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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Political dominoes in Washington waiting on Inslee’s decision

As Gov. Jay Inslee pursues his long-shot run for president, political dominoes are lining up for Washington’s 2020 elections.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, state Sen. Christine Rolfes and state Rep. Drew Hansen are among those waiting to see which way their domino will fall: Run for re-election or a new office?

Inslee still has a gubernatorial re-election campaign committee on file with the state Public Disclosure Committee. It has raised some $1.4 million and spent $1.2 million since he was re-elected in 2016. But it has only collected about $2,400 and spent less than $1,800 since he formally announced his presidential bid early this year.

Washington doesn’t term-limit its state officials, and Inslee hasn’t ruled out seeking a third term if he steps away from the presidential race, although that may be getting less likely with each passing week.

Only one governor, Republican Dan Evans, served three consecutive terms. Since then, all three of Inslee’s two-term predecessors – Booth Gardner, Gary Locke and Christine Gregoire – discussed running again but ruled it out, usually announcing they were retiring during the summer before the election year. (Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said Evans was the only governor to serve three terms. Arthur Langlie served three terms in the 1940s and 1950s, but they weren’t consecutive.)

None of them pursued a different office while keeping open the option of seeking re-election.

Under Washington law, a person can’t appear on the same ballot for two offices, so at some point Inslee will have to choose. Because governor stands at the top of the state election ladder, not knowing whether Inslee is in or out has created a bottleneck for the upward movement of others, especially Democrats, on the rungs below.

Ferguson and Franz also face re-election in 2020. Both plan to run for governor if Inslee doesn’t, or run for re-election if he seeks a third term.

Their re-election campaigns are registered with the PDC, and they’re banking contributions in those accounts that can easily be transferred to a gubernatorial campaign under state campaign laws.

In Spokane last month, Ferguson said he’s willing to wait until the end of the year for Inslee to make up his mind. “I’m not in a hurry to announce anything,” he said at The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages event.

As the front-runner in early polling and with more than $1 million raised for either campaign, Ferguson can afford to wait. Franz has raised about $336,000, but that’s a considerable sum if she was only running for re-election with the vote some 16 months away. Franz didn’t even get into the 2016 lands commissioner race until April of that year.

A third possible entrant into the gubernatorial race if Inslee isn’t running is King County Executive Dow Constantine. Although not particularly well-known outside of metropolitan Puget Sound, Constantine traveled east to Spokane in May to speak at a rally for abortion-rights supporters who were protesting laws in other states that would limit that right.

Constantine isn’t up for re-election until 2021. But he already has some $550,000 this year and spent about $430,000, much of it on fundraising and consulting.

If any or all of the three drop their re-election plans to run for governor, state law allows them to transfer the money they raised for their current office to a gubernatorial campaign by getting their donors’ permission in writing.

Others are lining up for the attorney general and lands commissioner jobs, just in case.

First in that line was Washington Solicitor General Noah Purcell, one of Ferguson’s chief assistants, who has handled the trial work for some of the state’s biggest recent cases, including the successful 2017 challenge of President Donald Trump’s first round of restrictions on travel from seven Muslim majority countries. Purcell has already filed papers with the PDC for an attorney general campaign and raised some $235,000 in contributions.

He’s spent less than one-tenth of that but has done interviews with the state’s political reporters about his plans to run for his boss’s job if Ferguson leaves it.

Hansen, a five-term Bainbridge Island legislator, announced last week he was forming an “exploratory committee” for a run for attorney general. Hansen is the current chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, a former Rhodes scholar and a graduate of Yale Law School who works for a private law firm when the Legislature is not in session.

Technically, an exploratory committee is a federal elections construct, usually used by people testing the waters to run for president or Congress before they officially announce they’re in. State election law doesn’t have a separate exploratory category, so Hansen is officially on the PDC books as a candidate for attorney general, into which he deposited about $7,500.

He has access to far more, having run unopposed in his last two legislative races and ending his 2018 campaign with more than $191,000 in campaign donations unspent.

Rolfes, the senator from that same legislative district, announced in June that she will run for lands commissioner if Franz runs for governor.

The current chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which writes the state budget, Rolfes also said she was launching an exploratory committee. In a news release, she touted her support in the last legislative session for money for forest health, fire suppression, Puget Sound cleanup and saving orcas.

Rolfes also already has a campaign logo for the commissioner race, a license-plate shaped rectangle with her name, the office and a green landscape with blue mountains and sky.

Her PDC filing for lands commissioner had no money as of Friday, but her Senate re-election account, opened in 2017, has some $50,000 that could be moved over.

She’s up for re-election in 2020, as is Hansen, which means if their dominoes fall a certain way, their strongly Democratic 23rd District could soon see candidates scrambling to fill those slots.

Other candidates may also jump into the races for any of the seats, once they are officially open.