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.

Friday, July 31st, 2020

As Top Two election nears, remember to take time to get up to speed on downballot races

The hikes, lakes and sun­set view­ing spots on Chuck­anut and Blan­chard Moun­tains, south of Belling­ham, are places that nur­tured this Wash­ing­to­ni­an’s love for nature and expe­ri­ences of long-ago teenage misbehavior.

I found myself, years lat­er, using my posi­tion at the Seat­tle Post-Intel­li­gencer to pro­mote cre­ation of a 1,600 acre pre­serve atop Blan­chard Mountain.

The project was pro­mot­ed and nur­tured by con­ser­va­tion cham­pi­on Hilary Franz, Wash­ing­ton State’s charis­mat­ic Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands.

It worked, although skies opened up on the vic­to­ry celebration.

Hilary Franz talks about landslide safety

Wash­ing­ton State Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands Hilary Franz empha­sizes the impor­tance of fund­ing geo­log­ic haz­ards research at an event in the Capi­tol State For­est (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Our Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources was once known as the “Depart­ment of Noth­ing Remain­ing” because of the vast clearcuts it authorized.

Log­ging debris clogged streams, and trashed ripar­i­an zones in such places as the Clear­wa­ter Riv­er on the Olympic Peninsula.

The pres­ence of a proac­tive Franz, com­bined with Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Ferguson’s mul­ti­ple legal vic­to­ries over Don­ald Trump, deliv­er a basic point about civics in Wash­ing­ton: Down­bal­lot races have a direct impact on our lives.

There’s a flip side, too.

Troy Kel­ley won elec­tion as Wash­ing­ton State Audi­tor in 2012 despite legal con­tro­ver­sies over his busi­ness back­ground. (He had the abil­i­ty to self-finance a tele­vi­sion ad cam­paign.) Kel­ley was indict­ed and con­vict­ed while serv­ing in statewide office. The 9th Cir­cuit Court of Appeals just upheld his conviction.

Kel­ley was not sub­ject­ed to much vet­ting by the press before the dead­line arrived for vot­ers to cast bal­lots in the August 2012 Top Two elec­tion. (Kel­ley secured one of the top two spots and went on to win in the Novem­ber gen­er­al election.)

That wasn’t the case when for­mer Insur­ance Com­mis­sion­er Karl Her­mann sought to regain his old office a few decades ago after hav­ing lost a reelec­tion bid.

Don McGaf­fin of KING TV broke the news that, in lit­i­ga­tion fol­low­ing an acci­dent, Her­mann claimed to have suf­fered brain dam­age. Our lawyers at the Seat­tle Post-Intel­li­gencer vetoed an edi­to­r­i­al head­line: “Her­mann has half a mind to run.”

Down­bal­lot offices hold great author­i­ty – or poten­tial author­i­ty – with vot­ers doing the hir­ing and fir­ing. Friends in British Colum­bia rib me about the mul­ti­tude of posi­tions we elect around here, includ­ing our nine statewide exec­u­tive depart­ment offices (the gov­er­nor­ship and eight low­er pro­file posi­tions). I counter: Vot­ers here have a direct say over state-owned lands.  When you protest the clearcut­ting of old growth forests in B.C., you must chal­lenge the full provin­cial government.

As Attor­ney Gen­er­al, Rob McKen­na signed Wash­ing­ton up for a Repub­li­can law­suit intend­ed to over­turn the Patient Pro­tec­tion Act. No mat­ter that Wash­ing­ton was rapid­ly reduc­ing its rolls of unin­sured. McKen­na did not both­er to con­sult with then-Gov­er­nor Chris Gre­goire, a strong sup­port­er of Barack Obama.

Under Bob Fer­gu­son, Wash­ing­ton took on and blocked Don­ald Trump’s first attempt at a so-called Mus­lim trav­el ban. The state took the Gro­cery Man­u­fac­tur­ers Asso­ci­a­tion to court for laun­der­ing mon­ey in a cam­paign to defeat an ini­tia­tive that sought to require the label­ing of genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied foods.

