This year’s contest for Secretary of State in Washington features two women who each won their first state-level election in 2012 and have been serving in the statehouse for eight years straight: Republican incumbent Kim Wyman and Democratic challenger Gael Tarleton, NPI’s most senior boardmember.
Though they are close to the same age and deeply interested in the same issues, Wyman and Tarleton have sharply diverging views on what the job of Secretary of State should look like in the twenty-first century. They also have very different backgrounds. While they’ve both lived and worked in Europe, they took very different paths to end up as candidates for statewide office in 2020.
Wyman is a former youth sports official and recreation leader who began working for Thurston County in 1991, first as Assistant Recording Manager, later as Elections Manager, and finally as Auditor, a position she held until becoming Secretary of State in 2013. A native of Southern California, Wyman lived abroad in Germany with her husband for several years before moving to the Pacific Northwest. She is a proud Washington State Certified Election Administrator.
Wyman earned her bachelor’s degree from California State University, Long Beach and her master’s degree from Troy State University.
Tarleton is a former senior defense intelligence analyst for the Pentagon who managed business operations for a Fortune 500 company in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. After moving to the Pacific Northwest and working at the University of Washington for several years, Gael ran for a position on the Seattle Port Commission and won. She was reelected in 2011. In 2012, she emerged from a crowded field to become the successor to State Representative Mary Lou Dickerson. She has been reelected four consecutive times.
Tarleton has two degrees from Georgetown University: a bachelor of science in foreign service and a master of arts in government.
As mentioned above, the candidates have sharply diverging views on what the job of Secretary of State should look like in the twenty-first century.
Wyman argues that the job is principally ministerial and should be held by someone who has hands-on experience administering elections.
As she puts it:
“As your Secretary of State, it’s my responsibility to administer an election and instill confidence in the process. I have made it a central theme of my campaigns to focus on the integrity of elections and not get involved in partisan campaign attacks. They come and go, but our elections need to stay secure every single day.” (From a campaign email sent May 28th, 2020.)
Tarleton argues that the job is about much more than empowering county auditors to run satisfactory elections. In her view, Washington sorely needs a Secretary of State who will protect voters from threats to elections — especially foreign adversaries — and significantly expand voter outreach to improve turnout.
As she puts it:
“It’s time we had a Secretary of State who is not only prepared for the current threats to our elections, both foreign and domestic, but also supports and leads efforts to expand voter participation and engagement. I’m committed to protecting every voter and every vote.” (From her campaign website.)
While Wyman has emphasized qualifications and professionalism in her past campaigns, she’s taken that theme to a whole new level this year by disingenuously advocating that the position should be made nonpartisan.
That’s right — nonpartisan.
Wyman’s let’s take the partisanship out of this position pitch — tailor made for Washington State’s editorial boards, which have been eagerly gobbling it up — appears to be the complete extent of her platform for changing the office.
Really and truly. If you look at her website, there’s no issues page there.
The closest Wyman comes to presenting a set of priorities for the future is a single paragraph on her Accomplishments page, where she says:
I want to continue to work with all county auditors to make sure our elections departments across the state have the space, equipment, and trained staff to continue to deliver secure elections to all voters; I want to improve the storage and preservation of our state’s history by completing our Library/Archives Building; and I will continue to make all resources in the Secretary of State’s office available to those who need it the most by working with groups and individuals to learn where improvements can be made.
That’s not actually an agenda for the future, it’s just a promise from Wyman to keep doing the bare minimum of what the job requires. Working with county auditors, overseeing the completion of ongoing projects, and building relationships with people who care about the state’s history and artifacts is something either candidate for this job would be doing if they won.
Tarleton, by contrast, has a Policies page where she discusses her ideas to improve voting access, election security, and election innovation. It’s not lengthy, but it is substantive, with specific ideas presented for each priority.
Wyman has now been our Secretary of State for nearly eight years.
After nearly two terms in office, she ought to have a set of well honed ideas for improving and modernizing the office. But I have not not heard any.
Instead, the message Wyman’s campaign is putting out is, you should reelect me because I’m a professional, whereas my opponent is a highly partisan Democrat backed to the hilt by the state party chair who was my opponent in 2016.
And, when she talks to editorial boards: This position should be nonpartisan.
What makes Wyman’s rhetoric about nonpartisanship so disingenuous is that she’s promoting the idea of eliminating the party label on the ballot next to the position while simultaneously running for reelection as a partisan Republican.
