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.
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.
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.
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.