Photo from Phil Fortunato's 2020 gubernatorial campaign
The background image on Phil Fortunato's campaign website as of press time, recycled from his 2020 gubernatorial bid. Notice the supporters are wearing shirts that say Fortunato for Governor on them. The "For Governor" wording has been blurred, but is still apparent. (Campaign publicity photo)

One of the most right wing mem­bers of the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate has joined the crowd of sen­a­tors look­ing to move up to high­er office this year. 

Phil For­tu­na­to (R‑31st Dis­trict: rur­al King and Pierce coun­ties) has filed with the Pub­lic Dis­clo­sure Com­mis­sion to chal­lenge Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sec­re­tary of State Steve Hobbs, who took over from Kim Wyman in late 2021 fol­low­ing her res­ig­na­tion from Wash­ing­ton’s exec­u­tive depart­ment and was retained by vot­ers in 2022 despite a spir­it­ed chal­lenge from Pierce Coun­ty Audi­tor Julie Ander­son.

For­tu­na­to is the sec­ond Repub­li­can can­di­date to file with the PDC to take on Hobbs this cycle. The first was Bob Hag­glu­nd, who unsuc­cess­ful­ly ran against Hobbs in 2022 along with Repub­li­can State Sen­a­tor Kei­th Wag­oner and ex-Sen­a­tor Mark Milos­cia. Hag­glu­nd also unsuc­cess­ful­ly chal­lenged Dave Somers for Sno­homish Coun­ty Exec­u­tive last year. 

Hag­glu­nd, Wag­oner, and Milos­cia split the Repub­li­can vote so effec­tive­ly last time around that Repub­li­cans found them­selves locked out of the gen­er­al elec­tion runoff, which pit­ted inde­pen­dent Ander­son, the sec­ond place vote get­ter, against Hobbs, the first place vote get­ter. (Wash­ing­ton State unfor­tu­nate­ly lacks a real pri­ma­ry and instead uses a “Top Two” qual­i­fy­ing elec­tion to choose can­di­dates for the gen­er­al elec­tion, which does not guar­an­tee polit­i­cal par­ties place­ment on the Novem­ber ballot.) 

In the wake of that deba­cle for the right wing, then-State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Brad Klip­pert, who had failed in his bid to take on Unit­ed States Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Dan New­house, launched a write-in cam­paign as a Repub­li­can for Sec­re­tary of State. Tens of thou­sands of Repub­li­can vot­ers, urged to write in Klip­pert’s name by the coun­ty and state GOP, did so — and helped Hobbs defeat Ander­son, as our polling sug­gest­ed would hap­pen.

Klip­pert is now run­ning for a dif­fer­ent statewide office — Super­in­ten­dent of Pub­lic Instruc­tion, along with six oth­ers chal­leng­ing incum­bent Chris Reykdal. 

(The post is offi­cial­ly non­par­ti­san, but Reyk­dal is a Democrat.) 

For­tu­na­to is hop­ing to suc­ceed where Klip­pert, Hag­glu­nd, Wag­oner, and Milos­cia failed. But he faces steep odds. With the notable excep­tion of Wyman, Repub­li­cans haven’t pre­vailed in a statewide gen­er­al elec­tion con­test against a Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date since 2008.

This isn’t For­tu­na­to’s first bid high­er office, either. For­tu­na­to was one of sev­er­al extreme Repub­li­cans who unsuc­cess­ful­ly ran for gov­er­nor in 2020, along with grifters Tim Eyman and Loren Culp. He received less than four per­cent of the vote in the Top Two, with Culp going on to be Inslee’s gen­er­al elec­tion opponent. 

For­tu­na­to’s bare­bones web­site does­n’t say much about why he is run­ning or what he hopes to do with the office. There’s the usu­al cod­ed “elec­tion integri­ty” lan­guage and not a whole lot else.

“Hav­ing served on com­mit­tees and boards that pro­vide over­sight and pol­i­cy changes on elec­tions, I’ve seen real needs for improve­ment and over­sight in our state’s elec­tions,” For­tu­na­to says on his home­page, with­out spec­i­fy­ing what he means. 

“That’s why I’m run­ning to be Washington’s next election’s chief. My oppo­nents will say they care about elec­tion integri­ty. We all do, but that’s not what this race is about. I’m run­ning for Sec­re­tary of State because there are seri­ous vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in our elec­tion sys­tems that aren’t being addressed.” 

