NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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

Thursday, October 28th, 2021

Washington’s next Secretary of State should be a visible leader, not a passive manager

Some­time in the next few weeks, Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee will choose a new mem­ber of Wash­ing­ton State’s exec­u­tive depart­ment to fill the vacan­cy cre­at­ed by the forth­com­ing res­ig­na­tion of Sec­re­tary of State Kim Wyman, the depart­men­t’s lone remain­ing Repub­li­can, who is leav­ing to take a job in the Biden admin­is­tra­tion.

Who­ev­er Inslee choos­es will prompt­ly take over an impor­tant (but often under­ap­pre­ci­at­ed) port­fo­lio of respon­si­bil­i­ties that includes admin­is­tra­tion of elec­tions, cor­po­ra­tions and char­i­ties, the state library and archives, the state seal, and the apos­tilles and address con­fi­den­tial­i­ty pro­grams. They will serve at least through the Novem­ber 2022 midterm elec­tions and pos­si­bly longer.

Because we rarely see res­ig­na­tions in the exec­u­tive depart­ment — it’s been decades since any­one stepped down pri­or to the end of their term — it’s extreme­ly rare for an open posi­tion to be filled by appointment.

Ordi­nar­i­ly, because the nine posi­tions in the depart­ment are inde­pen­dent­ly elect­ed, join­ing Wash­ing­ton’s exec­u­tive depart­ment entails run­ning an exhaust­ing statewide cam­paign over the course of at least a year and a half. That’s pre­cise­ly how the last new addi­tion to the depart­ment, State Trea­sur­er Mike Pel­lic­ciot­ti (the fea­tured speak­er at NPI’s Eigh­teenth Anniver­sary Pic­nic) got his job.

But state law pro­vides that a vacan­cy in a statewide exec­u­tive posi­tion oth­er than gov­er­nor be filled by appoint­ment. So, for at least a year, Wash­ing­ton will have an appoint­ed Sec­re­tary of State. Then, vot­ers will get a chance to decide who they’d like to have in the posi­tion for the remain­der of the term Wyman was elect­ed to.

As the increas­ing­ly pop­u­lar Capi­tol Hill say­ing goes, per­son­nel is pol­i­cy, so Gov­er­nor Inslee’s choice will be extreme­ly con­se­quen­tial, espe­cial­ly giv­en what’s hap­pen­ing in our state and coun­try right now, with democ­ra­cy and our Con­sti­tu­tion under siege by both for­eign adver­saries and domes­tic ene­mies alike.

The Seat­tle Times edi­to­r­i­al board and oth­er allies of Kim Wyman have sug­gest­ed that her suc­ces­sor could be some­one from Wyman’s office. While that is one path that Gov­er­nor Inslee could take to fill this vacan­cy, the state’s needs should dri­ve this deci­sion, as opposed to polit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions or a desire for continuity.

The Times has argued Gov­er­nor Inslee should appoint a “a prick­ly cen­trist” or “reach across par­ty lines” to find a suc­ces­sor to Wyman. That would, iron­i­cal­ly, be mak­ing a deci­sion based on polit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions, which Gov­er­nor Inslee should not do. The gov­er­nor should instead pick some­one who’s going to be a first-rate Sec­re­tary of State across the board and tack­le the chal­lenges of our times.

Most like­ly that per­son will prob­a­bly iden­ti­fy as a Demo­c­rat, because sad­ly, there is basi­cal­ly no one left in Repub­li­can pol­i­tics who is not a Trump enabler.

Wyman and her sup­port­ers have often char­ac­ter­ized the posi­tion of Sec­re­tary of State as being a non­par­ti­san, admin­is­tra­tive job. But in real­i­ty, that’s not what it is. This is a par­ti­san, elect­ed posi­tion nor­mal­ly vot­ed upon every four years that over­sees a big office. There are cer­tain­ly jobs with­in the office that could be described as non­par­ti­san and admin­is­tra­tive, like that of the Elec­tions Director.

But the per­son hold­ing the title of Sec­re­tary of State is sup­posed to be a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the peo­ple who does­n’t shy away from the issues of the day.

Some of the best Sec­re­taries of State in this coun­try are out­spo­ken advo­cates with a proven record of stand­ing up for their con­stituents. Like Col­orado’s Jena Gris­wold, Ari­zon­a’s Katie Hobbs, or Michi­gan’s Joce­lyn Ben­son.

