With Inslee out, candidates are lining up for Washington governor
Next year’s governor’s race will be the first open seat race since 2012, and a lot has happened in America, in politics and in Washington, in the last decade.
The election of former President Donald Trump — and the armed attack on the US Capitol four years later — turned progressive parts of Washington state into “resistance” while galvanizing a populist, far-right conservative base. Moderate Republicans, once a hallmark of Washington politics, have melted away, Democrats have consolidated political power. Most — but not all — Washingtonians have weathered the pandemic as well as a racial reckoning following the killing of George Floyd.
Growing polarization and deepening divisions in the country have come to make the election feel more important, said Crystal Fincher, a political consultant who works on Democratic and progressive campaigns.
“There’s a lot more at stake, it seems,” she said. “For the Republican side, as a counterweight to Biden, and for the Democratic side, a counterweight to Trump and other Republicans.”
The stakes may be high, but the pitch right now isn’t necessarily a surprise. Both Ferguson and Franz, whose office oversees the state Department of Natural Lands, expressed interest in the 2020 governor’s race before Inslee declared for a third term.
Also returning is a moderate Republican, Raul Garcia, an emergency physician from the Tri-Cities area. He entered the primary in late 2020, losing to Inslee and Loren Culp. He joins another Republican, Richland School Board member Semi Bird, in announcing a bid.
The list is likely to grow over the next year plus.
“I would say, we’re likely to see a lot more people enter this race,” said Alex Hays, a Republican political consultant.
Fincher and Hays point to other potential candidates, such as Tiffany Smiley, the Republican who last year challenged Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray. Eyes are also on state Sen. Mark Mullet, a moderate Democrat from Issaquah who is now being challenged by his own party as it moves further left.
Washington’s first double pick could raise intrigue on a level or two. The August 2024 primary allows the top two vote-getters to advance, regardless of party. In recent years, that dynamic has already led to a pair of Democrats running for lieutenant governor in 2020. And there’s precedent the other way, with the 2016 race for state treasurer. In that race, a fractured Democratic primary field allowed a showdown between the two Republicans that November.
Hays said he believes the most likely outcome is a Democrat and a Republican running in November 2024. But he envisions scenarios where the race could come down to two Democrats at the top of the ticket, or even possibly two Republicans. “The math gets weird,” Hays said.
Before any candidate moves on to the primary election in August 2024, they must first navigate the changes within Democratic and Republican politics.
The races come after Inslee used unprecedented powers during the pandemic and as progressive Democrats use their power in Olympia to use government more forcefully to tackle issues like homelessness and business regulations, Fincher said. Meanwhile, Republicans backed away from Inslee’s strict pandemic health measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. And conservatives more broadly around the country are advocating using government to advance their agenda.
“There’s certainly more angst and division within the parties,” Fincher said. “Which could make for an interesting primary on both sides.”
First elected attorney general in 2012 after serving on the King County Metropolitan Council, Ferguson rose to prominence for his successful legal challenges of Trump administration action, and more recently, his legal efforts to protect access to the abortion medication known as mifepristone.
He has already raised $2.1 million in contributions, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission. That includes $1.2 million in excess campaign funds from previous campaigns that he transferred to the new campaign before a change in state rules, according to The Seattle Times.
A spokesman for Ferguson said he is now focused on a statewide listening tour.
“Bob is traveling the state listening to Washingtonians to hear their concerns and priorities,” Wellesley Daniels wrote in a text message. “In the last week he has been to Usk, Chewelah, Bellingham and Spokane and plans to visit all 39 counties during this exploratory phase.”
A video announcement of Ferguson’s exploratory campaign includes testimony from Inslee, Planned Parenthood, Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor and others. The video also promotes his advocacy for stricter firearms regulations that have been passed in recent years that he has pushed for, such as bans on high-capacity ammunition magazines and bans on the sale of assault-style weapons. .
Before first winning statewide office in 2016 and re-election in 2020, Franz served as executive director of the environmental organization Futurewise.
In an interview, she touted her work building the Department of Natural Resources’ firefighting capabilities, which included finding ways to respond faster and getting the Legislature to fund more equipment and firefighters. Earlier this year, Franz launched a nationwide tree capital program to build tree cover in places where it’s needed most.
It would focus on working to tackle the housing shortage, strengthening the economy and tackling income inequality, and doing more to respond to climate change.
“I think the voters of Washington are wanting a strong and ambitious vision for the future,” Franz said.
On the Republican side, Garcia is the medical director of Astria Toppenish Hospital on the Yakama Indian Reservation and still works as an emergency physician.
In an interview, Garcia defended the work this year in the Legislature by successfully championing a GOP bill that increases funding for rural health care. He proposes a business and occupation tax exemption that would benefit small business owners and said he wants to welcome both immigrants and new businesses to the state.
In 2020, Garcia had the endorsement of former Republican U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, and he’s running on a platform of working across the political spectrum: “We’re going to unite Washington and focus on issues instead.”
“I think my opponents will probably represent a subsection of their ideology, their party ideology,” added Garcia, who has raised about $28,000 so far.
Richland School Board member Sammy Bird is also running. The military veteran faces a recall vote in August along with two other board members over allegations they violated Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act among other things, according to the Tri-City Herald. Proponents of the recall claim board members acted recklessly in February 2022 by voting to make masks optional in schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s requirement for indoor masks at the time. Opponents of the recall have called it frivolous, according to the report.
An email to the Bird campaign seeking comment was not returned. His website calls for a return to the “rule of law,” promoting tax relief and a pledge to audit state government agencies across the board. Bird has so far raised about $65,000, according to campaign finance records.
Race for voting votes
State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has already announced he will not seek re-election in 2024, a move that comes after he apologized for using racial slurs during interactions with employees. That means if Ferguson and Franz ultimately run for governor, at least three of Washington’s nine statewide elected offices will be up for grabs.
State Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, has expressed interest in the insurance commissioner’s office, Fincher said.
Meanwhile, King County Metropolitan Council Chairman Dave Upthegrove has announced he is “seriously considering” a run for commissioner of public lands, which oversees the state’s Department of Natural Resources. Upthegrove, a three-term council member, spent years in the Legislature — including as chairman of the House Environment Committee.
“I think I would be an environmental champion in that role,” he said in an interview.
According to Fincher, Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, Washington Western District Attorney Nick Brown, and Noah Purcell of the state Attorney General’s Office have all expressed interest in the attorney general position.
Dhingra — along with Ferguson — is already facing attacks from the Washington State Republican Party.
But the start could first decide a choice among Democrats on whether and how to further reshape the legal system, Fincher said.
“Manka has a long history that people can look into, it’s not the same with Nick,” Fincher said. “I would think he would be more moderate than Manka.”
Brown declined to comment, Dhingra did not respond to a request for comment and Purcell — who is general counsel in the Attorney General’s Office — could not be reached for comment.
Hays contends the right kind of Republican could have a shot in the attorney general race, given concerns among some about crime and other issues. It shows the 2021 election of Republican Ann Davison for Seattle city attorney. The GOP has struggled to win statewide office in recent years in part by performing poorly in Seattle and King County, a large swath of the state’s voters.
“I think a moderate Republican candidate for attorney general would find more friends in Seattle than they might expect,” Hays said. But, “Because of the Trump presidency, it’s harder to convince people to get involved in public life.”