013, our state was trying to rebound from the Great Recession. In 2017, my second term began in the midst of one of the strongest economic booms for any state in the nation. Three years later, the COVID-19 pandemic jarred our progress. The pandemic affected our health and our freedoms.

In Washington state, we know how to succeed. We’ve proven it. Why not do it again? It’s time to take back the torch. Our careers, our dreams, our lives: We are getting back on track.

Washington state has continued to lead during the coronavirus pandemic. Together, we have listened to the public health experts, wore masks, kept our distance from one another and we know that has allowed us to bend down the curve of this deadly virus. Let’s be clear: We have saved countless lives in Washington through what we’ve been able to do together. That’s not just the lives of COVID patients, but for anyone who has ongoing medical needs, because everyone’s health is at risk in a pandemic. These life-saving efforts will continue. We will not yield from that commitment.

And we know our state’s economy is poised to recover and what we do now, in the next four years, will shape the future for generations of Washingtonians. Our leaders in the business community proved their mettle in these tough times, like employee-owned Superfeet in Ferndale.

Respirator hoods made by Superfeet. (Photo courtesy of Superfeet)

They make insoles and footwear, but when COVID hit, they announced they would use their expertise in 3D printing to make 30,000 pieces of personal protective equipment. Then, they blew that estimate right out of the water: They made close to 50,000 respirator hoods for their local hospital network and others nationwide, then they supplied 450,000 medical gowns to health facilities. This kind of entrepreneurial leadership happened in communities across our state.

We want community-minded entrepreneurs to continue to pursue their dreams in this new world, and we’re going to keep helping them. It’s why I want to reduce increases in the unemployment tax on businesses that never foresaw the mass layoffs that came with this pandemic, while fighting the federal government for more funds and working with the Legislature early to get more money into people’s pockets.

We all have to come together if we’re going to do right by the people suffering most in these times.

That’s why we’re going to keep supporting small businesses with every resource at our disposal. And when workers lose pay because they’re sick or laid off, we’re going to help see their struggles don’t spiral. We’re going to get these businesses open eventually, we’re going to get people back to work, and in the meantime we are preparing for that day when we can fully reopen the economy.

At the end of the day, Washington, we aren’t alone; we have each other.

It’s in Washingtonians like Cindy Franck, a registered nurse at St. Michael Medical Center in Bremerton, on the front lines of our society’s struggle against COVID-19. She and her colleagues didn’t know what to expect when COVID first hit, but they’ve been fighting ever since. Even being shorthanded when dozens of her colleagues were out due to COVID quarantine, she kept working, night and day, caring for a floor of 28 patients with limited staffing.

Cindy Franck, RN, St. Michael Medical Center, Bremerton. (Photo courtesy of Cindy Franck)

We have to take care of our medical professionals so they can take care of others. Our wellbeing is at the heart of what makes us free.

And our medical professionals are not alone. We are in solidarity. That’s why my administration is committed to serving them and reimagining public health for the future. We’re going to remove politics from our public health system and make sure local health professionals can focus on people’s well-being.

All of our frontline and essential workers have been heroes in this effort — grocery clerks, bus drivers, teachers who are already back in the classroom and educators who have shown such innovation in remote learning. We’re going to make sure people like Cindy will get the resources they need to provide those essential services to all.

And we knew before the pandemic this important fact: Our state’s behavioral health system is outdated. Behavioral health is health care and supporting the wellness and health of Washingtonians is crucial. The impacts of the pandemic demand we improve this system.

We’re going to make sure people have access to jobs by strengthening the new approaches to career training we know work. The old way of doing things limited people’s pathways to good jobs. My administration has created more pathways to better livelihoods through our Career Connect program.

More Washingtonians will have stories like Leela Cohen, who participated in Career Connect and will soon get her certified medical assistant credential. She’s already working in a Kaiser Permanente clinic in Bothell right now, where she’s needed and much appreciated.

Leela Cohen, Career Connect participant who will soon be earning her certified medical assistant credential. (Photo courtesy of Kaiser Permanente)

Career Connect helps people like her find opportunity when pathways seemed closed. It’s for anybody regardless of age or where they’re at in their studies or job search. Leela’s not done yet. She wants to continue to advance her career in the medical profession and one day open her own clinic.

We want all our children to have a career, not just those who go to college. That’s why we need Career Connect.

And that includes our young people. We’re going to get students back into the classroom, and make sure it’s in safe and healthy settings. And we’re going to keep at some of the glaring disparities in our education system. We’re going to continue expanding early childhood education. We will not go backwards.

Gov. Jay Inslee with youth participants of the STEM Education Innovation Alliance (Feb. 2020).

We will continue our student financial aid commitments. We have the most generous college financial aid program in the country. As long as I’m governor, we’re going to keep our commitments so that more people can earn degrees, certificates or apprenticeships to get into great jobs and careers.

