Mona Das, former State Senator and candidate for 2024 statewide office
Commissioner of Public Lands hopeful Mona Das (Campaign photo)

For­mer State Sen­a­tor Mona Das today became the lat­est can­di­date to declare a can­di­da­cy for statewide exec­u­tive office in 2024, announc­ing that she is run­ning to suc­ceed Hilary Franz as Wash­ing­ton’s Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands.

The office is one of nine statewide posi­tions in Wash­ing­ton’s exec­u­tive depart­ment, all of whose hold­ers are inde­pen­dent­ly elect­ed by the voters.

The Com­mis­sion­er “leads Wash­ing­ton state’s wild­fire fight­ing force and man­ages near­ly six mil­lion acres of pub­lic lands – from coastal waters and aquat­ic reserves, to work­ing forests and farms, com­mer­cial devel­op­ments, and unpar­al­leled recre­ation areas,” as explained by the Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources (DNR), the state agency that the Com­mis­sion­er heads. The Wash­ing­ton Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey is also part of DNR and thus the Com­mis­sion­er’s portfolio.

The Sur­vey is a “team of more than forty peo­ple who com­bine diverse back­grounds, per­spec­tives, and skills to pro­duce and pub­lish geo­log­ic infor­ma­tion about Wash­ing­ton for the ben­e­fit of every­one in our state. Our team includes geo­log­ic map­pers, geo­physi­cists, tsuna­mi sci­en­tists, land­slide geol­o­gists, mine inspec­tors, mine recla­ma­tion geol­o­gists, hydro­ge­ol­o­gists, edi­tors, GIS and data spe­cial­ists, car­tog­ra­phers, web devel­op­ers, admin­is­tra­tive staff, and pro­gram managers.”

The posi­tion is pro­vid­ed for in the Wash­ing­ton State Con­sti­tu­tion, but the Framers left its scope and author­i­ty up to the Leg­is­la­ture to define:

ARTICLE III, SECTION 1. EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT. The exec­u­tive depart­ment shall con­sist of a gov­er­nor, lieu­tenant gov­er­nor, sec­re­tary of state, trea­sur­er, audi­tor, attor­ney gen­er­al, super­in­ten­dent of pub­lic instruc­tion, and a com­mis­sion­er of pub­lic lands, who shall be sev­er­al­ly cho­sen by the qual­i­fied elec­tors of the state at the same time and place of vot­ing as for the mem­bers of the legislature.

ARTICLE III, 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.

“Our next Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands must rec­og­nize the chal­lenges so many Wash­ing­to­ni­ans face, and lead an agency pre­pared to fight hard for the next gen­er­a­tion,” said Das in a state­ment sent to NPI.

“Cli­mate change is the most press­ing issue of our time and we need a bold leader in this office. From fire­fight­ers to for­est indus­try lead­ers, pro­tect­ed lands to recre­ation­al ser­vices, our state needs a proven coali­tion builder and change-mak­er equipped to meet all the needs we face at this time.”

Das, fifty-one, served one term in the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate, rep­re­sent­ing the 47th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict (South King Coun­ty). She defeat­ed Repub­li­can Joe Fain in the 2018 midterms, aveng­ing Fain’s 2010 defeat of Demo­c­ra­t­ic State Sen­a­tor Clau­dia Kauff­man. When Das opt­ed against seek­ing reelec­tion, Kauff­man decid­ed to launch a cam­paign to reclaim her seat and won handily.

Kauff­man is among those endors­ing Das at the out­set of her campaign.

“Sen­a­tor Das cares deeply for our envi­ron­ment and for our Moth­er Earth,” said Kauff­man, the only Indige­nous woman serv­ing in the Sen­ate. “It is through her com­mit­ment to our human­i­ty, our shared val­ues, and our strongest alliance that I ful­ly endorse her for Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands. She is a woman who has gained the respect of her peers and our com­mu­ni­ty and deserves our support.”

Also back­ing Das is for­mer State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty Chair Tina Podlodowski.

“Sen­a­tor Das has the heart of an envi­ron­men­tal­ist, the expe­ri­ence of a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­woman, and the skills need­ed to bring togeth­er all Wash­ing­to­ni­ans to under­stand, cul­ti­vate, and nur­ture our pub­lic lands. As our next Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands, she’ll do this for our peo­ple now, and for gen­er­a­tions to come,” said Pod­lodows­ki, who served three con­sec­u­tive terms in the state par­ty’s top job.

Three oth­er Demo­c­ra­t­ic hope­fuls have also filed paper­work to run for Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands in Wash­ing­ton, or are con­sid­er­ing it:

  • State Sen­a­tor Kevin Van De Wege, one of Das and Kauff­man’s colleagues
  • King Coun­ty Coun­cilmem­ber Dave Upthe­grove, who ran in 2016
  • Shore­line City Coun­cilmem­ber Kei­th Scully

On the Repub­li­can side, Sue Kuehl Ped­er­sen has decid­ed to run again. Kuehl Ped­er­sen was Franz’s oppo­nent in 2020, receiv­ing 43.21% of the vote.

The 2024 Top Two elec­tion will be held on Tues­day, August 6th, 2024.

Only two can­di­dates will qual­i­fy for the 2024 gen­er­al elec­tion runoff bal­lot, regard­less of par­ty. If Das, Upthe­grove, Van De Wege, and Scul­ly were to each get rough­ly an equal per­cent­age of the vote next sum­mer, and if anoth­er Repub­li­can were to join Kuehl Ped­er­sen in the con­test, and if the two Repub­li­cans were to receive more votes than the three Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty would be shut out of the 2024 gen­er­al elec­tion ballot.

That’s not an implau­si­ble sce­nario, as the events of the last six years have demon­strat­ed. Democ­rats were shut out in the 2016 Trea­sur­er’s race due to vote split­ting, as were Repub­li­cans in the 2020 Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor and 2022 Sec­re­tary of State con­tests. The best strat­e­gy the par­ties have for min­i­miz­ing their risk of fail­ing to get a can­di­date onto the gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lot is win­now­ing down the field on their side of the divide before Fil­ing Week arrives.

Das vol­un­teered to help the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty in that regard five years ago, when she switched from run­ning for Con­gress (a race in which there were many oth­er cred­i­ble can­di­dates com­pet­ing — Kim Schri­er, Jason Rit­tereis­er, Shan­non Had­er) to State Sen­ate (a con­test where the par­ty need­ed a stan­dard bearer.)

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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