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High-profile candidates seek secretary of state job

SEATTLE – A rarity in Washington state politics – an open race to be Washington’s top election official – has attracted a crowded field of high-profile candidates.

Among those running for secretary of state are Greg Nickels, a former Seattle mayor who gained a national profile for his environmental activism; Jim Kastama, a conservative Democratic state senator who was a key swing vote in state budget negotiations; Kim Wyman, Thurston County’s auditor; and Kathleen Drew, a former state senator and former aide to Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Washington state has had only two secretaries of state since 1980, Ralph Munro and the incumbent, Sam Reed, who is not seeking re-election. The secretary of state, who oversees state and local elections and registers and licenses private corporations, is traditionally not as visible a job as governor or attorney general.

The three Democrats in the race – Drew, Nickels and Kastama – are likely vying to face the Republican Wyman in November. The top two finishers in the August primary will advance to the general election, regardless of party. Sam Wright of the Human Rights Party, Karen Murray of the Constitution Party and David Anderson, who didn’t list a party preference, are also on the ballot.

Wyman, Thurston County’s auditor since 2001, said she wants to continue the work Reed has done. Reed was widely praised for his oversight of the 2004 gubernatorial recounts in a highly charged political environment.

One of Wyman’s goals would be to modernize the voter registration process, with an aim to make it more automated and strike a balance between security and access. Nickels, who served two terms as Seattle’s mayor before being ousted in the primary in 2009, is attempting a political comeback. He said one of the things that attracted him to the secretary of state’s race was the fact that elections should be run in a professional, nonpartisan matter. Nickels would like to look at possibly changing the initiative process and explore ways to blunt the effect of big money in the political process.

Drew, the former state senator from Issaquah, has picked up endorsements from the state Democratic party, as well as Gov. Chris Gregoire. She would like to make it easier for people to both register and to vote, especially young people. Among her ideas are to make it easier for people to register to vote when they renew their driver’s licenses, and to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister before they turn 18. She also supports allowing people to register on Election Day.

Kastama, a state senator from Puyallup, was a member of the “roadkill caucus” of conservative Democrats. He often angered his fellow party members by siding with the GOP, but said his goal has always been to find compromise.

“I have proven, in my 16 years in office, that I have tried to work across the aisle,” Kastama said.

He would like to emphasize the secretary of state’s responsibilities in the business community by better coordinating resources.

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