Our next Sec­re­tary ought to be some­body com­mit­ted to work­ing dili­gent­ly to pro­tect Wash­ing­to­ni­ans’ rights, includ­ing the right to par­tic­i­pate in free and fair elec­tions. The hor­net’s nest that Don­ald Trump mali­cious­ly kicked after vot­ing end­ed in last year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion will need to be addressed and faced head on by Wyman’s suc­ces­sor, along with a bevy of oth­er threats. There is no going back to the good old days when elec­tion secu­ri­ty was not a burn­ing topic.

To her cred­it, Kim Wyman did not respond to the events of the last year by keep­ing a low pro­file and hop­ing the storm would sim­ply blow over. She spoke out and stood up. She has right­ly been praised for oppos­ing extreme­ly dam­ag­ing Repub­li­can efforts to under­mine the integri­ty of our elec­tions here and elsewhere.

In her next job with the Cyber­se­cu­ri­ty and Infra­struc­ture Secu­ri­ty Agency (CISA), she’ll be work­ing with elect­ed offi­cials across the coun­try to help them pre­pare for the midterms at a time when their lives are being reg­u­lar­ly threatened.

Her suc­ces­sor needs to build on what she’s done, not keep a seat warm.

Wash­ing­ton deserves a Sec­re­tary of State who will be a vis­i­ble leader as opposed to a pas­sive man­ag­er… some­one who will fierce­ly cham­pi­on vot­ing rights, secure resources to bet­ter pro­tect the data in our state’s care, sup­port the needs of busi­ness­es and non­prof­its, and prop­er­ly safe­guard our state’s history.

Here are the essen­tial qual­i­ties and pol­i­cy posi­tions our team believes Gov­er­nor Inslee ought to look for in Wash­ing­ton’s next Sec­re­tary of State. You’ll notice that “prick­ly cen­trist” is not among them. Our check­list con­sists of ideas and qual­i­fi­ca­tions; it isn’t based on ide­ol­o­gy, par­ti­san iden­ti­ty, or tribalism.

A willingness to be a vocal advocate for voters and voting

Our next Sec­re­tary of State must be a per­son ful­ly invest­ed in democ­ra­cy’s sur­vival. For­tu­nate­ly, the posi­tion of Sec­re­tary of State is a par­ti­san posi­tion, and its hold­er does­n’t have to wor­ry about being “non­par­ti­san.” So let’s get a true par­ti­san for democ­ra­cy in the job — some­one who is not afraid of tough, gru­el­ing, bru­tal polit­i­cal con­flict. Wash­ing­ton’s next Sec­re­tary of State should be a leader who is will­ing and able to be a loud advo­cate for vot­ers and the right to vote, push­ing back hard on pro­posed leg­is­la­tion or oth­er schemes that would infringe upon peo­ple’s right to vote or make it hard­er to vote.

Cybersecurity experience

Wash­ing­ton’s next Sec­re­tary of State should have cyber­se­cu­ri­ty expe­ri­ence, and ide­al­ly, spe­cif­ic expe­ri­ence in work­ing on cyb­ser­se­cu­ri­ty pol­i­cy. The Sec­re­tary them­selves won’t be imple­ment­ing any code to secure our vot­er rolls or data­bas­es of cor­po­rate and char­i­ta­ble reg­is­trants, but they will be mak­ing bud­get requests to state leg­is­la­tors and apply­ing for fed­er­al dol­lars to obtain resources to keep our data secure, and pre­scribe best prac­tices for use at the state and local levels.

A good listener and communicator

Wash­ing­ton’s next Sec­re­tary of State should be a per­son with good lis­ten­ing skills, some­one who is capa­ble of fos­ter­ing a con­struc­tive dia­logue with Wash­ing­ton’s thir­ty-nine coun­ty audi­tors and elec­tions direc­tors as well as state leg­is­la­tors, the gov­er­nor’s office, fed­er­al offi­cials, polit­i­cal par­ties, and oth­er stake­hold­ers. The state’s polit­i­cal par­ties, in par­tic­u­lar, deserve a con­struc­tive part­ner when prepar­ing for pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nat­ing events. In times of cri­sis, good com­mu­ni­ca­tion is essen­tial, as essen­tial as clean air is to one’s abil­i­ty to breathe.