Gov. Jay Inslee talks with a student at Aberdeen High School (Feb. 2020).

I also look forward to working with you to remediate the impacts our students have suffered because of this pandemic. This is hard for young people, and no one knows that better than our parents and our educators. No one has a single answer, but we must provide the supports that students need, whether it’s academics, mental health, or nutrition.

There are more issues important to our health as well. We live in a time of great housing insecurity. Tenants and small landlords are facing unprecedented economic challenges. At the same time, home prices continue rising, keeping quality and affordable housing elusive for far too many Washingtonians.

That means too many people in Washington state are living in fear. We should stand in solidarity with people who live in unsafe or inadequate housing, because we know our fellow Washingtonians are more likely to succeed when they have stable housing.

Quixote Village, a tiny home community in Olympia focused on helping Washingtonians struggling with housing.

Whether it’s a commitment to our youth who experiencing homelessness, or providing mental health or chemical addiction treatment to young folks, we’re committed to addressing these obvious challenges.

We cannot let the short-term crisis of COVID-19 blind us to the long-term health cataclysm that is climate change. Pollution and climate change also hurt our health, from respiratory disease to new infectious vectors, to threats from natural disasters directly linked to a changing planet. There was no shortage of evidence for that in 2020. It was one of our worst wildfire seasons on record, fueled by blazes of an intensity previously unseen by our firefighters, in places like Bonney Lake and in Malden, where 80 percent of the town’s buildings were destroyed and where recovery continues.

Gov. Jay Inslee visits the scene of the Sumner Grade wildfire with members of the emergency response (Sept., 2020).

Both the virus and climate change have fatal results. Both can be solved through science and ingenuity. We can — and we will — pursue solutions to both at the same time.

Washington’s roaring economy of the last eight years was built on innovation in technology, aviation, agriculture and clean energy. But climate change threatens to unmake the state we know and love, from the growing number and intensity of our wildfires to the acidification of our waters and the evaporation of our snowpack, which can hit our communities with the double whammy of flooding early in the year followed by drought. Climate change is creating extremes that cannot be denied or ignored if we are going to continue to prosper.

Gov. Jay Inslee tours Silfab Solar facilities in Bellingham (July 2019).

And we are going to recommit ourselves to the cause of environmental justice, to address the suffering of disenfranchised communities that take the brunt of the immediate impacts of pollution. We’re going to see to it that the future of our economy is bright, led by a clean and renewable energy sector. Our air will be healthier to breathe and our waters will not be acidified. We will create jobs. Machinists, engineers, electricians — all have a role to play. We will have more people making family wage jobs and we will have a safer, healthier and sustainable environment for our posterity.

This will be led by Washington business owners. The Seattle Kraken are building an all-green arena and practice facilities. They’ll have the first carbon-neutral hockey arena in the world — covering 94,000 square feet — and Washingtonians made this economic and environmental victory a reality. When you see this stunning building, you’re going to see that we can save our environment and prosper at the same time.

Ongoing construction of the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, soon-to-be home of the Seattle Kraken hockey team. (Picture courtesy of the Seattle Kraken)

Moments of great stress reveal things in people, and the people of Washington have shown their strength. We have what it takes to get through these times. We have a tried and true competency for leading change. As we eventually move beyond the coronavirus pandemic, life itself will still be different, but we will have more control over our future. We should embrace what we’ve learned together. Because we have a choice: We can do things the old ways that we know don’t work, or we can embrace and unleash the knowledge we already have that can accelerate Washington’s dynamic future.

The pandemic has also revealed this: The pandemic has had disproportionate impacts on people of color, from health care to business, labor and education. If we can’t help more people, fewer of us will enjoy the blessings of freedom.

Gov. Jay Inslee meets with community leaders in Wenatchee to discuss high COVID-19 case counts and community mitigation methods (Aug. 2020).

Our Latino communities were disproportionately exposed to COVID-19. Our Black communities have demanded equal justice for generations, yet our systems still haven’t addressed it.

We have work ahead of us in the next four years to undo the racial inequities that remain in our economy, in our democracy and in our system of law and justice.

In conclusion, our place in the world as Washingtonians will be remembered by what we start to build here and now. Lincoln said, “the fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.” I have total confidence this generation of Washingtonians will take their place in history’s halls of honor. I know this because we are vested with a commitment to change, and constant improvement.

Let this new era be a time that lifts our hearts; that renews our dreams and ambitions; and that lets us as Washingtonians finally embrace the future we’ve been building up to now. We all share this struggle, and we will also reap its benefits. Out of the darkness and anxiety of 2020, will come the relief of a new era. Our recovery will be robust and equitable.

Last year reminded us what matters: Love for our families, our communities, and each other. And we will go forward, Washington, because we are resilient, and we are in solidarity.

Thank you.

Watch the swearing-in ceremony here.

Watch the full inaugural address here.

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