Rebecca Saldaña bows out of 2024 contest for Commissioner of Public Lands

Demo­c­ra­t­ic State Sen­a­tor Rebec­ca Sal­daña has decid­ed against con­tin­u­ing with her 2024 can­di­da­cy of Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands, reduc­ing the num­ber of cred­i­ble Demo­c­ra­t­ic hope­fuls to three and improv­ing the par­ty’s chances of avoid­ing a gen­er­al elec­tion lock­out that would effec­tive­ly guar­an­tee a Repub­li­can pick­up of the office. 

“It’s with so much grat­i­tude to you — my com­mu­ni­ty, sup­port­ers, fam­i­ly, friends, and team-that I am sus­pend­ing my cam­paign to become Wash­ing­ton State’s next Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands,” said Sal­daña in a state­ment post­ed to social media chan­nels.

“I decid­ed to run for Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands (CPL) because I care so deeply about this beau­ti­ful place I get to call home. I believe that our great­est resources are the peo­ple of Wash­ing­ton. I was called and recruit­ed by envi­ron­men­tal­ists who know me and know my work — which held the ‘grand bar­gain’ togeth­er in the state sen­ate and gave Wash­ing­ton the Cli­mate Com­mit­ment Act, the Healthy Envi­ron­ment for All Act, the Clean Fuels pol­i­cy, Move Ahead Wash­ing­ton and rev­enue to sup­port nat­ur­al cli­mate solu­tions and clean ener­gy investments.”

“I know that when we cen­ter racial, social, envi­ron­men­tal, and eco­nom­ic jus­tice and cre­ate orga­nized space for the voic­es of his­tor­i­cal­ly and present­ly exclud­ed com­mu­ni­ties — we can find inno­v­a­tive solu­tions that expand what is pos­si­ble for all of us. I want to uplift endorse­ments from orga­ni­za­tions and labor unions that tru­ly act on their val­ues, includ­ing the Lati­no Vic­to­ry Fund, Pro­gre­so: Lati­no Progress, Wash­ing­ton CAN, OneAm­er­i­ca Votes, Wash­ing­ton Machin­ists Coun­cil, and Win With Women.”

“I whol­ly believe I am still the best can­di­date in the CPL race to take on the Repub­li­can can­di­date, win, and gov­ern for long-term suc­cess. How­ev­er, I had can­cer, under­went six months of chemother­a­py while serv­ing all Wash­ing­to­ni­ans in the state leg­is­la­ture, and faced a three-month fundrais­ing freeze. These hur­dles impact­ed our cam­paign in finances only. I’ve nev­er felt stronger or more clear-head­ed about my pri­or­i­ties and mis­sion. At the end of the day, mon­ey in the hands of too few peo­ple con­tin­ues to under­mine rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­ra­cy in Wash­ing­ton.

Empha­sis is Sen­a­tor Saldaña’s.

Sal­daña now plans to focus on win­ning her bat­tle against can­cer, lead­ing the Kennedy Fund (an arm of the Sen­ate Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus), and defeat­ing Bri­an Hey­wood and Jim Wal­sh’s slate of destruc­tive ini­tia­tives, which the Defend Wash­ing­ton coali­tion and NPI are orga­niz­ing oppo­si­tion to. Her lengthy state­ment observed that if we don’t defeat those ini­tia­tives, espe­cial­ly I‑2117, which seeks to elim­i­nate the Cli­mate Com­mit­ment Act, much of the cli­mate and envi­ron­men­tal progress we’ve made in recent years will be reversed or grave­ly jeopardized. 

How­ev­er, Sal­daña’s line “it does­n’t mat­ter who is the next CPL” should have been omit­ted from the state­ment. Our team knows what she means, but that was­n’t a good choice of words. Regard­less of what hap­pens with Hey­wood and Wal­sh’s ini­tia­tives, it does mat­ter who is the next Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands, and that’s why Sal­daña’s with­draw­al from the race is a big deal. It is a self­less act that’ll be well received. 

By tak­ing one for the team, Sal­daña is increas­ing the like­li­hood that Democ­rats keep con­trol of the office. This will have con­se­quences for cli­mate, con­ser­va­tion, emer­gency man­age­ment, and geo­log­ic haz­ards mit­i­ga­tion poli­cies. Wash­ing­ton’s Top Two elec­tion sys­tem rewards par­ties that uni­fy around a stan­dard bear­er before the fil­ing peri­od and sets up those that don’t for poten­tial pun­ish­ment. Lock­outs have become com­mon, even at lev­els where we did­n’t used to see them. Con­sid­er the history:

  • In 2016, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic field of can­di­dates for State Trea­sur­er split the Demo­c­ra­t­ic vote so well that two Repub­li­cans went on to the gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lot, effec­tive­ly guar­an­tee­ing the office would flip into Repub­li­can hands.
  • In 2020, the Repub­li­can field of can­di­dates for Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor split the Repub­li­can vote so well that two Democ­rats went on to the gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lot, effec­tive­ly guar­an­tee­ing the office would remain in Demo­c­ra­t­ic hands.
  • In 2022, the the Repub­li­can field of can­di­dates for Sec­re­tary of State split the Repub­li­can vote so well that Repub­li­cans were assured of hav­ing no chance to regain the only statewide office they had con­tin­u­ous­ly held for over half a century.

