Commissioner Hilary Franz being interviewed
Seattle Times reporter Isabella Breda interviews Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, now a candidate for Congress, following a media event promoting urban forestry investments in Seattle on April 13th, 2023 (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Edi­tor’s Note: This is the first install­ment in a series about the lead­ing 2024 can­di­dates for Wash­ing­ton’s 6th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict. Read the sec­ond here.

In Jan­u­ary of 2025, Wash­ing­ton’s Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands Hilary Franz hopes to be the newest Demo­c­ra­t­ic mem­ber of one of the country’s most pow­er­ful con­gres­sion­al del­e­ga­tions. Run­ning to replace retir­ing Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Derek Kilmer in Washington’s 6th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict, which spans the Olympic Penin­su­la, she recent­ly sat down with NPI to dis­cuss her pri­or­i­ties ahead of the state’s Top Two elec­tion on August 6th.

Franz said she would pur­sue four main pri­or­i­ties if elect­ed: more afford­able hous­ing, greater eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment, strength­en­ing envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, and revers­ing the con­trac­tion of of repro­duc­tive rights. “I believe the work that I have done across the urban-rur­al divide, across the Repub­li­can-Demo­c­ra­t­ic divide, has been proven with­in the dis­trict and the state,” she said in an inter­view on April 8th.

One of her recent ini­tia­tives as Com­mis­sion­er has been to increase “tree equi­ty,” or the health and eco­nom­ic ben­e­fits that com­mu­ni­ties derive from tree cov­er. While Franz said that fund­ing for the ini­tia­tive had pre­vi­ous­ly been min­i­mal, the Infla­tion Reduc­tion Act pro­vid­ed a large increase in mon­ey for sus­tain­able forestry. “We used to have about $130 mil­lion for the coun­try in urban forestry. They have stepped it up to $1.3 billion.”

In Con­gress, Franz said she would fur­ther invest in new tech­nolo­gies to dif­fuse ten­sion between cli­mate and eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment goals. She cit­ed biochar, a bio­mass that aids with car­bon seques­tra­tion, as a key emer­gent tech­nol­o­gy. The Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources signed a “let­ter of intent” in 2023 to use the tech­nol­o­gy at a new facil­i­ty in Port Ange­les to pro­duce pow­er while reduc­ing emis­sions. Franz also com­pli­ment­ed efforts on Capi­tol Hill by Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Kim Schri­er to increase biochar research.

Hav­ing served as Com­mis­sion­er since 2017, Franz said that she has pri­or­i­tized thought­ful solu­tions to prob­lems Wash­ing­to­ni­ans may not asso­ciate with her job. “Peo­ple might look at the Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands role and say, well, what does that have to do with hous­ing? Well, we have a hous­ing cri­sis and I man­age 3,000 acres of res­i­den­tial zoned land in some of the dens­est urban cities, like Seat­tle and Taco­ma, and some of our rur­al areas.”

In the most recent leg­isla­tive ses­sion, Franz worked with Rep­re­sen­ta­tive April Con­nors (R‑8th Dis­trict) to pass a bill into law to incen­tivize the cre­ation of afford­able hous­ing on state-owned res­i­den­tial prop­er­ty. She also recent­ly issued an order direct­ing DNR to locate oppor­tu­ni­ties to build afford­able hous­ing on tran­si­tion­al lands. “They’re not gen­er­at­ing any rev­enue for our schools or health, hous­ing, human ser­vices, or pub­lic safe­ty” she said. “And at the same time, they’re not pro­vid­ing that crit­i­cal housing.”

Franz also pur­sued a sim­i­lar strat­e­gy with child­care by advo­cat­ing to buy $100 mil­lion worth of land at risk of con­ver­sion and use rev­enues from man­age­ment to fund a state Child Care Land Trust pro­gram. How­ev­er, the main vehi­cle for doing so — House Bill 2243 — did not make it out of the Leg­is­la­ture in the most recent session. 