Wyman could have modeled the very behavior she says she wants to see by declaring no party preference in her bid for a third term and running as an unaffiliated candidate. But she didn’t. Instead, she filed as a Republican.
And she has been campaigning, with gusto, as a Republican, on the (mostly virtual) campaign trail. Because she is a Republican, through and through. Even despite neofascist Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party.
Occasionally, Wyman has put out a public statement softly disagreeing with something that Trump has said, but that has pretty much been the extent of her divergence from Trump. I don’t doubt Wyman’s sincerity when she says she isn’t voting for Trump. But she has not joined the opposition to Trump, or done anything to hold her own party accountable for the incredible damage that it has inflicted upon our country’s democratic institutions.
Wyman could have chosen a different path.
She could have left the Republican Party altogether, like others have, and demonstrated that she truly believes in “nonpartisanship”.
Or she could have remained a Republican, but followed the example of the late Slade Gorton, who joined Republicans for the Rule of Law and took action to hold Donald Trump accountable for his disgusting abuses of power.
Sadly, she didn’t do either of those things.
Since our state’s editorial boards cannot be bothered to examine Wyman’s record under a microscope and compare her rhetoric to her actions as a candidate and a public official, I’m going to lay it out in detail, so that anyone can see and weigh the evidence for themselves. Voters deserve to have access to this information.
Speaking of transparency, since Gael Tarleton is a Northwest Progressive Institute boardmember and donor — a relationship that we have disclosed in every single article we’ve published about this race — readers should know that neither Gael nor her campaign staff or her consultants were involved in the writing of this post.
I relied principally on material from the Cascadia Advocate archives and the Public Disclosure Commission for the discussion below. Some material is from Gael’s campaign, but it’s material the campaign previously made public.
Something else that readers should know is that although I’m supporting Gael’s campaign as an individual (NPI doesn’t endorse candidates for office), I have consistently tried to keep a dialogue going with Kim Wyman and her staff. I like Kim as a person; she has always been friendly and cordial in every conversation I’ve had with her, and I am glad she has been successful in battling colon cancer.
I frequently visit her office when I’m in Olympia, chiefly to talk to her staff about areas of mutual concern between NPI and them, and I have been doing so since the position was held by her predecessor Sam Reed (who I consider to be one of our most distinguished retired political leaders) because I believe in building bridges and governing in a bipartisan fashion whenever possible.
Cooperation is a progressive value. NPI is always glad to work on issues with people from across the ideological spectrum wherever we can find agreement.
There are many points on which we as an organization are in agreement with Kim Wyman. For example, we agree that Washington’s major political parties should use a presidential primary to allocate all of their national convention delegates, something that finally happened for the first time this year.
We’re each enthusiastic supporters of the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Coalition, a bipartisan effort originally formed by Mike Lowry and Dan Evans.
I could go on, but I think these examples nicely illustrate my point.
Let’s now take a look at Wyman’s record and examine the evidence, which definitively shows that she is a partisan Republican who is active in party politics despite claiming not to play in party politics at the state and local level.
Exhibit A: Wyman’s role in electing Republican Secretaries of State in other states elsewhere in the country
At an event this week hosted by the Association of Washington Business, Wyman admitted that she has been at the forefront of efforts to elect Republicans to positions similar to the one that she holds in other states.
“I do play — and I guess play is the right word — in national elections because I’m not overseeing those elections, so yes, I did participate with my colleagues who are Republican Secretaries of State to elect some of the other Secretaries.”
Gael Tarleton’s campaign wasted no time in issuing a press release in which the campaign listed off some of the people who Wyman has helped to elect.
- Georgia SOS Brad Raffensperger, who wrongfully removed 200,000 voters from the rolls, many of them voters of color;
- Iowa SOS Paul Pate, who rejected over 64,000 absentee ballot applications just because they were pre-filled with information from the voter database;
- Kansas SOS Scott Schwab, who supported aggressive voter ID laws that federal courts later struck down; and
- Ohio SOS Frank LaRose, who defied a court ruling to prevent local officials from adding more ballot drop boxes in the face of widespread postal delays.
Additionally, ProPublica reported last week that a Trump-supporting right wing attorney (the the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky) held secret meetings with Republican state election officials like Wyman to discuss how to advance bogus narratives about “voter fraud”.
In addition, Wyman has repeatedly billed her campaign for airfare connected with Republican Party meetings and presentations. (There are no similar expenses associated with Democratic Party meetings; Wyman isn’t into bipartisan outreach.)
