Other Views: Inslee's Double-Signing Stunt a Wasteful Abdication of Duty


Gov. Jay Inslee needs to consult a primer on proper governance when it comes to signing bills. Repeatedly, he has exceeded his authority in line-item vetoes and been hauled into court by legislators more than once over it. This spring, he overcorrected, making an error of executive underreach.

A governor in his third term ought to know the decisions inherent in the job. But rather than talking out of both sides of his mouth, Inslee flailed from both sides of his body to do the same thing on one particular issue, shirking his duty to make a choice between conflicting legislation.

Two bills came to his desk April 26 on the same topic, with conflicting language about the noble goal of expanding broadband service. House Bill 1336 provides the state's public utility and port districts "unrestricted authority" to offer broadband internet service. Senate Bill 5383 gives the same power, but require targeting "unserved areas."

Because the Legislature punted on choosing between them and sent both bills, the governor's job was to figure out which was more important before signing them. Here is where Inslee fell down on his desk.

He could have vetoed one, or in the manner of King Solomon, threatened to kill both to force the Legislature's hand. Even signing one, then the other, could have constituted an official decision. The newest law on a topic takes precedence, generally.

None of these paths was for Inslee. He not-so-bravely took up two pens and did something no Washington governor before him has, in 131-plus years of statehood in which 27,960 laws have been passed. Inslee signed both bills at once, two-handed and let the details get worked out by somebody else, somewhere.

This is hardly leadership, any more than Inslee's left hand is the equal of his right. High-school and latter-day sports photos show the former jock consistently shoots a basketball and tosses a baseball with his right hand, the same one he usually signs bills with. Perhaps this is the only aspect of his life where Inslee should have spent more time working to his left. SB 5383, signed with his off hand, is scarcely recognizable. His autograph on the House bill is shaky but legible.

This messiness cost the public. The state had to pay legal bills for two offices when Secretary of State Kim Wyman sued Inslee to get a court to say which law to put in the books first. Thurston County Superior Court Judge Mary Sue Wilson threw the matter back to Wyman in a decision Friday. Rather than divine which of Inslee's signatures was more credible, Wyman put the Senate bill into the books first because it got out of the Legislature a few hours ahead of the House one.

That's the right outcome. The House bill is potentially more expansive to broadband service. But it's a wasteful and sloppy way to get there. Here's who deserves the blame: Gov. Jay Inslee.