An ability to thoughtfully scrutinize vendors and contracts

The “Vote­WA” tech­nol­o­gy sys­tem that Kim Wyman often touts as a major accom­plish­ment has had an extreme­ly rocky roll­out. Audi­tors were divid­ed on its deploy­ment, with Wyman cast­ing the deci­sive vote on mov­ing for­ward with it. Sub­se­quent prob­lems with the sys­tem made Fil­ing Week 2020 need­less­ly dif­fi­cult for can­di­dates, espe­cial­ly can­di­dates for precinct com­mit­tee offi­cer. Wash­ing­ton will be well served if its next Sec­re­tary of State can thought­ful­ly scru­ti­nize ven­dors and con­tracts to ensure we’re get­ting the best return on invest­ment pos­si­ble, and hold­ing pri­vate firms we hire account­able for the work we’re pay­ing them to do.

An eagerness to knock down remaining barriers to voting

Wash­ing­ton is a nation­al leader in bal­lot access thanks to Gov­er­nor Inslee and Demo­c­ra­t­ic leg­is­la­tors. In recent years, we have adopt­ed uni­ver­sal vote-at-home, auto­mat­ic vot­er reg­is­tra­tion, same day vot­er reg­is­tra­tion, pre­reg­is­tra­tion for youth, our own state-lev­el Vot­ing Rights Act, and pre­paid postage on bal­lot return envelopes. We’ve also mod­ern­ized our pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry and added more drop box­es to make return­ing a bal­lot eas­i­er. But there is more to do. Bar­ri­ers to vot­ing still exist in Wash­ing­ton that need to be knocked down, like Tim Eyman’s “advi­so­ry votes.” The next Sec­re­tary of State should enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly join the active, ongo­ing effort to repeal “advi­so­ry votes,” which Kim Wyman refused to do.

Support for phasing out elections in odd numbered years

In addi­tion to tak­ing on bar­ri­ers to vot­ing, Wash­ing­ton’s next Sec­re­tary of State should pri­or­i­tize address­ing elec­tion fatigue and per­sis­tent low turnout in odd years by work­ing with the Leg­is­la­ture on a plan to phase out odd-year elec­tions. We have fifty years of evi­dence show­ing that few­er peo­ple par­tic­i­pate in odd-num­bered years and the prob­lem is only get­ting worse. The three most recent odd year gen­er­al elec­tions saw the sev­enth, sec­ond, and first worst vot­er turnouts in state his­to­ry. Kim Wyman sad­ly took a stand against phas­ing out odd year elec­tions instead of rec­og­niz­ing the prob­lem and try­ing to do some­thing about it.

A champion for voter outreach and turnout

Kim Wyman has con­sis­tent­ly argued that turnout is mere­ly a func­tion of what’s on the bal­lot, a posi­tion we emphat­i­cal­ly dis­agree with and have refut­ed here on The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate. What’s on the bal­lot does affect turnout, but it is hard­ly the only fac­tor. Research sug­gests that encour­age­ment and out­reach can help dri­ve up turnout and get peo­ple accus­tomed to par­tic­i­pat­ing in every elec­tion instead of just pres­i­den­tial ones. Wash­ing­ton’s next Sec­re­tary of State should make obtain­ing resources for wide­spread vot­er out­reach a major pri­or­i­ty and devise a plan for mov­ing our Top Two elec­tion from August to the spring so it does­n’t take place at a time when many peo­ple are on sum­mer vacations.

A passion for making our archives more accessible

Wash­ing­ton State has many archived records that sim­ply aren’t very acces­si­ble to the pub­lic because they have not been dig­i­tized or pub­lished yet. Our next Sec­re­tary of State should cham­pi­on the needs of researchers, his­to­ri­ans, and inter­est­ed cit­i­zens by advo­cat­ing for more resources to address this prob­lem and improve access to the mate­ri­als under the state’s man­age­ment. Our next Sec­re­tary should also lob­by the Biden admin­is­tra­tion enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly for mon­ey to build a new cam­pus for the fed­er­al lev­el Nation­al Archives in Seattle.