In 2019, Wyman traveled to Washington, D.C. to testify against H.R. 1, the For the People Act introduced by House Democrats. Though H.R. 1 sensibly proposed to bring ballot access reforms pioneered in the Pacific Northwest to all states in the country, Wyman nonsensically spoke against the legislation.
You’d never catch a “nonpartisan” elections professional “playing” in elections at the national level, working to elect people who favor purging voter rolls and erecting barriers to voting. That is the behavior of a Republican partisan.
Exhibit B: Wyman’s involvement in local Republican Party events and her comments to attendees of those events
There is perhaps no better evidence demonstrating that Kim Wyman is a partisan Republican than her regular participation in Republican Party events.
Though Wyman has only admitted to “playing” in national elections, the truth is, she is extremely active in Republican politics at the state and local level.
Here are some examples from back in the spring.
On April 5th, Wyman spoke to a meeting of the Washington State Republican Party Central Committee. She spoke for about five minutes and took questions for six minutes. On April 30th, she appeared at Steve O’Ban’s e‑kickoff. On May 12th, 2020, she spoke to the University of Washington Young Republicans. On May 21st, she was the featured speaker of the Columbia Basin Republican Women.
Wyman’s campaign itself has been holding events for Republican audiences.
For instance, on August 27th, Wyman’s campaign held a virtual event called “Republican Women in Government” with Lynda Wilson and Jacquelin Maycumber.
Naturally, no Democratic officeholders were on the program… because the event was by Republicans, for Republicans.
In addition to appearing at party functions, Wyman has also attended and spoken at the Roanoke Conference, an annual strategic gathering in Ocean Shores that works on the advancement of right wing causes. Roanoke attracts Republican elected officials, representatives of right wing think tanks, talk radio hosts, newly recruited candidates, and activists. also regularly speaks at events for other Republican candidates.
Last year, at Republican J.T. Wilcox’s annual salmon bake (another example of Wyman’s participation in Republican politics), Wyman absurdly pitched her reelection campaign to a friendly audience by claiming that the work her office has been doing would prevent people from going up and down I‑5, registering to vote in every single county, and committing voter fraud.
Riling up the Republican base about “voter fraud” is of course something Donald Trump and his kids do all the time. Below, by pressing play, you can hear Kim Wyman tepidly try her hand at it herself at the tail end of a speech.
Is it any wonder that Wyman generally refrains from condemning Donald Trump by name? She’s Dr. Jekyll when she’s speaking to national reporters about Washington State’s experience with vote at home, and Mr. Hyde when in front of Republican audiences. Pulling off that balancing act wouldn’t be possible if she were to cross Donald Trump, Ronna McDaniel, and national Republicans.
Exhibit C: Wyman’s history of going on Trump-supporting right wing talk radio shows
Kim Wyman regularly appears on shows hosted by right wing talk radio hosts in Washington State, including Jason Rantz and Todd Herman, who are Republican propagandists. A true “nonpartisan” elections professional who attempts to stay above politics would not go on such shows and then fail to rebut baseless attacks on Washington State’s system of elections by right wing conspiracy theorists.
Here is one of Todd Herman’s segments featuring Wyman. This was recorded back in August. It’s unmistakably a conversation between two Republicans.
Yesterday, Wyman was on Jason Rantz’s show yet again.
If Kim Wyman had a policy of reaching out to local media across the ideological spectrum, her appearances on right wing talk radio might not be so problematic, but she has no such policy. We know from our own experience. In eight years, Wyman has never reached out to NPI about anything. All of the aforementioned dialogue between NPI and her office has been initiated from our end.
Exhibit D: Kim Wyman is part of the state Republican Party’s money matrix — as both a contributor and recipient
If you run an advanced search of the Public Disclosure Commission’s database, you’ll find dozens upon dozens of instances where Kim Wyman’s campaigns (for Auditor and Secretary of State) either gave money to Republican Party organizations or accepted money from Republican Party organizations.
Wyman’s campaigns (“typically bearing the name Citizens for Kim Wyman”) have given money to many Republican county party organizations as well as the Washington State Republican Party. I found $1,162.50 worth of contributions from her campaigns to Republican committees by doing a quick search.
Additionally, Wyman has been giving money to Republican candidates for office every single cycle since becoming Secretary of State.