Lock­outs have been com­mon at the leg­isla­tive lev­el since the Top Two sys­tem was ruled con­sti­tu­tion­al by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008. In the red­dest dis­tricts, gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lots usu­al­ly have two ide­o­log­i­cal­ly sim­i­lar Repub­li­cans, and in the bluest dis­tricts, gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lots usu­al­ly have two ide­o­log­i­cal­ly sim­i­lar Democ­rats. This is bad for vot­er choice. NPI opposed the Top Two sys­tem when Sam Reed and the Grange sold it to Wash­ing­ton vot­ers in 2004 and we con­tin­ue to strong­ly oppose it today. 

But until it’s replaced with a real pri­ma­ry — and prefer­ably one that uses a more equi­table vot­ing method like ranked choice vot­ing — the Top Two sys­tem is just some­thing that both par­ties and their strate­gists have to deal with. Repub­li­cans are cog­nizant of the need to uni­fy, too, and it’s why they’re plan­ning to make an unprece­dent­ed set of endorse­ments before the fil­ing peri­od at their upcom­ing con­ven­tion in Spokane. 

If Wash­ing­ton had a real pri­ma­ry, each par­ty would be guar­an­teed a spot on the gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lot. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty would­n’t need to wor­ry about vote split­ting, because the Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers would pick a nom­i­nee and that nom­i­nee would go for­ward regard­less of whether they received a major­i­ty or a plu­ral­i­ty. Even if Democ­rats had twen­ty can­di­dates split­ting the vote, a real pri­ma­ry would still pro­duce a nom­i­nee. Crowd­ed fields could be sort­ed by vot­ers. But again, with no real pri­ma­ry in place, it’s in the par­ty’s inter­est to nar­row its field of can­di­dates before the fil­ing period.

Sen­a­tor Sal­daña did not men­tion this in her state­ment, but last week, Wash­ing­ton Con­ser­va­tion Action made the long-await­ed deci­sion to endorse her rival, King Coun­ty Coun­cil Chair Dave Upthe­grove. WCA is wide­ly respect­ed in the envi­ron­men­tal move­ment for its elec­toral lead­er­ship and many strate­gists and activists had been look­ing to the orga­ni­za­tion for guid­ance on who pro­gres­sive vot­ers should be sup­port­ing for Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands. The writ­ing has been on the wall since then, so to speak.

Upthe­grove issued a state­ment prais­ing Sal­daña and com­pli­ment­ing her work.

“I want to com­mend Sen­a­tor Sal­dana for run­ning a strong and sub­stan­tive cam­paign,” said Upthe­grove. “She helped define the issues in this race in a mean­ing­ful way, guar­an­tee­ing that issues of envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice will remain front and cen­ter as this cam­paign moves for­ward. And she is a fight­er. I deeply admire her courage and strength, and deeply respect her integri­ty and her com­mit­ment to pro­gres­sive val­ues. She remains a respect­ed leader and ded­i­cat­ed pub­lic ser­vant who will con­tin­ue to make her mark in Wash­ing­ton State pol­i­tics in oth­er ways.”

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic field now con­sists of Upthe­grove (in our esti­ma­tion, the fron­trun­ner), State Sen­a­tor Kevin Van De Wege, who has some deep pock­et­ed back­ers but has oth­er­wise got­ten no trac­tion, and DNR trib­al liai­son Patrick DePoe. DePoe has Franz’s endorse­ment and has fared bet­ter than Van De Wege in our polling, but is behind Upthe­grove in fundrais­ing. A fifth can­di­date, for­mer State Sen­a­tor Mona Das, with­drew from the race sev­er­al weeks ago, months after ceas­ing cam­paign fundraising.

If either DePoe or Van De Wege or both also with­draw, that will fur­ther increase Democ­rats’ odds of hold­ing on to this office. Repub­li­cans have two declared can­di­dates: Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler and Sue Kuehl Ped­er­sen. If they were to get more votes than three or more Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates this sum­mer, that would result in a Repub­li­can pick­up of a key statewide office that has juris­dic­tion over Wash­ing­ton’s forests and aquat­ic lands. Our Novem­ber and Feb­ru­ary polling in this race sug­gest­ed that this was a real pos­si­bil­i­ty if Democ­rats did­n’t win­now their field. Two can­di­dates have now exit­ed, and if one more fol­lows suit, the par­ty will be in great shape for the August Top Two election.

Andrew Villeneuve

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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