King County Council Chair Dave Upthegrove speaks to a gathering of the King County Democrats about his candidacy for Commissioner of Public Lands in February 2024 (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Dave Upthe­grove’s cam­paign to become Wash­ing­ton State’s next Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands is rolling into the sea­son of renew­al with a huge amount of momen­tum after earn­ing two piv­otal endorse­ments that could help the King Coun­ty Coun­cil Chair stake out a posi­tion as the Demo­c­ra­t­ic fron­trun­ner in a crowd­ed field. 

The endorse­ments — from for­mer Demo­c­ra­t­ic Com­mis­sion­er Peter Gold­mark and Wash­ing­ton Con­ser­va­tion Action — come at a crit­i­cal junc­ture in the cam­paign. Fil­ing Week is a lit­tle more than a month away and the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty present­ly has too many can­di­dates who want the job. If the par­ty wants to avoid get­ting locked out in the gen­er­al elec­tion, it needs to uni­fy behind one cred­i­ble can­di­date, or at least con­sol­i­date its field down to two, to avoid the risk of vote-split­ting send­ing two Repub­li­cans to the gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lot — a sce­nario that NPI’s polling sug­gests is a real threat.

The incum­bent, Hilary Franz, has decid­ed against seek­ing a third con­sec­u­tive term and is instead run­ning for Con­gress in Wash­ing­ton’s 6th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict, leav­ing an open seat. Franz was a can­di­date for gov­er­nor for sev­er­al months after Jay Inslee announced his retire­ment, but switched to run­ning for Con­gress when Derek Kilmer announced he would­n’t seek anoth­er term. Franz’s deci­sion to pur­sue the high­est office in the state unleashed a flood of can­di­dates inter­est­ed in becom­ing her successor.

Upthe­grove is vying with Franz’s Direc­tor of Trib­al Rela­tions Patrick DePoe and Demo­c­ra­t­ic State Sen­a­tors Rebec­ca Sal­dana and Kevin Van De Wege for the respon­si­bil­i­ty of run­ning the Wash­ing­ton Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources (DNR). The posi­tion of Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands is one of eight inde­pen­dent­ly elect­ed posi­tions in the exec­u­tive depart­ment oth­er than gov­er­nor, the state’s high­est-pro­file pub­lic office.

Last week, Upthe­grove made his first big splash when he received the endorse­ment of for­mer Demo­c­ra­t­ic Com­mis­sion­er Peter Gold­mark, incum­bent Hilary Franz’s pre­de­ces­sor, who oust­ed Repub­li­can Doug Suther­land in 2008 and served two terms. In a news release, Gold­mark offered high praise for Upthe­grove, describ­ing him as eas­i­ly the best con­tender in the field of four Democ­rats men­tioned above. (A fifth hope­ful, Mona Das, recent­ly with­drew her can­di­da­cy after ceas­ing fundrais­ing activities.) 

“Through­out his career in pub­lic ser­vice, Dave Upthe­grove has been an envi­ron­men­tal cham­pi­on. His deep expe­ri­ence and track record of accom­plish­ments on con­ser­va­tion issues is head and shoul­ders above the oth­er can­di­dates in the crowd­ed race for Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands. That is why I am proud to offer my endorse­ment and sup­port to Dave and his cam­paign,” Gold­mark said. “In this era of cli­mate threat, a strong and moti­vat­ed envi­ron­men­tal leader is need­ed now more than ever at the Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources, and Dave has cre­ative pol­i­cy ideas and the polit­i­cal and man­age­r­i­al skills to be that sort of trans­for­ma­tion­al leader.” 

“The endorse­ment from for­mer Lands Com­mis­sion­er Gold­mark is an hon­or, and the grow­ing and diverse coali­tion of sup­port for my cam­paign is the lat­est indi­ca­tion that we are well posi­tioned to make it through the pri­ma­ry and win in Novem­ber,” Upthe­grove said. 

Upthe­grove’s team argues that he has built the “strongest cam­paign in the race.” 

