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Tuesday, December 5, 2023
Dec. 5, 2023

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Washington lands chief Hilary Franz kicks off campaign for governor as race takes shape


SEATTLE — Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz and her supporters gathered for a news conference Monday on the Seattle waterfront to tout her political record as the wide-open 2024 Washington gubernatorial race begins to take shape.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced on May 1 he wouldn’t seek a fourth term. The next day, Attorney General Bob Ferguson jumped into the race. Franz announced her intent to run last week.

On Monday, as unseasonable heat radiated from the asphalt on a pier near the Edgewater Hotel, Franz and her supporters highlighted what they say are key differences between her and other emerging candidates, including her lived experience as a woman, time spent working with rural communities and management of nearly 6 million acres of public lands.

She pledged to create a climate action plan focused on building resilience in the state’s waters, forest and agricultural lands and to bring people together from “every corner of the state” to address the many crises, like housing, health care and child care.

Her supporters, including leaders of local tribal nations, said as lands commissioner she has protected the state’s waters, fish and tribal treaty rights through crises like the 2017 spill of hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon in the Salish Sea. Last fall, Franz announced the end of commercial net-pen fish farming on state waters.

“Tribal people have been stewards of this land since time immemorial. We want to make sure that we will always have our fish for our people, and right now we’re struggling,” said Lisa Wilson, a Lummi Nation leader.

Others said that as someone who has gone to the gynecologist, taken birth control and given birth, Franz is the only candidate who intimately understands women’s health and child care needs.

“When we talk about reproductive rights being under attack, that’s not a hypothetical for Hilary,” said Jessa Lewis, a founding board member of Alliance for a Healthy Washington, “her rights, like my rights, like my daughter’s rights, like the rights of women, are at risk.”

In a statement, Ferguson’s campaign said, “Bob is a nationally recognized leader in the fight to protect women’s access to reproductive healthcare.”

He led the successful lawsuit to preserve access to Mifepristone, a drug used in the most common method of abortion, in 17 states and Washington, D.C.

Leaders of rural communities and firefighters said Franz was often one of the first to listen.

Franz pushed lawmakers to earmark a historic $500 million for wildfire prevention and forest-health treatments such as prescribed burns in 2021.

When asked how she was better equipped to be governor than the other Democrat in the race, Franz said, “you can’t understand the issues of Omak and South Bend and Republic and Raymond, Sultan, Bellingham, Bothell if you haven’t shown up in those communities and not just show up for an event, but actually walk the streets, walk the lands, go out on the waters, and understand what their greatest risk challenges are.”

Ferguson’s campaign said he has also been crisscrossing the state talking to Washingtonians for more than a decade, visiting every county on the campaign trail for attorney general.

“That’s why in the first two weeks since announcing his exploratory committee, Washingtonians from 36 out of 39 counties offered their financial support,” campaign leaders said in a statement.

While Ferguson shifted more than $1.2 million in surplus campaign money to his 2024 gubernatorial bid, Franz waited for an anticipated ruling from the state Public Disclosure Commission that limited these transfers.

“To me, it’s pretty simple,” she said Monday. “Our laws were set up to be clean and transparent. And when somebody is running for a new office and then tries to transfer money without having sort of the contribution limits attached to it, it basically allows triple dipping, which flies in the face of what the law is.”

In a statement after the PDC ruling, Ferguson said he respects the decision.

In April, state lawmakers voted down a deal to maintain a criminal penalty for illicit drug possession. Inslee called a special session beginning this week to hash out a new statewide approach before a stopgap measure ends July 1.

Franz said she believes the state needs to hold the people distributing the drugs accountable, and reform the criminal justice sector that’s currently “not set up to handle addiction.”

“I don’t think there’s a family in this state that hasn’t been impacted by addiction … and the reality is no one chooses a life of addiction. It’s sad, it’s scary, and it’s completely destructive,” Franz said. “I know, having worked in the mental health sector as well as work in the criminal justice sector, that we’ve got to do more to help in the area of bringing science and bringing safety and bringing compassion to this work.”

Her campaign video, website and event Monday center her relationships with wildland firefighters, ranchers and rural communities and her experience growing up and finding common ground with family from all over the political spectrum.

In her first run as lands commissioner, Franz didn’t win a single county in Eastern Washington. In 2020, she took nearly 57% of the vote, including one Eastern Washington county.

Tasked with overseeing 5.6 million acres of state forest, agricultural, aquatic and commercial lands, the leader of the Department of Natural Resources must contend with wildfire and climate change, and generate dollars for counties and schools that rely on DNR’s land management — largely timber sales — for revenue.

As lands commissioner, Franz has faced pushback from conservationists for not doing enough to preserve older trees, and criticism and lawsuits from rural communities for reducing the amount of timber available for harvest.

She’s also expanded the state’s public lands portfolio, leasing land for agriculture and clean energy.

Before being elected, Franz served one term on the Bainbridge Island City Council and led Futurewise, a nonprofit that defends the state’s landmark Growth Management Act.

The 2024 gubernatorial field is still developing.

State Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, a business owner who has clashed with Inslee and labor unions, is also considering a run, in which he would seek to carve out a moderate lane that could attract some independent and Republican support.

Among Republicans, Semi Bird, a Richland School Board member, has been actively campaigning and has raised $50,000 for his campaign. He also faces a recall campaign in his hometown for defying the state’s COVID-19 mask mandate.

Raul Garcia, a Yakima doctor who made a last-minute run in the 2020 gubernatorial primary, launched his campaign with an event Friday at Kerry Park in Seattle.

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