Here are some examples:
- Kelly Chambers for State Representative ($75 on 08/02/2018)
- Chris Gildon for State Representative ($75 on 07/31/2018)
- Bruce Dammier for Pierce County Executive ($100 on 12/08/2015)
- Greg Kimsey for Auditor ($75 on 04/03/2018, $100 on 03/10/2016)
- Andy Hill for State Senate ($75 on 05/30/2014)
- Steve O’Ban for State Senate ($50 on 06/10/2014, $33.00 on 06/17/2014)
- Sharon Brown for State Senate ($50 on 10/28/2014)
- Linda Kochmar for State Representative ($50 on 04/27/2014)
As Secretary of State, Wyman has also personally given money to the Mainstream Republicans of Washington, the Whatcom County Republicans, the Kitsap County Republicans, and the 45th Legislative District Republicans.
The Republican Party, in turn, has provided Wyman with lots of money for her campaigns. The Benton County Republicans so far are Wyman’s single largest 2020 contributor, having given $5,000. (Party organizations can give more to candidates than individual donors can.) The Republican State Leadership Committee, a national arm of the Republican Party based in D.C., has given $2,000.
In 2016, the Washington State Republican Party gave Wyman $130,000 and another $37,434.22 in in-kind contributions; the Benton County Republicans gave $6,500. The Thurston County Republicans donated $2,000.
If this “should be a non-partisan race,” as Wyman stated in a May 28th, 2020 email, then why is she running as a Republican and raising money from Republican Party organizations for her candidacy? And why does Wyman give money almost exclusively to Republicans and right leaning candidates on a regular basis when she claims not to “play” in Washington State elections?
Exhibit E: Wyman’s efforts to coerce the Democratic Party into adopting a presidential primary for the 2016 cycle
In 2015, Kim Wyman requested legislation that she falsely claimed would “require” the Washington State Democratic Party to utilize a presidential primary for delegate allocation in the 2016 presidential election, rather than working constructively with the Democratic Party to achieve her goal of a presidential primary used by both major political parties (a goal shared by NPI).
You can watch the press conference where she unveiled this legislation on TVW. I was there, and I asked one of the questions during the subsequent Q&A.
A truly nonpartisan Secretary of State would never have attempted to use the legislative process to unconstitutionally infringe upon the First Amendment rights of any political party. But Kim Wyman figured she could use the power of her office to compel the Washington State Democratic Party to adopt a presidential primary, rather than investing any time in outreach and relationship-building.
(The legislation she requested wouldn’t have had an impact on the Washington State Republican Party, which was then already committed to the primary.)
Wyman’s gambit didn’t work. In fact, her actions helped spur advocates of a presidential primary within the state Democratic Party’s Central Committee (myself included) to vote for a delegate selection plan that exclusively utilized caucuses.
A footnote: In 2019, the Legislature’s Democratic majorities passed legislation to reform the presidential primary requested and supported by the Washington State Democratic Party, with Wyman reduced to being a bystander. Passage of that legislation set the stage for the party’s adoption of the primary for 2020.
I would have much more respect for Kim Wyman if she was seeking reelection as either an independent, non-affiliated candidate in accordance with her chosen 2020 theme of “nonpartisanship”, or as a Republican vocally speaking out against Donald Trump’s attacks on our democracy.
But instead of choosing one of those principled paths, Wyman is trying to have it both ways so she can maximize her chances of getting reelected.
She is doing her best not to alienate Donald Trump’s base, because that’s a bloc she’s counting on having the support of in her campaign.
Compared to other Republican candidates and officeholders, Wyman might look and sound pretty reasonable. That’s how bad things are! But we in Washington State have always had high expectations and standards of candidates who run for office. This is a time for tough questions and for accountability.
What’s Kim Wyman’s response? Tiptoe around Donald Trump and claim to be “nonpartisan” while zealously practicing partisan politics as quietly as possible.
Just as there’s a difference between not being a racist and being antiracist, there’s a difference between not openly supporting Trump and opposing Trump.
This is a time when great courage is needed. I recognize that it’s harder for people like Kim Wyman who hold conservative values to speak out against Donald Trump, because so many people who hold conservative values are part of his cult.
But it shouldn’t just be Democrats who are working to save America from Trump. The opposition to Trump ought to be bipartisan. And cross-ideological.
Because Donald Trump is a poison.
The Lincoln Project recognizes this. Republicans for the Rule of Law and Republican Voters Against Trump (projects of Defending Democracy Together) recognize this. So do John Kasich, Cindy McCain, and Colin Powell.
Why can’t Kim Wyman?
If we don’t drain the poison out of our body politic, it will destroy the United States of America. If Trump and his goons aren’t stopped, there will be nothing left for anyone who considers themselves a conservative to conserve. Including and especially our tradition of free, fair, and competently administered elections.