Olympia Report: Candidates Crowd State Land Commissioner Race


There’s an interesting crowd growing in the open race to be the next Commissioner of Public Lands. The latest entrants are state Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, and Patrick DePoe, a member of the Makah Tribe who currently works for incumbent lands chief Hilary Franz. This is shaping up to be the most competitive race on the ballot next August.

Saldaña is very much a leader in the state’s environmental justice movement — which argues that decisions about where to pollute and what to preserve¹ have been made at the expense of low-income people and people of color over the decades.

DePoe, meanwhile, would be the first Native American lands commissioner. The state’s tribes have a deep interest in the state’s lands because of their treaty rights to fish, hunt, and gather on waters and lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources.

Both candidates have the capacity to attract significant independent support and large amounts of money to push them through next August’s primary, which is likely to be the decisive contest in this race.

The tribes are among the biggest spenders in Washington politics and have demonstrated a willingness to go big in support of Native candidates. Saldaña, meanwhile, looks well-positioned to draw support from the wealthy environmentalists who pushed Franz through the primary back in 2016. Per Jerry Cornfield over at the Washington State Standard, those folks are still mulling which horse to back.

Saldaña and DePoe join state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, a Democrat who represents the Olympic Peninsula, former state Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, and Republican Sue Kuehl Peterson, who lost to Franz in 2020. King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove is also mulling a bid.

That looks like a crowd on the leftward edge of the race that would seem to benefit Van De Wege, who figures to be the choice of timber industry interests who would prefer more industry-friendly management of the state’s forests. Van De Wege, who is a firefighter, also has support from firefighting unions who care about the race because of the department’s role in combating wildfires.

Look for the field to thin after the environmental money picks a candidate.

Democrats punt redistricting to federal court

Gov. Jay Inslee, House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, and Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig have all declined to push for reconvening the Washington Redistricting Commission in response to a federal court’s decision to invalidate the 15th Legislative District in the Yakima Valley. That means the court will write the map ahead of next year’s election.

Reconvening the commission would have required a supermajority of both chambers of the Legislature. That’s a heavy lift in any case. In this instance, it would likely be impossible because many Democrats would oppose it. The commission is a bipartisan horse-trading exercise by design, and the court is likely to write a new map for central Washington that is more favorable to Democrats than any compromise that could be reached by the commission. In the current Legislature, there are no Democrats from east of the Cascades outside of the 3rd District in Spokane.

Not a few Democrats hoped the state Supreme Court would tackle the chore when the commission melted down in late 2021, but the Supremes spurned that idea and allowed the maps to stand for the 2022 election.

One interesting wrinkle here is the fate of first-term Sen. Nikki Torres, R-Pasco, who was elected easily in the new 15th in 2022 after some maneuvering at the filing deadline. A redrawn map might well leave her out of the district. That outcome would be an interesting irony given that the legal fight is about whether the district was properly drawn to represent the valley’s Latino population.


  1. It should be noted that most of these decisions are made by the Department of Ecology, the Department of Transportation, and local permitting agencies, all of which are outside of the Department of Natural Resources’ authority.

This article first appeared in the author’s political report, The Washington Observer.

Paul Queary
Paul Queary
Paul Queary, a veteran AP reporter and editor, is founder of The Washington Observer, an independent newsletter on politics, government and the influence thereof in Washington State.


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