Olympia Report: Endorsements, Money, Meetings and Food


King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove got a big leg-up from the environmentalist left this week in the crowded race for Commissioner of Public Lands.

In a splashy announcement, Upthegrove landed the endorsement of Washington Conservation Action, edging out one chief opponent on the left, Seattle Democrat and state senator Rebecca Saldaña, whose name carries some clout in environmentalist circles.

Upthegrove’s win comes after the King County Superior Court ruled against the Department of Natural Resources in a class-action lawsuit advanced by influential environmental groups. The Center for Sustainable Economy, Save the Olympic Peninsula, and the Legacy Forest Defense Coalition sued the state agency over dubious climate calculus after DNR claimed the 100-acre “Wishbone Timber Sale” of carbon-rich legacy forestland in the Tolt and Snoqualmie River Basins would yield “minor amounts of CO2 emissions from the direct proposal site.” Upthegrove and seven fellow county council members supported the plaintiffs and wrote a stern letter to the agency. Upthegrove has pledged to protect legacy forests such as those in northeast Seattle from the jump as lands commissioner. 

Judge Kristin Ballinger called foul last week, writing in her ruling from Thursday that DNR made a “clearly erroneous” assessment of its timber harvests’ climate impact at the landscape level — not the project level. Meaning? It conflated all the carbon sequestration efforts of its other forest projects on the basis that it would (hopefully) offset the impact of the Wishbone sale. The ruling aims to steer DNR to hash out new calculations for future harvesting projects, which both Upthegrove and Saldaña have promised to do on the campaign trail.

Where the race for Public Lands goes from here is anyone’s guess, but there is still time between now and the May filing deadline for candidates to find an offramp. Kent Democrat and former state senator Mona Das has already dropped out, and we hear Saldaña could be courted for another down-the-ballot match. Saldaña can also stay put since her state senate seat isn’t up for grabs until 2026.

Environmentalists are knocking on wood that Upthegrove clears the field on the left before an expensive head-to-head with former Republican U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler this November. A crowded field might also benefit state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Port Angeles, a pro-timber moderate who is not beloved by the environmental left. Look for the greens to throw their weight—and their money—behind Upthegrove. (Tim Gruver)

More campaign cash in the 6th Congressional District 

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz raised more than $415,000 during the first three months of the year for her bid for the U.S. House seat in the 6th Congressional District, where Derek Kilmer has opted out of re-election. Franz’s campaign announced she has pulled in more than $820,000 after pivoting out of the governor’s race last year when incumbent Rep. Derek Kilmer announced he wouldn’t seek reelection. 

Franz entered the race with Kilmer’s endorsement and likely benefits from his network as a sitting member of Congress. Kilmer was sitting on a $1.2 million war chest when he decided to peace out. 

Franz’s Democratic rival, state Sen. Emily Randall, raised more than $305,000 in the first quarter and has piled up $530,000 since jumping into the race shortly after Franz opted out. Randall, D-Bremerton, highlighted the grassroots nature of her support, with contributions from more than 2,300 individuals and a median contribution of $25. 

The 6th, which sprawls from Tacoma across the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas and south to Grays Harbor, has been held by Democrats for decades, so the action is mostly in the August primary. That said, state Sen. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, figures to await either Franz or Randall in November.  (Paul Queary)

A mysterious meeting with the Ballmers

On Jan. 12, the governor and First Lady Trudy Inslee made the trip to the extremely swanky Bellevue offices of the Ballmer Group, the philanthropic enterprise of former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife, Connie. The trip was marked “personal time” on the gov’s calendar, which typically means politics instead of governance. That also means Inslee’s official spokespeople can’t talk about it. What’s left of the governor’s political operation and the Ballmer Group didn’t have anything to say either.¹ 

So why did the First Couple go see the arguably richest couple in Washington? Such a trip indicates a really big ask. Connie Ballmer is an activist on child welfare issues and was among the driving forces behind the state’s big expansion of child care and early learning programs adopted by the Legislature in 2021. An initiative that would repeal the capital gains tax that pays for that stuff is on the ballot this fall. Defending it will require a boatload of money. The Ballmers deliberately eschewed the traditional nonprofit when they set up the Ballmer Group, in part so they could bring some monetary muscle to bear should the need arise. The irony here is that the Ballmers may be on the podium when it comes to paying the capital gains tax.² (Paul Queary)

Some really good-looking food in Australia 

Inslee led a big trade mission Down Under back in November. Much of the agenda was built around the Australians’ enthusiasm for green energy in various forms, something that absolutely floats the governor’s boat. But what really jumped out at us was the food.

The Inslees sampled the antipodean cuisine from Sydney to Melbourne to Hobart, Tasmania. The menu at Bistro George in Sydney looked particularly tempting. We hope someone went long and got the full-blood Waygu salt-encrusted ribeye for $250 Australian, or about $163 in U.S. greenbacks.

The trip was paid for by delegate fees and with sponsorships, including $25,000 from the Port of Seattle, $20K from Washington State University, $15K from Microsoft, and a few boxes of almond roca from candy-maker Brown & Haley of Tacoma.³ It should be noted that November is an excellent time for junketing in the southern hemisphere. It was likely a balmy 70-something in Sydney that evening. (Paul Queary)


1. This irksome omertà introduces a level of epistemological uncertainty that would scare off our brothers and sisters in news who are subject to all the rules. But we kinda live for this sort of speculation.   

2. It’s also possible they don’t pay any of it. Steve Ballmer owns the Los Angeles Clippers these days, and it’s possible their residence for tax purposes is outside Washington. 

3. Kudos to the well-oiled public records machine in the governor’s office, which readily coughs up his calendar when we ask, and to Press Secretary Mike Faulk for his patience with our nosy questions, not to mention the detail on the almond roca, which is surely one of our tastier exports.

These stories first appeared in the authors’ news service, The Washington Observer.


  1. Bravo to Judge Ballinger. DNR’s State Environmental Reviews of their own forest harvesting and proposed private harvesting are atrocious. I hope the new Land Commissioner will overhaul the review process completely. If you want to see examples, just drive around the Olympic Peninsula. You will see thousands of acres of clearcuts on impossibly steep slopes with soil eroding into the Hood Canal, Dabob Bay and salmon spawning areas all over. My favorite was a clearcut directly adjacent to a bridge and culvert rebuilt by Wash DOT to protect salmon. Maybe environmental reviews of DNR projects and permits should be taken out of their hands?

  2. Worth noting that a couple of months ago Post Alley published a strong piece from Upthegrove in which he explained why we need to go more to preserve “legacy forests” — the term for forestlands that were logged about a century ago but have since regenerated into mature forests that trap disproportionate amounts of carbon: https://www.postalley.org/2024/02/06/we-have-to-save-our-legacy-forests/

    And here’s the letter from King County councilmembers that Dave organized which helped to pause DNR’s Wishbone sale: https://kingcounty.gov/en/legacy/council/mainnews/2023/July/7-20-Upthegrove-council-letter-opposing-timber-sale-release.aspx


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