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In the 2012 race for governor, Jay Inslee was famously not endorsed by a single daily newspaper in Washington state.

Partly that was due to the fact that Republican Rob McKenna was seen as a very strong candidate, but also there were questions about the type of leadership Inslee, who had served terms as a U.S. Congressman, would provide for the state.

In the moment when he has been tested the hardest, Inslee has stepped up, making the tough calls and providing the leadership needed to get this state through the COVID-19 crisis.

Indications are the aggressive steps including stay-at-home orders and social distancing practices are working in Washington state, and other areas where implemented.

This does not necessarily mean Inslee will be cheered and feted with celebratory parades (once such a thing is possible). In fact, he will be blamed.

The stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements are needed to limit and/or slow the spread of a pandemic, but they come at a steep cost. Come May 4, if the best-case scenario plays out and some restrictions are lifted at that point, the question will be what businesses, after losing revenue for more than a month, remain? How many employees without work were unable to pay rent/mortgage, let alone cover day-to-day expenses?

Are we pulling ourselves out of a pandemic and into a recession?

Inslee prioritized minimizing loss of life, over loss of income. He followed advice of the professionals and experts in infectious disease control. He modeled his decisions after what has worked in other areas.

None of these decisions were perfect or unquestioned successes. They were based on the best available information at that time.

This is what a leader does. At the end of the day, Inslee’s decisions will lead to fewer deaths in this state due to COVID-19. The financial cost will be high. He will receive tearful thanks, he will receive blame.

We’ve become accustomed to self-aggrandizing “leaders.” That is not leadership — it is puffery. Inslee seems to have little competition in the coming race for governor, but the decisions he is making this spring can certainly be used against him in future elections. Contemporary politicians tend to run on economic issues and the economy comes in second in Inslee’s COVID-19 response.

If this state is successful in reducing the amount of deaths from COVID-19 it is will because of a sequence of decisions starting with the hyperlocal (individuals and households), cities, counties and the state. This does not happen without a unified approach and by-in by all involved. A unified approach and by-in does not happen without leadership — the two are dependent on each other.

When we come out of this you will know who to thank and who to blame. In other words, you will know who the leader was.


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