Interview: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on privacy, regulating Big Tech and his presidential ambitions

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Lawmakers in Washington D.C. are debating how to regulate the tech industry, but the other Washington may beat them to the punch.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said he expects the state legislature to address privacy in the upcoming session, speaking on stage before the GeekWire Gala in Seattle Thursday.

“We’ve started those discussions right now with our tech leaders in our state about a privacy policy that is consistent with innovation and also consistent with fundamental rights of privacy,” he said. “And I actually am pretty confident we’re going to get a policy, probably in this session, that will be pleasing to innovators and consumers.”

Inslee said that two meetings have been held with leaders in the tech industry and consumer advocates to come up with a mutually beneficial policy. In June, California passed its own sweeping privacy law.

It wouldn’t be the first time Inslee pushed through a tech policy out of dissatisfaction with the federal government. In early 2018, he worked with state lawmakers on a landmark net neutrality law, making Washington the first state to enact its own open internet protections after the FCC repealed the federal policy.

“It would be better to have national approaches to these,” Inslee said Thursday. “However, we have learned that if you’re waiting for progress from inside the beltway right now, you probably will retire before you get it and it just, unfortunately, has been a dysfunctional place in our democracy. And in so many actions, what we have learned is, if we’re going to make progress, we have to seize our own destiny.”

Destiny appears to be on Inslee’s mind quite a bit these days. Earlier this week, The Seattle Times reported that he has formed a political action committee to raise money for political activities outside his role as governor.

Asked by GeekWire whether he would run for president in 2020, Inslee said, “I am seriously thinking about this.”

Gov. Jay Inslee talks tech regulation, climate change, and more at the GeekWire Gala. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

“I do believe that we have a story to tell the rest of the country of what I call the Washington way … we have developed the number one economy in the United States because we have adopted progressive policies that have a middle-out system of economic development,” he added.

Inslee also said that Washington is a model for creating “jobs in this clean energy space.”

If Inslee does run — and he stressed that it is still an if — climate change would be the center of his campaign.

“This is kind of our last chance,” he said. “There’s some things you can do 10 years from now or you can do 20 years from now, 50 years from now. We don’t get any do-overs on this. The world is either going to embrace this challenge and face it and America is going to lead it or we won’t get another chance in succeeding decades.”

Inslee’s green agenda suffered a blow on Nov. 6, when a carbon pricing initiative was voted down. But with Democrats in control of both state houses and Inslee’s possible presidential ambitions on the horizon, Washington’s upcoming legislative session is expected to feature environmental issues heavily.

“I grew up in a Washington where there were salmon in the rivers to fish for and orca to survive,” Inslee said. “I grew up in a Washington where we could ski in the winter. If we maintained about 350 parts per million in our atmosphere, my grandchildren would have a shot of having those things during their life. Unfortunately, we’re going over 400 parts per million … that number is striking a lot more than concern, but absolute terror, in all of us parents and grandparents that we have to do something about climate change.”

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