Fer­gu­son has also cre­at­ed new civ­il rights and envi­ron­men­tal law divi­sions in the Wash­ing­ton State Attor­ney Gen­er­al’s office. If you leave a list­ing, oil-leak­ing boat in one of our har­bors, you can be assured that Fer­gu­son will come after you.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson

Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son speaks at a press con­fer­ence announc­ing he’s propos­ing leg­is­la­tion to abol­ish exe­cu­tions (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

A look at this year’s set of exec­u­tive depart­ment races shows mod­els and poten­tial mod­els of new or return­ing down­bal­lot officeholders:

The sinecure: Out­go­ing Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor Brad Owen sharply crit­i­cized would-be suc­ces­sor Cyrus Habib in 2016, argu­ing that Habib didn’t under­stand the lim­i­ta­tions and scope of the job. Habib want­ed to do too much. Owen had served as an infor­mal trade ambas­sador, fought teenage drug use with rock music, and presided over the State Sen­ate. He was a cap­i­tal fixture.

“Lite gov­er­nor” has often been a post-stress job, for Repub­li­can Joel Pritchard after Con­gress and John Cher­berg after his rocky tenure as Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton foot­ball coach. U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Den­ny Heck is run­ning for Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor as a back-home job after eight pro­duc­tive years in Con­gress. State Sen­a­tor Marko Liias, mean­while, is run­ning as some­one on the way up.

Pro­gres­sive vot­ers have a judg­ment call to make on these two.

Rites of suc­ces­sion: Repub­li­cans have held the Sec­re­tary of State’s job since ex-band­leader Vic Mey­ers was tossed out in 1964. They have groomed suc­ces­sors, and assumed some­thing akin to a right of ownership.

Case in point: In 2016, retired Repub­li­can Sec­re­tary of State Sam Reed sent a how-dare-you email to a reporter giv­ing space to Tina Podlodowski’s chal­lenge to Kim Wyman, Reed’s suc­ces­sor, whom Reed is very pro­tec­tive of.

Wyman is one of the few Repub­li­cans still serv­ing in office in Wash­ing­ton State who belongs to the par­ty’s vaunt­ed Dan Evans wing. Trump’s takeover of the par­ty has put Wyman in a quandary, par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en his fre­quent broad­sides against vot­ing at home. Wyman has remained active in Repub­li­can pol­i­tics while declin­ing, as much as pos­si­ble, to either endorse or repu­di­ate Trump’s positions.

The advo­ca­cy and ener­gy for expand­ing vot­ing rights and access to the bal­lot has come from Democ­rats in the Leg­is­la­ture, with Wyman occa­sion­al­ly push­ing back. She is a fre­quent guest on Nation­al Pub­lic Radio, where she peri­od­i­cal­ly com­ments on Wash­ing­ton’s expe­ri­ence with vot­ing at home.

Wyman claims sup­port from coun­ty audi­tors in both par­ties, though she has few­er Demo­c­ra­t­ic back­ers than she did in 2016. NPI board­mem­ber Gael Tar­leton, who is giv­ing up her seat in the House to chal­lenge Wyman, has tak­en on the task of mak­ing a case for change where oth­er high-pro­file Democ­rats have failed.

Upward bound: State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mike Pel­lic­ciot­ti is an up-and-com­er in the Wash­ing­ton Leg­is­la­ture with a back­ground in the Attor­ney Gen­er­al’s office. Pel­lic­ciot­ti is seek­ing the impor­tant but large­ly invis­i­ble job of State Trea­sur­er, not often a haven of activism in state gov­ern­ment. (Retired Trea­sur­er Jim McIn­tire, who served two terms, did talk can­di­date Jay Inslee out of half-baked pro­pos­al to invest state-man­aged pen­sion mon­ey in tech­nol­o­gy startups.)

