NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, December 10th, 2019

NPI’s Gael Tarleton kicks off campaign to become Washington’s next Secretary of State

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.

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