Gael Tarleton speaking at NPI's 2018 Winter Holiday Party
Founding NPI boardmember and State Representative Gael Tarleton speaks at NPI's 2018 Winter Holiday Party (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/Northwest Progressive Institute)

Senior NPI board­mem­ber and State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Gael Tar­leton announced Mon­day that she is tak­ing on the dif­fi­cult chal­lenge of run­ning for Sec­re­tary of State in 2020, a posi­tion that Democ­rats haven’t held in more than fifty years.

The office of Sec­re­tary of State is part of Wash­ing­ton State’s exec­u­tive depart­ment, which con­sists of nine inde­pen­dent­ly elect­ed offi­cials with dif­fer­ent port­fo­lios of respon­si­bil­i­ties. The Sec­re­tary of State is respon­si­ble for elec­tions, cor­po­ra­tions, char­i­ties, the state archives, and the state library in addi­tion to offi­cial record­keep­ing… a duty set forth in the Wash­ing­ton State Constitution:

The sec­re­tary of state shall keep a record of the offi­cial acts of the leg­is­la­ture, and exec­u­tive depart­ment of the state, and shall, when required, lay the same, and all mat­ters rel­a­tive there­to, before either branch of the leg­is­la­ture, and shall per­form such oth­er duties as shall be assigned him by law. 

Those elect­ed to posi­tions in the exec­u­tive depart­ment serve four year terms.

Incum­bent Repub­li­can Sec­re­tary of State Kim Wyman is seek­ing a third term and will be Tar­leton’s like­ly oppo­nent. Tar­leton’s prin­ci­pal cam­paign theme is elec­tions secu­ri­ty, a cru­cial need that she says Wyman has failed to make a priority.

Portrait of senior NPI boardmember Gael Tarleton
Senior NPI board­mem­ber and State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Gael Tar­leton (Cam­paign photo)

Tar­leton’s cam­paign is already backed by a long list of promi­nent Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­ers, includ­ing Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son, who said Wash­ing­ton is for­tu­nate to have Gael as a can­di­date for Sec­re­tary of State because she is “unique­ly qual­i­fied to safe­guard our elec­tion sys­tems and vot­ing rights.”

Tar­leton brings a nation­al secu­ri­ty back­ground to the race. After grad­u­at­ing with a master’s degree in Gov­ern­ment and Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Stud­ies from George­town Uni­ver­si­ty, she worked as a senior defense intel­li­gence ana­lyst for the Pen­ta­gon, work­ing on secu­ri­ty issues affect­ing ports across the country.

After serv­ing as a Seat­tle Port Com­mis­sion­er for five years, Tar­leton was elect­ed to the Leg­is­la­ture as one of the 36th Leg­isla­tive Dis­tric­t’s two state rep­re­sen­ta­tives in 2012. The dis­trict (which is sit­u­at­ed entire­ly with­in the City of Seat­tle) includes the neigh­bor­hoods of Bal­lard, Mag­no­lia, and Queen Anne.

In 2015, Tar­leton’s col­leagues elect­ed her House Major­i­ty Floor Leader, and fol­low­ing the 2018 elec­tions, they chose her to serve as Chair of the House Finance Com­mit­tee, suc­ceed­ing Kris Lyt­ton. As a leg­is­la­tor, Tar­leton has made secur­ing Washington’s elec­tions against out­side inter­fer­ence a top priority.

For instance, Tar­leton draft­ed a bipar­ti­san let­ter from the Leg­is­la­ture to both Sen­a­tor Cantwell and Sen­a­tor Mur­ray, ask­ing for sup­port and help to bet­ter under­stand how Russ­ian intel­li­gence attempt­ed to breach the state’s elec­tion sys­tem dur­ing the 2016 elec­tions. Ear­li­er this year, Tar­leton intro­duced leg­is­la­tion requir­ing the Sec­re­tary of State to reg­u­lar­ly hold elec­tion secu­ri­ty con­sul­ta­tions with leg­isla­tive lead­ers, coun­ty audi­tors, and fel­low exec­u­tive depart­ment officials.