Incum­bent Repub­li­can Duane David­son won the Top Two con­test in 2016 in which Democ­rats splin­tered their votes in the August elec­tion and both final­ists for the Novem­ber runoff were Repub­li­cans. That will not hap­pen this year, as Pel­lic­ciot­ti is David­son’s only chal­lenger, hav­ing unit­ed Democ­rats behind his candidacy.

David­son was a long­time Ben­ton Coun­ty Trea­sur­er, is active in the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of State Trea­sur­ers, and is past pres­i­dent of the Wash­ing­ton State Asso­ci­a­tion of Coun­ty Treasurers.

David­son is backed by two Demo­c­ra­t­ic pre­de­ces­sors, Dan Grimm and Mike Mur­phy (the lat­ter known main­ly for wel­com­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates on vis­its.) David­son, a Trump backer, is an affa­ble pres­ence at the Main­stream Repub­li­cans of Washington’s annu­al Cas­ca­dia Conference.

Pel­lic­ciot­ti is going after David­son for miss­ing state pen­sion board meet­ings. The incum­bent has an atten­dance record equiv­a­lent to Frank Sinatra’s in high school.

The bot­tom line: You can be com­fort­able in a down­bal­lot office. You can be part of an old guard net­work of incum­bents. You can take on low-risk projects, like going after car deal­er­ships that mess with odome­ters, or stern­ly warn­ing the good peo­ple of Wash­ing­ton not to acci­den­tal­ly start brushfires.

Or you can be make some­thing of the job… and try (as Hilary Franz has) to get mon­ey to quick­ly respond to wild­fires, or sue Mon­san­to for the tox­ic PCBs (poly­chlo­ri­nat­ed biphenyls) that still con­t­a­m­i­nate our waterways.

The eight statewide down­bal­lot exec­u­tive races before vot­ers this year are:

  • Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor: Pre­sides over the State Sen­ate, fills in for the gov­er­nor when out of state, and serves as link between Pacif­ic North­west based con­suls and Wash­ing­ton State government.
  • Sec­re­tary of State: Admin­is­ters elec­tions at the state lev­el, along with cor­po­ra­tions, the address con­fi­den­tial­i­ty pro­gram, the state library, and the state archives. Also the cus­to­di­an of the state’s seal.
  • Attor­ney Gen­er­al: The state’s chief legal offi­cer, respon­si­ble for over­see­ing what is essen­tial­ly Wash­ing­ton’s largest law firm, which rep­re­sents the state in cas­es at every lev­el of the judi­cial system.
  • State Trea­sur­er: The office respon­si­ble for the man­age­ment of the state’s funds, includ­ing its cash­flow (more than $288 bil­lion in Fis­cal Year 2019) and its debts, or accounts payable, to bond­hold­ers and creditors.
  • State Audi­tor: Charged under the Con­sti­tu­tion and state statute with con­duct­ing finan­cial and per­for­mance audits of state agen­cies and local gov­ern­ments to ensure they are oper­at­ing responsibly.
  • Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands: Heads the Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources, tasked with the man­age­ment of the state’s forests and aquat­ic lands, the sup­pres­sion of wild­fires, and geo­log­ic haz­ards mapping.
  • Insur­ance Com­mis­sion­er: Reg­u­lates the insur­ance indus­try in Wash­ing­ton State, serv­ing as a vital­ly need­ed check on the pow­er of the firms that sell auto, home, life, long term care, and health­care policies.
  • Super­in­ten­dent of Pub­lic Instruc­tion: The admin­is­tra­tor of the state’s pub­lic schools sys­tem, respon­si­ble for allo­cat­ing fund­ing to school dis­tricts and assist­ing them with their cur­ricu­lum and tech­nol­o­gy needs.

Wash­ing­to­ni­ans, when you vote, make sure you vote for each and every one of these posi­tions. The dead­line to return a bal­lot is Tues­day, August 4th, at 8 PM.

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