Hilary Franz
Hilary Franz, candidate for Commissioner of Public Lands

Four years ago, envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion cham­pi­on Hilary Franz emerged from a crowd­ed field to head Wash­ing­ton State’s Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources after two term incum­bent and fel­low Demo­c­rat Peter Gold­mark opt­ed to retire.

Since assum­ing the post, the dynam­ic and ener­getic Franz has criss­crossed the state work­ing to drum up sup­port for invest­ments in wild­land fire­fight­ing, geo­log­ic haz­ards map­ping, and rur­al infra­struc­ture. All of that work seems to have left a pos­i­tive impres­sion with Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers, who favor Franz by a com­fort­able mar­gin for a sec­ond term in NPI’s most recent statewide survey.

49% of like­ly Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers polled by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling last week for NPI said they’re vot­ing for Franz, while 36% said they’re vot­ing for Repub­li­can chal­lenger Sue Kuehl Ped­er­son. 15% said they were not sure.

The win­ner of this con­test will serve in the Wash­ing­ton State exec­u­tive depart­ment for four years, head­ing up Nat­ur­al Resources (DNR). The posi­tion is required by the Con­sti­tu­tion, but its duties are not spelled out there, as the Framers felt the scope of the job should be deter­mined by the Legislature.

SECTION 23. COMMISSIONER OF PUBLIC LANDS — COMPENSATION. The com­mis­sion­er of pub­lic lands shall per­form such duties and receive such com­pen­sa­tion as the leg­is­la­ture may direct.

RCW 43.30.105 pre­scribes that the Com­mis­sion­er shall be DNR’s leader.

The depart­men­t’s cur­rent pro­grams and ser­vices con­sist of Aquat­ics, For­est Health and Resilien­cy, For­est Prac­tices, For­est Resources, Geol­o­gy, Maps and Sur­veys, Nat­ur­al Resources Police, Nat­ur­al Her­itage Pro­gram, Prod­uct Sales and Leas­ing, Recre­ation, and Wild­fire. It man­ages over 5.6 mil­lion acres.

Here are the num­bers again and the exact ques­tion we asked:

QUESTION: The 2020 can­di­dates for Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands are Demo­c­rat Hilary Franz and Repub­li­can Sue Kuehl Ped­er­son. Who are you vot­ing for?


  • Hilary Franz: 49%
  • Sue Kuehl Ped­er­son: 36%
  • Not sure: 15%

Our sur­vey of six hun­dred and ten like­ly 2020 Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers was in the field from Wednes­day, Octo­ber 14th through Thurs­day, Octo­ber 15th.

It uti­lizes a blend­ed method­ol­o­gy, with auto­mat­ed phone calls to land­lines and text mes­sage answers from cell phone only respondents.

The poll was con­duct­ed by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, and has a mar­gin of error of +/- 4.0% at the 95% con­fi­dence level.

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)

“Under Hilary’s lead­er­ship, the [Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources] is increas­ing rev­enue for schools and com­mu­ni­ties by pro­tect­ing work­ing forests and agri­cul­ture in our rur­al areas, increas­ing clean ener­gy devel­op­ment, and cre­at­ing eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties in our towns and cities,” Franz’s web­site says.

In addi­tion to her fire­fight­ing and cli­mate advo­ca­cy, Franz’s cam­paign has empha­sized her efforts to stop Trump’s off­shore drilling ini­tia­tives and pull the plug on Cooke Aqua­cul­ture’s irre­spon­si­ble fish farm­ing oper­a­tion in Puget Sound.

Unusu­al­ly for a Demo­c­rat, Franz’s reelec­tion enjoys the sup­port of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Wash­ing­ton Busi­ness in addi­tion to the labor move­ment, envi­ron­men­tal advo­ca­cy com­mu­ni­ty, and Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party.

Franz’s oppo­nent, Sue Kuehl Ped­er­son, is a for­mer chair of the Grays Har­bor Repub­li­can Par­ty who has sev­er­al degrees and work expe­ri­ence as a fish­eries biol­o­gist and pow­er man­ag­er. Ped­er­son eas­i­ly has the most impres­sive cre­den­tials of any of the Repub­li­cans run­ning for a statewide office this year.

Her web­site, how­ev­er, does­n’t offer much beyond her voter’s pam­phlet state­ment, which declares: “Our pub­lic lands have been rav­aged by nat­ur­al dis­as­ters includ­ing tree infes­ta­tions and for­est fires. They’ve also been dam­aged by a man-made dis­as­ter: state man­agers that have focused on serv­ing spe­cial inter­est groups instead of pro­vid­ing for tax­pay­ers, school dis­tricts, and out­door recre­ation­al enthu­si­asts. No more pol­i­cy-by-press-con­fer­ence. No more angling for high­er polit­i­cal office. It’s time for new lead­er­ship.”

Con­sid­er­ing Ped­er­son­’s edu­ca­tion and sci­ence back­ground, it’s extreme­ly dis­ap­point­ing that her state­ment does­n’t acknowl­edge the dam­age that we have caused to our cli­mate through our pol­lut­ing ways.

She does acknowl­edge cli­mate change in the sole blog post on her web­site, but she has yet to offer any­thing resem­bling a cli­mate action plan as part of her cam­paign. (Franz is an out­spo­ken cli­mate action advo­cate, and was the open­ing speak­er at NPI’s 2019 Spring Fundrais­ing Gala in Renton.)

Ped­er­son­’s web­site does­n’t seem to have changed much since the spring, indi­cat­ing that her inter­est in wag­ing a cam­paign may have waned.

Franz earned twice as many votes as Ped­er­son in the August Top Two elec­tion, secur­ing an out­right major­i­ty with 51.13% of the vote. Ped­er­son came in ahead of three oth­er Repub­li­cans, a Lib­er­tar­i­an, and a Demo­c­rat for the sec­ond spot.

With the oth­er Repub­li­cans now out of the way, Ped­er­son will like­ly get a high­er per­cent­age in the gen­er­al elec­tion. But this is not going to be a com­pet­i­tive race. Even vot­ers in coun­ties Democ­rats often have trou­ble win­ning seem to like Franz. She ought to do very well in next mon­th’s gen­er­al election.

Vot­ing in the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is cur­rent­ly in progress and is set to con­clude on Novem­ber 3rd, 2020 at 8 PM Pacif­ic in Wash­ing­ton State.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

Adjacent posts