State Campaigns Rev Up: Money, Debates, and Endorsements


As recently as last week, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz’s campaign was trumpeting union support for her run for Congress, calling her the most labor-endorsed candidate in the country. But since then, Franz’s campaign has absorbed a series of body blows as some of the state’s largest unions backed her opponent, state Sen. Emily Randall. 

On Friday, Randall, D-Bremerton, won the support of SEIU 775, the powerful long-term-care workers union; SEIU Local 925, which represents workers in early learning and other education settings; the nurses and other health-care workers of SEIU 1199 NW; Teamsters Local 117; and UFCW 3000, which is mostly grocery-store workers. That’s a who’s-who of the labor left in Washington, with some 150,000 members statewide (figure about 10% of them in the 6th District) and millions in ready campaign cash. 

Then Randall landed the biggest fish in the labor-support derby on Saturday: The sole endorsement of the Washington State Labor Council’s Committee On Political Education. We’re told that key arguments for that endorsement from the AFL-CIO umbrella group were made by union workers at the Department of Natural Resources, the agency that Franz runs as Lands Commissioner, who raised issues of worker safety and low morale. 

The 6th is traditionally a safe Democratic district, so the victor of Franz vs. Randall in the August primary will likely cruise past Republican state Sen. Drew MacEwen in November. Labor votes and labor money could be the deciding factor. 

But voters looking for the union candidate in the race might be a bit confused. Franz has some 35 separate union endorsements herself, including the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council and nearly a dozen firefighting unions. But most of the unions backing Franz are relatively small in terms of membership. Most of the big fish, including the aerospace workers of Machinists 751 and the government workers of the Washington Federation of State Employees, are in Randall’s camp. 

Randall grew up in a union household, and her wife recently left behind a fancy Microsoft gig for the tool belt of an apprentice carpenter. Narrative aside, the realpolitik here is on Randall’s side. Should she lose, she’ll still be a leader in the Senate, perhaps even majority leader, in position to deliver policy wins for labor. She’s also been involved in some major labor wins and near-wins in the Legislature in recent years, including the long-term care insurance program adopted by lawmakers in 2019 and this year’s medical merger bill

One major labor player is still on the sideline: The teachers of the Washington Education Association. Its endorsement in federal races is a National Education Association decision, and the national group might choose to sit the primary out.

Franz pivoted out of the governor’s race and into the 6th with a splash in November with the endorsement of incumbent 6th CD Rep. Derek Kilmer. Randall has since won key nods from Planned Parenthood, Sen. Patty Murray, and Rep. Marilyn Strickland of the neighboring 10th District.   (Paul Queary)

Top 3 Superintendent candidates talk education

Three of the leading candidates for Superintendent of Public Instruction took the debate stage Monday. Students at Ridgeline High School in Liberty Lake asked the candidates questions on topics such as funding disparities between school districts, sex education, and whether transgender athletes should be included in high school sports.

Among the candidates on the debate stage was Reid Saaris, a newcomer to politics and founder of the education nonprofit, Equal Opportunity Initiative. Saaris recently left his role as a long-term substitute teacher at Rainier Beach High School in Seattle to campaign. The second debater was Peninsula School Board member and Republican endorsee, David Olson, who focused his responses on local control and parental involvement in public education. 

Incumbent Superintendent Chris Reykdal is campaigning for his third term as state superintendent and secured the endorsement of the Washington Education Association. He steered the office and 295 school districts and six tribal schools in Washington through the COVID-19 pandemic and school shutdowns. Much of his time on stage was spent defending his record and clarifying the role of the superintendent’s office. 

Some key points from the candidates forum: 

Disparities in public school financing

The candidates largely agreed that the differences in state money given to school districts have contributed to disparities that impact student learning, a topic we’ve examined closely in The Observer.  

Olson critiqued the basis for the McCleary fixes made by the Legislature, which created enduring impacts on public education. He noted these decisions led to higher property taxes and widened financing disparities between affluent and low-income school districts. Many school districts have struggled to pass enrichment levies and construction bond measures, which require a supermajority to pass.

Reykal said the Legislature has improved how public education is paid for in the past eight years post-McCleary, but still, many school districts rely on local levy money to pay for core components of basic education like student transportation and special education that should be paid for entirely with state dollars.

Saaris argued the student achievement gap has grown in the past eight years, which coincides with Reykdal’s term as superintendent. The state’s school funding formula for basic education allotments is broken, with wealthier communities getting more money than poorer communities, he said. Closing the achievement gaps, he argued, would require the state to give more money to underachieving school districts. But before the funding formula can be responsibly updated, the state needs to improve the way it manages existing resources, he said. 

COVID-19 relief money audits

Saaris used the opportunity to talk about school financing to go on the offensive and claimed OSPI, under Reykdal, mismanaged federal COVID-19 relief dollars

Reykdal rejected Saaris’ claims that OSPI mismanaged federal dollars, noting that neither the state nor federal audit reported such a finding. He explained the findings of the state and federal audits were related more to paperwork and documentation and did not point to mismanagement of money. 

The findings of the audits were related to how OSPI, which passed the money from the federal grant program to the school districts, documented the way the money was spent, he said, noting that paperwork is not a priority in a crisis such as a fire, or the COVID-19 pandemic school shut-downs. 

