The 72-year-old's announcement clears the way for younger members of the party to run, most notably Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who gained a national profile by challenging the travel ban and other policies of former President Donald Trump.
"As governor, I have seen my role as inspiring our state ever forward and ever higher," Inslee said. "I’m gratified to be able to say that this approach has worked to improve Washingtonians lives in many ways and many places."
Inslee, who is the longest-serving governor in office in the U.S., was first elected in 2012 and became only the second Washington governor elected to three consecutive terms. Washington does not have term limits.
He made a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 on an environmental platform, but struggled to gain traction in a crowded Democratic field and had trouble meeting the requirements needed to appear on two high-profile stages: the third Democratic National Committee debate in Houston and a CNN town hall focused on climate change.
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Among his accomplishments he lists a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions in the state and a trio of gun violence prevention measures that he signed into law last month, including a ban on semi-automatic assault rifles that is already being challenged in court by gun rights advocates.
Early this year the state Supreme Court upheld a capital gains tax Inslee promoted as a way to address what was considered the nation's most regressive tax system.
He also vowed to protect gay rights and abortion access as conservative states constrained them, and he bought the state a three-year stockpile of a popular abortion drug in anticipation of court rulings that could limit its availability.
Inslee said he still has work to do before his exit, including collaborating with legislators and community leaders to address Washington’s homelessness crisis and speeding efforts to broaden behavioral health services.
Inslee served eight terms in the U.S. House before narrowly beating Republican Rob McKenna, then the state attorney general, to become governor. He won his most recent reelection, against Republican Loren Culp, by more than 13 percentage points.
His liberal politics made him a boogeyman to critics on the right, who argued that he infringed on individual liberties. Soon after Washington suffered the first known COVID-19 outbreak in the nation, he issued emergency orders mandating mask wearing and requiring that state employees and health workers be vaccinated.
Washington’s death rate from the pandemic was among the nation’s lowest; Inslee said in congressional testimony last year that his measures helped prevent roughly 17,000 deaths in the state. But the mandates were relentlessly criticized and challenged in court, including in an unsuccessful lawsuit by state troopers and other state employees. "He kept us safe and secure through the coronavirus pandemic, and delivered transformational policies on climate change, economic justice, and gun violence prevention," Shasti Conrad, chair of the state Democratic Party, said in a statement.
In response to Inslee’s announcement, the Washington State Republican Party said the governor’s tenure has been marked by missteps and poor decisions.
"It’s time to turn the page on the disastrous Inslee era in Washington State," WSRP Chairman Caleb Heimlich said in a statement. "His decision to not seek a fourth term presents an opportunity to elect a Republican governor who will put Washingtonians first and prioritize the needs of our communities."
"Serving the people as governor of Washington state has been my greatest honor. During a decade of dynamic change, we’ve made Washington a beacon for progress for the nation. I’m ready to pass the torch.
"Our last decade of Washington’s storied history is one of growth and innovation. I am proud to have played a role in our state’s leadership on so many fronts. We’ve passed the nation’s best climate policies, the most successful family leave benefits, the best college scholarship programs, a more fair legal justice system, and the most protective actions against gun violence. We’ve shown that diversity is a strength worth fighting for. This has been ten years of dynamic success.
"As governor, I have seen my role as inspiring our state ever forward and ever higher. I’m gratified to be able to say that this approach has worked to improve Washingtonians lives in many ways and many places.
"Now is the time to intensely focus on all we can accomplish in the next year and a half, and I intend to do just that. I look forward to continued partnership with legislators and community leaders to address Washington’s homelessness crisis, speed our efforts to expand behavioral health services, continue our fight against climate change, and continue making Washington a beacon of progress for all."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.