Today, Governor Jay Inslee announced that he has chosen State Senator Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens to be Washington’s next Secretary of State.
Hobbs (D‑44th District; Snohomish County) will take over on November 22nd from Republican Kim Wyman, the last Republican holding statewide office on the Left Coast, who is resigning on November 19th to take a job in the Biden administration. He will be the first Democratic Secretary of State in more than half a century.
“Steve is a dedicated public servant,” said Inslee. “He has a strong national security perspective from his work in the Army and National Guard. His knowledge of cyber-security will be crucial as election systems around the country continue to face threats,” Inslee said. “Importantly, Steve has demonstrated political independence. That is crucial during this time of political polarization and distrust.”
Inslee’s announcement also included a substantive quote from outgoing Secretary of State Kim Wyman, suggesting that the governor consulted Wyman before making his choice and that Hobbs’ selection meets with her approval.
“Senator Hobbs is a proven leader and dedicated public servant. As a lieutenant colonel in the Washington Army National Guard, I am confident Steve will bring that same commitment to service and integrity to the Office of the Secretary of State,” Wyman’s part of the statement begins. “As a state senator, Steve has a demonstrated record of seeking bipartisan solutions to complex problems, which is essential to the position of secretary of state.
“It is imperative the secretary of state — the state’s chief elections official — serve as a neutral arbiter in order to inspire confidence across the political spectrum in our election processes and results,” Wyman continued.
“This approach is just as essential when overseeing the preservation of and access to our state’s historical treasures, providing a streamlined registration process for Washington corporations and charities, administering various community programs, and so much more.”
“This is a tremendous honor and responsibility,” Hobbs said. “I want to thank the governor for putting his faith and trust in me to perform the duties of this office. There is nothing more sacred than the right to vote.”
“I’ve fought for that right overseas and will do everything in my power to protect that right here in Washington. Our state leads the nation in voting access and security and under my watch I will ensure that we only move to solidify our national standing in this arena.”
NPI understands from speaking with multiple sources who have knowledge of the appointment process that there were five finalists who were considered for the appointment: Hobbs, Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall, retired State Representative and NPI boardmember Gael Tarleton, King County Elections Director Julie Wise, and Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson.
Inslee then picked Hobbs after conducting interviews and vetting each candidate.
The governor is in Glasgow for COP26 and announced his decision via video.
Inslee’s announcement states that Hobbs will be running in 2022 to hold the position and will not merely serve as a caretaker through next November. The office will be contested in next year’s midterms due to Wyman’s resignation.
“I want to congratulate Senator Hobbs on his appointment today and thank him for his long service in the state Senate,” said Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig.
“He has always been a strong voice in the Legislature and a steadfast champion for our state’s transportation infrastructure, voting rights, reproductive rights, healthcare, and the needs of his district.”
“I look forward to seeing him guide the Secretary of State’s office with the same passion and integrity he brought to the halls of the Senate.”
“I want to congratulate Senator Hobbs on this historic appointment — the first person of color and member of the Asian American Pacific Islander community to serve as our Secretary of State,” said Washington State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski, who herself ran for Secretary of State five years ago.
“He’s worked to help pass so many of the major voting reforms we have here in Washington like the Voting Rights Act and same-day and automatic voter registration. He’s respected on both sides of the aisle in the legislature and has worked to solve big, complex problems — a skill that’s so important in the Secretary of State’s office,” Podlodowski added.
Republicans blasted the appointment, offering no congratulations, only jeers.
“What a crass political move. Governor Inslee appoints an obstacle to his radical agenda in the Senate, so that Democrats can appoint a rubber stamp for his radical agenda. Instead of doing right by the voters, Inslee plays politics. Typical,” tweeted Washington State Republican Party Chair Caleb Heimlich.
“So sad Republicans can’t applaud Inslee for looking past political differences to appoint an independent voice for Secretary of State,” Evergreen Action’s Jamal Raad tweeted in response. (Raad has worked with and for Inslee for years.)
“If Governor Inslee truly cared about picking an independent voice, he would have picked an Independent,” Heimlich tweeted in response.
“There are lots of qualified county auditors to choose from. Instead he made the selection based on political benefit to his agenda.”
While there are thirty-nine auditors or elections directors currently in office in Washington State, the field of potential appointees simply wasn’t as large as Heimlich implied in the above-reproduced tweet because many simply weren’t interested in the job. Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey, for instance, made it abundantly clear he did not want to be Washington’s next Secretary of State.
Hall, Wise, and Anderson were all considered, as mentioned above, but I doubt that Heimlich would consider any of them to be true independents.
Heimlich wanted Wyman replaced with another Republican, but that wasn’t going to happen, because serving in office as a Republican nowadays requires being an enabler of Donald Trump. If you’re not for Trump and you’re not willing to be part of the cult that worships Trump, you’re not welcome in the Republican party.
The Constitution provides that vacancies in legislative or partisan county elected office be filled by someone from the same party as the departing officeholder. But there is no such constitutional requirement for vacancies in statewide office.
That left Inslee free to appoint a fellow Democrat — and he did.
Inslee’s choice of Hobbs will necessitate Hobbs’ resignation from the Washington State Senate, creating a vacancy in a key legislative district, and also an opening for a new Transportation Chair, just in time for the 2022 legislative session.
Citing those legislative dynamics, The Herald’s Jerry Cornfield responded to the news of the appointment with this humorous comment: “Darn. By making [this] Secretary of State appointment from Scotland, Governor Jay Inslee and Steve Hobbs [get to] avoid [an] awkward news conference in which the guv and Hobbs would have [gotten] questions about their frustration with each other on carbon measures, road packages dating back six years.”
As Transportation Chair, Hobbs has clashed with Inslee and other Senate Democrats on climate and environmental protection legislation. He is what many progressive advocates consider a road warrior — a legislator who prioritizes investing in roads and highways as opposed to prioritizing transit.
With Hobbs leaving the Senate, the institution will be getting a new Transportation Chair (possibly Vice Chair Rebecca Saldaña of the 37th District) just as Inslee and legislative leaders are trying to hammer out a new transportation package in the wake of Congress’ passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which might soon be followed by congressional passage of the larger Build Back Better Jobs and Families Plan.
Cornfield also reported that Hobbs’ House colleague John Lovick is ready to seek the appointment to succeed Hobbs in the Senate. Lovick is currently one of two Speakers Pro Tem in the House and is widely liked by his colleagues. Lovick has already called the district’s Democratic precinct committee officers, Cornfield said.
Incumbent State Representatives often pursue Senate appointments when there is a Senate vacancy. When they are chosen to move over to the smaller chamber, that opens up yet another vacancy — on the House side of the Rotunda.
In this case, Wyman’s resignation will have led to Hobbs’ resignation, which will probably lead to Lovick’s resignation, which means the State House of Representatives will also soon be getting a new member from the 44th District.
Per the Constitution, that individual will be a Democrat like Lovick, and will serve through the end of next November, until a successor is elected or the appointee retained by the voters of the 44th. Complicating the electoral landscape for 2022 is that the boundaries of the 44th are not yet known and could change depending on the outcome of the Redistricting Commission’s work.
NPI congratulates Senator Hobbs on being entrusted with the responsibility of administering our elections, safeguarding our heritage, and supporting the needs of businesses and nonprofits. Our executive department will benefit from having a Secretary of State with national security expertise.
We look forward to working with Secretary-designate Hobbs on repealing “advisory votes” and advancing voting rights in Washington State and beyond.