“To me this was a pret­ty phe­nom­e­nal, vision­ary tool that would help address our envi­ron­men­tal cri­sis of too much of our nat­ur­al resource lands being con­vert­ed and lost, and our socioe­co­nom­ic cri­sis, where we have too many par­ents who are strug­gling to find child care for their chil­dren,” she said.

Asked about oth­er issues fac­ing the 6th Dis­trict, Franz not­ed that sub­stance addic­tion con­tin­ued to be a prob­lem. Data from 2020–2022 show that coun­ties with­in the dis­trict have suf­fered from some of the high­est over­dose death rates in Wash­ing­ton, while state and fed­er­al lead­ers have increas­ing­ly rung the alarm about ris­ing fen­tanyl deaths, espe­cial­ly among trib­al res­i­dents. “There are not enough local com­mu­ni­ty facil­i­ties avail­able in a way that makes it easy for our rur­al com­mu­ni­ties and our urban com­mu­ni­ties to have access to the com­mu­ni­ty treat­ment options that they need,” said Franz. 

She pledges to be an advo­cate for behav­ioral treat­ment, fund­ing for local health­care, and tak­ing action against those bring­ing dead­ly and ille­gal drugs into the community.

Franz also empha­sized the impor­tance of pro­tect­ing repro­duc­tive rights if elect­ed. “As some­body who had a mis­car­riage very ear­ly in my life and was for­tu­nate to be able to have access to local, afford­able health care for an emer­gency [dila­tion and curet­tage], I tru­ly believe that it should be a nation­al right to repro­duc­tive free­dom and ensur­ing every woman, no mat­ter what state she lives in, has the right to a safe abortion.”

Ahead of the Top Two elec­tion, Franz has racked up endorse­ments from both Kilmer and his leg­endary pre­de­ces­sor Norm Dicks, while her main Demo­c­ra­t­ic oppo­nent, state Sen­a­tor Emi­ly Ran­dall, has been endorsed by Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray.

Franz’s cam­paign man­ag­er Eve Zhurbin­skiy empha­sized in a note sent to reporters this morn­ing that Franz has the most labor and trib­al sup­port: “Franz is also endorsed by twen­ty-sev­en unions, near­ly ten times as many as her two oppo­nents com­bined. She’s sup­port­ed by thir­teen Tribes, thir­teen times as many as her oppo­nents com­bined.”

What­ev­er the August elec­tion result, the odds are good that Wash­ing­to­ni­ans will send anoth­er Demo­c­ra­t­ic woman to Con­gress in Novem­ber. Either Franz or Ran­dall would be the first woman to rep­re­sent the 6th Dis­trict since its cre­ation in 1932. 

Cook Polit­i­cal Report rates the seat as D+6 — mak­ing it the third-most com­pet­i­tive in the state, after the 3rd and 8th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­tricts, held by Demo­c­ra­t­ic Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Marie Glue­senkamp Perez and Schri­er, respec­tive­ly. For the Repub­li­cans, State Sen­a­tor Drew MacEwen is run­ning, though he is behind Franz and Ran­dall in fundrais­ing. Anoth­er Repub­li­can can­di­date, Eliz­a­beth Kreisel­maier, recent­ly dropped out. 

“I believe my per­son­al and my pro­fes­sion­al expe­ri­ence in this dis­trict makes me a top leader in [this race],” said Franz. “And the best one to rep­re­sent this district.”

About the author

Owen Averill is the Northwest Progressive Institute's Federal Correspondent and an aficionado of all things Washington State. His professional experience includes internships on Capitol Hill, for Democratic congressional campaigns, and at the Brookings Institution. When he’s not writing about Washingtonians in D.C., he is running, reading, watching the Sounders, or catching up on Irish politics.

Adjacent posts

One reply on “One-on-one with Hilary Franz: Why Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands wants to succeed Derek Kilmer in Congress”

Comments are closed.