The leg­is­la­tion received almost uni­ver­sal sup­port in the House.

With vot­ing rights under attack across the coun­try, Tar­leton believes Wash­ing­ton needs a Sec­re­tary of State who will be a leader instead of a follower.

“The Sec­re­tary of State’s office is sup­posed to be the place the vot­ers look to in order to ensure that their vot­ing rights are not only pro­tect­ed, but also trea­sured,” Tar­leton explained.

Tar­leton also serves on the Leg­isla­tive Oral His­to­ry Com­mit­tee, which sup­ports the Wash­ing­ton State archives, anoth­er respon­si­bil­i­ty of the Sec­re­tary of State.

It is a part of the job she says she is drawn to because of her appre­ci­a­tion of his­to­ry. Wash­ing­ton has a long and noble tra­di­tion of doc­u­ment­ing its history.

Wash­ing­ton will cel­e­brate its sesqui­cen­ten­ni­al in 2039, and Gael says the office needs to be ener­get­i­cal­ly prepar­ing for the occasion.

“We need to be active­ly think­ing about what the con­nec­tion is between state­hood and our trib­al com­mu­ni­ties and their trib­al his­to­ries. We also need to do more to under­stand our his­toric rela­tion­ships with Cana­da and with coun­tries in Asia.”

She not­ed the impor­tance of such rela­tion­ships is what keeps Wash­ing­ton con­nect­ed to the world, and the world con­nect­ed to Washington.

Tar­leton says she will be an aggres­sive advo­cate with the Leg­is­la­ture to ensure that even less­er known aspects of the Sec­re­tary of State’s port­fo­lio are prop­er­ly fund­ed, par­tic­u­lar­ly the state archives and the state library.

Tar­leton will serve out her term in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives as she cam­paigns for Sec­re­tary of State. She can­not simul­ta­ne­ous­ly run for reelec­tion to the Leg­is­la­ture and seek high­er office, so her posi­tion in the House will become an open seat, which could eas­i­ly attract a large of field of candidates.

Gael Tarleton speaking at NPI's 2018 Winter Holiday Party
Found­ing NPI board­mem­ber and State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Gael Tar­leton speaks at NPI’s 2018 Win­ter Hol­i­day Par­ty (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/Northwest Pro­gres­sive Institute)

Tar­leton is the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute’s most senior board­mem­ber and will cel­e­brate ten years of ser­vice on NPI’s board next spring.

NPI founder Andrew Vil­leneuve says Tar­leton will be a for­mi­da­ble candidate.

“Gael has a tremen­dous work eth­ic, excel­lent crit­i­cal think­ing skills, and loves engag­ing with peo­ple about what’s on their mind,” Vil­leneuve said. “Her cyber­se­cu­ri­ty exper­tise would be a huge asset for Wash­ing­ton if vot­ers choose her to be their next Sec­re­tary of State. There’s no one I’d rather have pro­tect­ing our vot­er rolls and cham­pi­oning an end to abus­es of our ini­tia­tive process.”

While NPI does not endorse can­di­dates for office, or engage in elec­tion­eer­ing for or against any can­di­date, many oth­er orga­ni­za­tions do. Vil­leneuve antic­i­pates that the con­test for Sec­re­tary of State in 2020 will attract a lot of inter­est from the state’s polit­i­cal par­ties and groups of all ide­o­log­i­cal orientations.

“This could eas­i­ly be the most fierce­ly con­test­ed race in the state in 2020,” he said. “Repub­li­cans will eager­ly line up to defend Kim Wyman, while Democ­rats hun­gry for an uplift­ing down­bal­lot vic­to­ry will enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly embrace Gael Tarleton.”

Fil­ing for Sec­re­tary of State and oth­er posi­tions to be con­test­ed in the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions will begin in about five months. After that, the field of can­di­dates for every posi­tion will be nar­rowed to two each in the August Top Two elec­tion (if there be more than two con­tenders). Vot­ers will make a final selec­tion next autumn, and the win­ner will take office in Jan­u­ary of 2021.

Adjacent posts