Sunday, December 5, 2021
Dec. 5, 2021

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Jayne: Inslee should count on Kimsey

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In an ideal world, partisanship would have nothing to do with election integrity. Alas, American politics are far from perfect, and partisan tribalism is a cancer that has metastasized.

So, to get straight to the point, Gov. Jay Inslee should appoint a Republican to replace Secretary of State Kim Wyman. And to get closer to the point, he should appoint Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey.

Kimsey probably will not be thrilled with this suggestion. Shortly after Wyman announced Tuesday that she is leaving for a position in the Biden administration, I called Kimsey to see whether he is interested.

“I will not encourage anyone to put my name forward to the governor for his consideration,” Kimsey said.

And if the governor calls?

“I would say I’m flattered, but I’m not interested,” he added.

And if the governor calls and says, “You are the right person for the job; your state needs you”?

Kimsey wavered.

“It would be hard,” he said. “If eventually I concluded I could best serve the state of Washington and Clark County by serving as secretary of state, I would have to reconsider my position. You can’t absolutely say ‘never, never, never.’ ”

So there you have it. Or maybe you don’t. That’s pretty inconclusive.

But at a time when our democratic institutions are under persistent attack, the choice of a new secretary of state is important — both for practical and symbolic reasons. Inslee will unilaterally replace Wyman, a Republican who was first elected in 2012, and that replacement will be on the ballot in 2022. The position will be on the ballot again for a full term in 2024.

In some ways, Wyman is an anomaly — the only statewide elected Republican on the West Coast. In others, she is a constant — Republicans have held the position since 1965.

At the state level, the secretary of state oversees elections, and Wyman has done that with aplomb. She is recognized as a national expert on election security and has spent much of the past year as a calming voice defending our democracy against attacks from within her own party.

At the county level, the auditor is the top election official, and Kimsey has managed local elections with integrity for 22 years.

But there is more. In the past four election cycles — 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018 — Kimsey has run unopposed for reelection. In 2002, the last time he faced a challenger, he was reelected with 63 percent of the vote. If there is such a thing as universal respect in our chaotic and polarized political system, Kimsey has earned it.

Which brings us back to the position of secretary of state.

For more than 50 years, Washington voters have said they want a Republican secretary of state while supporting Democrats for nearly every other position. When the Republican candidate for governor lost by more than 500,000 votes last year, the Republican Wyman won with 54 percent of the vote. Of course, the person matters more than the party, but Inslee should honor that long-expressed party preference until voters tell him otherwise.

Such a move would be difficult for a Democratic governor. Such a move would be difficult when a faction of the Republican Party is demonstrating disdain for democracy with insurrectionist attempts to undermine it.

But there are good Republicans out there who reject the lunatic fringe of their party. Choosing one of them who has the proper qualifications to replace Wyman would be a conciliatory gesture that most closely reflects the will of the voters.

As GOP consultant Chad Minnick told Crosscut.com, choosing a Democrat would add fuel to claims from some Republican voters that elections are rife with fraud: “That would really charge up the base going into next year.”

In the past, Kimsey has considered running for the statewide position. Now, at 65, he is pondering seeking reelection next year at the county level. He might not be up for a new challenge, but in an ideal world Inslee would give him a call.

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