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Mary Verner announces bid for Lands Commissioner

FILE – Mary Verner in 2011. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE – Mary Verner in 2011. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Former Spokane Mayor Mary Verner is venturing back into elective politics, this time for statewide office.

Verner announced Thursday night on Facebook that she is running for commissioner of public lands.

“You can trust me to wisely manage and protect our state’s cherished public lands in the face of climate change, with forward-thinking adaptive management,” she wrote. “As a mother and grandmother of Washingtonians, I fight to maintain the irreplaceable natural heritage we share – pure water, clean air, and vibrant forests.”

In an interview Friday with The Spokesman-Review, Verner said she was caught by surprise earlier this month when incumbent Commissioner Peter Goldmark announced he would not seek a third term. Goldmark had previously announced his campaign, picked up endorsements from some of the state’s top Democrats and raised more than $150,000 before announcing April 5 he was retiring after discussing the race with his family.

“I did not expect this turn of events,” she said. “The commissioner’s record has been solid.”

Goldmark hired Verner in 2013 as the Department of Natural Resources’ deputy supervisor for wildfire and administration. In that position, she has helped manage the department’s efforts to fight massive wildfires over the last two summers and lobbied the Legislature for changes in wildfire policy and funding.

If elected, she said she’d continue on a course to strengthen the state’s partnerships with local agencies to fight fires and to find cost-effective ways to share resources.

Along with the federal government and other large landowners, the state needs to “look at the way we manage lands.” She would be open to expanding the state’s use of controlled burns in some cases to reduce quick-to-burn “fuels” in the forests and lower the risk of catastrophic fires. The weather conditions would have to be right and personnel available to be able to control them, and the state also would have to take into account the impact of smoke on people with respiratory problems and on areas that rely on tourist visits.

The other Democrat in the race, management consultant and former congressional candidate Karen Porterfield, had criticized Goldmark for accepting campaign contributions from timber companies, which the department regulates on state land. Goldmark had been critical of such contributions when he first ran in 2008 but had accepted them in 2012 and again after he announced his re-election campaign in 2015.

Verner said she would accept contributions from timber companies if they understand it won’t give them any edge in negotiations or influence her decisions as commissioner.

“I would take contributions from a strong environmental organization under the same understanding, that there not be a quid pro quo,” she said.

Appointed to the Spokane City Council to fill an opening in the city’s south district in 2004, Verner was elected to the seat in 2005, then became Spokane’s mayor in 2007 after she defeated Dennis Hession, who had been appointed to the top spot after voters recalled Jim West. She lost her re-election bid to David Condon in 2011.

This will be her first run for statewide office, and Verner said she plans to have field organizers on both sides of the state as she puts her campaign together.

“I do recognize the many challenges for natural resource areas on both sides of the state,” she said.

Verner will continue in her current post at the department as long as she feels she can fulfill her responsibilities and campaign. Should the state have its third major wildfire season in a row this summer, she acknowledged she might have to make a choice between the two, but added that’s something that can’t be predicted in the spring.

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