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.
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.
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.)
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.