“We hire hack­ers to test elec­tron­ic secu­ri­ty, but not the reg­is­tra­tion process,” For­tu­na­to goes on to say. “The fact is that motor vot­er laws and doc­u­men­ta­tion loop­holes are seri­ous vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties allow­ing non-cit­i­zens and dupli­cate reg­is­tra­tions. To ensure the elec­torate that the entire process is secure, I say let’s test it.”

There is no evi­dence that non-cit­i­zens are mak­ing it onto Wash­ing­ton’s vot­er rolls, or that the rolls are plagued by dupli­cate reg­is­tra­tions. Nev­er­the­less, because they have lost so many elec­tions, there is a wide­spread belief in Repub­li­can cir­cles that some­thing — or mul­ti­ple some­things — must be wrong with our sys­tem of elections. 

A large num­ber of Repub­li­can activists, judg­ing by what our staff sees and hears, can­not accept the truth, which is that they keep los­ing because a major­i­ty of their fel­low cit­i­zens don’t trust them to gov­ern and dis­like their tox­ic, extreme, ultra MAGA agen­da. So, rather than chang­ing their ways, they are focused on exclu­sion­ary schemes and plots. For exam­ple, they want to pass vot­er sup­pres­sion laws to ensure few­er Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers are allowed to par­tic­i­pate in future elec­tions, both here and elsewhere. 

For­tu­na­to open­ly acknowl­edges this dynam­ic on anoth­er page of his website. 

“I sit on the Elec­tions and Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Com­mis­sion. There seem to be two camps when it comes to elec­tions,” his very short “On the Issues” page reads. “Those that think every­thing is fine and noth­ing needs to be done; typ­i­cal­ly, the win­ners. And, those that feel the entire sys­tem is rigged against us; typ­i­cal­ly the losers. The truth is no mat­ter what side you are on, test­ing the sys­tem for flaws, does not under­mine vot­er con­fi­dence as some oth­er mem­bers of the Com­mis­sion believe.”

For­tu­na­to’s web­site does not men­tion Steve Hobbs by name or crit­i­cize any spe­cif­ic action or deci­sion he has tak­en. But it does con­tain a veiled swipe at Hobbs.

“[H]aving all [Demo­c­ra­t­ic] con­trol in the Leg­is­la­ture makes a Repub­li­can counter bal­ance even more impor­tant,” For­tu­na­to argues. “I take the job of fair­ly, impar­tial­ly and trans­par­ent­ly man­ag­ing our state’s elec­tions seriously.” 

“I will also be an advo­cate and watch­dog for our elec­tion integri­ty. My oppo­nent hold­ing this seat is like the fox­es watch­ing the hen house.”

For­tu­na­to’s web­site does­n’t explain how Hobbs is akin to a fox guard­ing a hen­house, so if you’re a vot­er who isn’t part of the ultra MAGA bub­ble that embraces con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries, you’ll like­ly won­der what the heck For­tu­na­to is talk­ing about. Observers out­side of the Repub­li­can base have had very dif­fer­ent takes. For exam­ple, Hobbs’ pre­de­ces­sor Kim Wyman, who has left the Repub­li­can Par­ty, has spo­ken favor­ably about his work, and news­pa­per edi­to­r­i­al boards have large­ly giv­en Hobbs high marks so far. 

Wyman won three con­sec­u­tive con­test­ed elec­tions for the job by appeal­ing to Demo­c­ra­t­ic and inde­pen­dent vot­ers. Unlike For­tu­na­to or Hag­glu­nd, Wyman had been a coun­ty audi­tor before becom­ing Sec­re­tary of State, fol­low­ing in the path of Ralph Munro and Sam Reed. That Thurston Coun­ty to Sec­re­tary of State pipeline is now closed off to the Repub­li­cans, because the Thurston Coun­ty Audi­tor nowa­days is a Demo­c­rat — Mary Hall. 

For­tu­na­to may be able to beat Hag­glu­nd and get on the gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lot, if a more impres­sive Repub­li­can can­di­date does­n’t come along. But he will have a dif­fi­cult time con­vinc­ing vot­ers who aren’t part of the Repub­li­can base to pick him over Hobbs. 

For­tu­na­to’s deci­sion to launch a cam­paign web­site using a four-year old pho­to is evi­dence he’s not going to be giv­ing this effort he’s every­thing he’s got. (If you look close­ly at the pho­to above, you can see the For­tu­na­to sup­port­ers’ t‑shirts say For­tu­na­to for Governor.)

Fil­ing Week is now only a few weeks away, so we’ll soon know who all is run­ning for this posi­tion and every oth­er posi­tion that’s up for elec­tion this year. 

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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