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News / Opinion / Columns
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Jayne: Mullet a serious governor hopeful

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Page Editor
Published: May 11, 2024, 6:02am

In the maze that is election politics, it doesn’t get much more difficult than this.

Mark Mullet is navigating a labyrinth filled with 20-some fellow candidates, a huge fundraising disadvantage and a relative lack of name recognition. And if that were not enough, there is the large and intimidating specter of Bob Ferguson resting between Mullet and the governor’s office.

But as the Issaquah Democrat visited Clark County this week, sitting down for a cup of coffee at The Waterfront Vancouver development, he listed credentials that mark him as a serious candidate for the state’s highest office.

State senator the past 12 years; vice chair of the Ways & Means Committee; member of the Business, Financial Services, Gaming & Trade Committee; owner of a pizza place and several Ben & Jerry’s outlets; and legislative representative on the Washington State Investment Board.

If there seems to be a pro-business theme to Mullet’s campaign, it is because that is where he can differentiate himself from Ferguson, the state’s three-term attorney general.

“I just think I look at things with a different lens, being a business owner,” he said. “I think government agencies can be more educational and less punitive.”

As an example, Mullet points to county systems for procuring a building permit: “It’s not fair, not predictable and certainly not quick. We’ve put in 18 different things that can basically slow down a project.”

That will resonate with many Washington voters. But aspiring to be the state’s governor requires more than populist rhetoric; it also helps to have experience, such as serving on an investment board that manages nearly $200 billion in public funds.

As fellow board member David Nierenberg, a Camas-based investor, said of Mullet: “He is an excellent board member, certainly the best legislative member I have seen in my 19 years on the board. He comes prepared, and he is a business owner himself.”

All of which, combined with his service in the Legislature, suggests that Mullet is well-qualified to serve as governor. In a contest that had 24 declared candidates as of Friday afternoon but few with even a remote chance of winning, that should not be underestimated.

But there is more. Because while many a qualified candidate has come and gone over the years, never to be thought of again after the votes are tallied, Mullet’s longshot candidacy has received a boost in recent months.

First, Hilary Franz dropped out of the governor’s race to run for Congress. As a two-time winner of statewide races for Commissioner of Public Lands, Franz presented a formidable roadblock.

Second, the state Republican Party endorsed Semi Bird as their nominee for governor. It is difficult to imagine that somebody who has been recalled by voters from a school board seat, has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor bank larceny, and is supported by the MAGA wing of the party can win a statewide election in Washington, but such is the curse of the modern GOP. The Trumpian faction of the party will never be accused of using reason or demonstrating political acumen.

All of which enhances Mullet’s chances while lending intrigue to Washington’s first incumbent-less gubernatorial race since 2012.

If Bird splits the Republican vote with former Congressman Dave Reichert, it is conceivable that two Democrats will navigate the primary and find themselves in the general election. Ferguson, who has won three statewide elections and has a $6.8 million campaign war chest, figures to be one. Judging from campaign contributions, Mullet would be likely to earn the second spot.

On the other hand, it also is conceivable that a moderate Republican could launch a write-in campaign (Bird and Reichert would be ineligible) and hope that a split in the Democratic vote leaves an opening in the general election.

The possibilities create an interesting yet convoluted race for governor. And Mullet just might find himself in the middle of it.

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