Advocacy for the future of the United States Postal Service

The Sec­re­tary of State of Wash­ing­ton is the ide­al per­son to con­vey the state’s strong oppo­si­tion to the regime of Post­mas­ter Gen­er­al Louis DeJoy, who has yet to be held account­able for the harm he’s cur­rent­ly try­ing to inflict on our nation’s mail sys­tem. Our next Sec­re­tary of State should speak out often about what’s hap­pen­ing to the USPS and work to mobi­lize state and nation­al efforts to remove DeJoy and save the post office, includ­ing help­ing Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son with cur­rent and future legal chal­lenges to rules craft­ed by DeJoy’s regime.

Redistricting reform

Wash­ing­ton’s next Sec­re­tary of State should also be a leader on redis­trict­ing and should active­ly encour­age leg­is­la­tors to devel­op a con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment to mod­ern­ize our state’s redis­trict­ing com­mis­sion before 2030 and 2031 arrive. Cur­rent­ly, the com­mis­sion con­sists of just four mem­bers appoint­ed by the four leg­isla­tive cau­cus­es and one non­vot­ing chair. The com­mis­sion should be enlarged and should have vot­ing mem­bers who are not select­ed by Wash­ing­ton’s leg­isla­tive lead­ers, an approach that is gain­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty across the country.

Public campaign financing

Wash­ing­ton’s next Sec­re­tary of State should be open to ideas for pub­lic cam­paign financ­ing instead of hav­ing a closed door and a total lack of inter­est. It would be espe­cial­ly valu­able to see if pub­lic cam­paign financ­ing could improve obscure elec­tions for judi­cial posi­tions in Wash­ing­ton State as a start­ing point.

Protecting the people’s power of initiative from bad actors

Wash­ing­to­ni­ans are con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly guar­an­teed the right to pro­pose laws direct­ly to their fel­low cit­i­zens via the ini­tia­tive. This right must be pro­tect­ed. Wash­ing­ton’s next Sec­re­tary of State should cham­pi­on long over­due reforms to pre­vent bad actors like Tim Eyman from using the ini­tia­tive pow­er for their own prof­i­teer­ing and destruc­tive ends. The abu­sive, manip­u­la­tive prac­tice of “bal­lot title shop­ping” needs to be out­lawed, we should pro­vide for a cit­i­zen ini­tia­tive review process, and the respon­si­bil­i­ty of writ­ing bal­lot titles needs to be trans­ferred to a team of peo­ple with exper­tise in the law, lin­guis­tics, and pub­lic opin­ion research rather than being the job of one or two Assis­tant AGs.

Our next Sec­re­tary of State should also be will­ing to defend the ini­tia­tive when it comes under attack else­where, like neigh­bor­ing Ida­ho, where leg­isla­tive Repub­li­cans and Gov­er­nor Lit­tle recent­ly tried to sab­o­tage the peo­ple’s right to pro­pose laws direct­ly via ini­tia­tive (they were turned back by the Supreme Court.)

Concluding thoughts

There a lot of links between the cri­te­ria we’ve out­lined. They go togeth­er. There are already appli­cants for the appoint­ment who would pro­vide active, capa­ble, strong lead­er­ship. For instance, NPI’s Gael Tar­leton is seek­ing the appoint­ment. So is Thurston Coun­ty Audi­tor Mary Hall, Wyman’s suc­ces­sor at the local level.

Again, the per­son who gets appoint­ed does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly need to iden­ti­fy as a Demo­c­rat, but the appointee must be pro-democ­ra­cy and must be will­ing to stand up and be a vis­i­ble leader as opposed to being a pas­sive man­ag­er of staff.

NPI is not and will not be tak­ing a posi­tion as to who should be appoint­ed, but as stat­ed, we believe it’s imper­a­tive that the gov­er­nor select a can­di­date who espous­es the qual­i­ties and pol­i­cy posi­tions we’ve outlined.

Lead­er­ship is about lead­ing peo­ple to new posi­tions. Adding a depend­able leader to the exec­u­tive depart­ment as our next Sec­re­tary of State would be one of the great­est gifts Gov­er­nor Inslee could give his fel­low Washingtonians.

The gov­er­nor’s three Supreme Court appoint­ments (Mary Yu, Raquel Mon­toya-Lewis, G. Helen Whiten­er) have each been out­stand­ing. Vot­ers have retained them all on the high court. We hope the gov­er­nor fol­lows the prece­dent of select­ing thought­ful­ly and well when he announces Kim Wyman’s successor.

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