Senator Steve Hobbs speaking in Olympia
Senator Steve Hobbs speaking in Olympia (Courtesy of the Washington Senate Democratic Campaign)

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.

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.

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