Sex and gender education in the classroom 

Students should learn evidence-based curriculum on sexuality and gender, Saaris said, and noted that Washington voters approved an initiative on sex education in schools, but argued that education should be more inclusive. 

Reykdal used the question to explain who decides what students learn in class. The Legislature sets education policy, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction sets learning standards related to that policy, and then public school districts get to design the curriculum, Reykal said. Every parent can opt their kid out of any public school lesson or activity, for whatever reason, he said. 

Local control over curriculum is essential, Olson said, particularly when it comes to the classroom conversations around sensitive topics like sex education. Olson said parents should be involved in discussions about the public school curriculum and that school districts should maintain control over the curriculum they teach, which is already happening. 

Transgender athletes on high school teams 

The federal Title IX rule handles most of that, Saaris and Reykdal said, who agreed inclusion is better than more exclusion. Olson conceded that Title IX is the boss here regardless of his personal preference for keeping transgender athletes out of high school sports. 

The student mental health crisis 

On the topic of student mental health, Reykdal highlighted the regional mental health networks OSPI propped up using federal dollars and said he’s pushing the Legislature to fully pay for these programs. For Rekydal, the student mental health crisis and access to social media are overlapping issues. He said OSPI is developing a blueprint for school districts that wish to restrict cell phone use and technology on campus.

Saaris said student mental health is his top priority, citing grim statistics about growing rates of suicidal ideation among adolescents across the states. He once again challenged Reykdal, saying the Superintendent failed to respond urgently to the crisis. 

Saaris said he plans to push for universal access to mental health services for anyone who needs it¹, empower school districts to regulate technology and go phone-free if they choose to, and, sensibly, implement the U.S. Surgeon General’s Guidelines on Social Media and Youth Mental Health, and expand recess so kids have more time to connect IRL. 

Olson, who sits on the board of the Peninsula School District, which introduced an outright ban on cell phones, recommended the book The Anxious Generation and spoke about children being cyberbullied and watching pornography on their devices. Students have benefited from technology-free zones in Peninsula Public Schools and have been more engaged in their studies and social lives after the cell phone ban, he said. He noted that the district uses its enrichment levies to hire additional school counselors to help students. The full debate is available for viewing on TVW(Sara Kassabian)

“Nick at Night” event stacks campaign cash for Brown

Would-be state attorney general Nick Brown’s campaign crossed the $1 million mark this month just as his campaign rolled out a red carpet.

Last week, the Democrat and former U.S. attorney for the Western District of WA threw a splashy fundraiser in Seattle dubbed “Nick at Night.” Guests included an esteemed list of electeds, lobbyists, and endorsers — including Gov. Jay Inslee, Washington House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, and Puyallup Tribal Chair Bill Sterud. Highlights of the chummy affair, which flooded Brown’s Instagram feed to the tune of Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling,” came off as an early victory lap some three months out from the August primary.

Meanwhile, Brown’s opponent, Sen. Manka Dhingra D-Redmond, is sitting on a campaign war chest of around $690,000. Dhingra isn’t up for reelection this year and stands a fair chance of becoming Senate Majority Leader in light of Spokane Democrat Andy Billig’s retirement and the possibility that Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, may get elected to Congress.

As the lone Republican in the AG race, we expect Pasco attorney and litigious gun-control opponent Pete Serrano will solidify the vote on the right and sail through the primary. Serrano had raised just $120,00 as of May 1. (Tim Gruver)

A brief poll in the 8th CD

A reader out in East King County sent us some screenshots of a brief poll that appears to be testing the viability of Republican Carmen Goers in the 8th Congressional District, which sprawls from the eastern exurbs of Pierce, King, and Snohomish counties across the Cascades to take in Kittitas and Chelan counties. Incumbent Democrat Kim Schrier has now defended the district twice since winning it in an open election in 2018. 

The rough configurations of the 8th were drawn in 2011 to protect then-Rep. Dave Reichert, who is currently the Republicans’ best hope for governor. Reichert didn’t seek reelection in the Trump midterm election of 2018 which turned out to be a really bad year for the GOP.

Goers, a commercial banker, has struggled to raise money for her campaign thus far. Republicans touted her as a threat to seize a swing state House seat in the 47th Legislative District in 2022, but she finished out of the money in the primary after two other GOP candidates ran to her right. 

The poll likely comes from either the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has to decide whether Goers is worth the investment, or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has to decide whether Schrier needs defending. The NRCC doesn’t currently feature the race on its site. The DCCC does highlight Schrier. (Paul Queary)

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1. Universal access to mental health services sounds promising, but it doesn’t fall under the purview of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Achieving this would require some type of universal health care in WA and would need buy-in from the Legislature and insurance commissioner’s office.

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.


  1. In two of the profiled races, you indicate that the Republican candidate would make it through the Primary to face whichever Democrat was leading. Did you forget that in our Open Primary (called a “Jungle Primary” in other states) the top two candidates advance to the General, regardless of Party? In the 6th Congressional District race, it’s more likely that both Hillary Franz and Emily Randall will advance, simply due to all the attention paid. Likewise in the Attorney General’s race.

    Frankly, I would much rather see Emily Randall as Senate Majority Leader than Manka Dhingra. Still, I find it a bit incomprehensible that the leaders of both Chambers would come from Puget Sound, especially when so many people outside Puget Sound don’t feel heard in Olympia.


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