“He has raised more than any oth­er can­di­date, and with more than $265,000 in the bank has by far the most cash on hand,” a March 25th press release from Upthe­grove spokesman Sandeep Kaushik point­ed out. “With for­mer Repub­li­can Con­gress­woman Jaime Her­rera-Beut­ler also post­ing strong fundrais­ing num­bers, Democ­rats will need to unite behind a strong, well resourced can­di­date in order to retain the office.” 

Wash­ing­ton Con­ser­va­tion Action has now come to that same conclusion. 

WCA announced yes­ter­day that it too is endors­ing Upthe­grove. Many polit­i­cal observers regard its endorse­ment as the most impor­tant avail­able to any of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates. Now Upthe­grove’s got it. This is a big deal for his cam­paign, because WCA’s elec­toral orga­niz­ing capa­bil­i­ties for can­di­dates espous­ing envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice are unmatched. Our team knows of many activists, strate­gists, and Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­ers who have been eager­ly antic­i­pat­ing WCA’s deci­sion, hop­ing it’ll help win­now the field. 

Screenshot of Dave Upthegrove's website
Dave Upthe­grove’s cam­paign web­site now promi­nent­ly fea­tures his WCA endorse­ment (Screen­shot)

“Dave Upthe­grove is best posi­tioned to win giv­en his grass­roots sup­port around the state. We know he is pre­pared to work close­ly with the con­ser­va­tion and envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice com­mu­ni­ty to bring the nec­es­sary change at DNR we need,” said Alyssa Macy, the CEO of Wash­ing­ton Con­ser­va­tion Action.

“Dave also under­stands the pos­i­tive role that our state lands play in stor­ing car­bon and address­ing cli­mate change, while cre­at­ing jobs, a per­spec­tive that is sore­ly need­ed in the office of the Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands.”

“There were a num­ber of strong can­di­dates for the posi­tion,” the orga­ni­za­tion explained in a news release announc­ing its deci­sion. “How­ev­er, Dave Upthe­grove emerged as the can­di­date best posi­tioned to win and advance pos­i­tive change on day one. When elect­ed as the next Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands, Dave will also make his­to­ry as Washington’s first LGBTQ statewide exec­u­tive elect­ed offi­cial, and one of only nine oth­er statewide elect­ed offi­cials across the coun­try, based on data from Vic­to­ry Fund & Institute.”

“The qual­i­fied can­di­dates in this race made our task to endorse dif­fi­cult. But Dave Upthe­grove is the best can­di­date for this race because he works strate­gi­cal­ly to build part­ner­ships, has been a long-term advo­cate for envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice in under­served com­mu­ni­ties and has the deep envi­ron­men­tal pol­i­cy expe­ri­ence need­ed to be a leader in fight­ing the cli­mate cri­sis,” said Preeti Shrid­har, Vice Chair of the Wash­ing­ton Con­ser­va­tion Action Board. “I have worked with Dave for many years in South King Coun­ty and have seen him get a lot done to make our com­mu­ni­ties more equitable.”

The orga­ni­za­tion is all-in and ready to go to bat for Upthegrove.

“WCA will edu­cate and mobi­lize its mem­bers and sup­port­ers around Dave Upthegrove’s con­ser­va­tion and envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice record,” its announce­ment says. “Wash­ing­ton Con­ser­va­tion Action will also be launch­ing a vot­er engage­ment cam­paign called, ‘“‘Call 4 Cli­mate Action.’”’ This new, year-round effort will launch on Earth Day 2024. The goal is to get 50,000 dis­en­gaged vot­ers to com­mit to vote in November.” 

Fil­ing Week this year is May 6th — 10th. Vot­ers will win­now the field of can­di­dates down to two this sum­mer in the Top Two elec­tion, which con­cludes on August 6th. Only the top two vote get­ting can­di­dates will advance to the Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion runoff, regard­less of par­ty. Who­ev­er wins this autumn will take over for Franz begin­ning in ear­ly Jan­u­ary 2025, when new terms for exec­u­tive depart­ment posi­tions begin. 

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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