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

With Inslee running for re-election, other Democrats staying put

Cherry trees bloom outside the Washington state Capitol in Olympia on Monday, March 23, 2020. By running for a third term, Gov. Jay Inslee has kept more Democrats in place in the 2020 elections but energized Republicans. (Elaine Thompson / AP)

When Gov. Jay Inslee dropped out of the presidential race last summer and back into the governor’s race, it stabilized the Democratic side of the primary ballot for many 2020 elections for statewide office.

But it may have energized Republican efforts for the state’s top political job.

The state elects nine executive offices in a presidential election year, and an opening at the top usually results in a reshuffling of the political deck.

Were Inslee not seeking a rare third straight term as governor, it would be an open contest with at least two other Democrats in statewide office – Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz – leaving their posts to run for his. They probably would have been joined by King County Executive Dow Constantine, who isn’t up for election this year.

Democratic legislators announced, then canceled, plans to run for attorney general and lands commissioner, and they likely would have had company by now if the seats were going to be open.

With Washington set to open filing week for candidates on Monday morning, Inslee has no serious competition from his own party. Three Democrats have filed campaign paperwork with the Public Disclosure Commission but have raised no money, and a fourth, Bremerton retiree Gene Hart, has self-funded his campaign to the tune of about $2,400 but has no outside contributions so far.

The GOP side of the governor’s race is crowded, with many of the candidates criticizing Inslee’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak and calling for a quicker reopening of the economy.

The candidate with the most statewide name recognition is perennial initiative sponsor Tim Eyman, who rarely misses an opportunity to criticize Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order by attending protests, holding news conferences or filing lawsuits. Eyman has raised about $139,000 as of the last deadline for campaign reporting, which puts him fourth among GOP contenders. But he has a huge email list and sends out almost daily campaign or lawsuit updates that always include an appeal for money.

Joshua Freed, who also has sued Inslee over some COVID-19 restrictions limiting religious services, has the most campaign contributions reported to the PDC– almost $540,000, although $150,000 of that is personal funds. The former mayor of Bothell and owner of a real estate company also loaned the campaign $500,000 at the start, which Freed has since paid back.

Republic police Chief Loren Culp, who made headlines last year by announcing he would not enforce gun restrictions in the voter-approved Initiative 1639, is currently second among Republican gubernatorial candidates with almost $211,000 in contributions, most of it from Eastern Washington or rural areas.

Phil Fortunato, a state senator from Auburn whose district includes parts of suburban King and Pierce counties, is one of the most conservative members of the Senate Republican caucus. A vocal critic of most Inslee environmental policies and supporter of the Eyman-led $30 car tab initiative that’s now being challenged in the state Supreme Court, he’s raised about $142,000 so far.

Anton Sakharov, an Issaquah manager who bills himself as a moderate conservative, got in the race early last year but has so far raised only about $21,000.

All the candidates’ contributions combined trail Inslee’s total of $3.2 million. His campaign organization has been in place since a few days after he was sworn in for his second term, with only a brief hiatus during his run for president.

The lieutenant governor runs separately from the governor, and incumbent Cyrus Habib is not seeking re-election. He announced last month he would step down and enter training to be a Jesuit priest or brother. That set off a scramble for a job that includes presiding over the state Senate and spearheading various business and educational initiatives, as well as filling in when the governor is out of state.

Three Democrats with election experience jumped into the race: U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, who already had announced he wasn’t seeking another term in the House for his South Puget Sound district seat, and state Sens. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens and Marko Liias of Lynnwood.

Republicans in the race include Joseph Brumbles, a store manager from Yelm; Ann Sattler, a Seattle attorney; and Marty McClendon, a radio talk show host who lost to Habib in the 2016 general election.

In such a crowded field where the vote can be split so many ways, the state’s top-two primary system could come into play. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party preference, advance to the general. That means the final matchup could be between two Democrats or two Republicans.

Ferguson decided to run for re-election as attorney general and faces Republicans Matt Larkin, a Woodinville attorney who previously worked in the Spokane prosecutor’s office; Mike Vaska, who handles consumer protection and antitrust cases for a large Seattle firm; and Brett Rogers, an Issaquah attorney and former Seattle police lieutenant.

Franz, also seeking re-election as lands commissioner, has no announced opponents yet.

Two-term Secretary of State Kim Wyman, one of only two Republicans in statewide office, has a challenge from Gael Tarleton, a Ballard Democrat giving up her House seat and top spot on the Finance Committee.

The other Republican, first-term Treasurer Duane Davidson, faces a challenge from state Rep. Mike Pellicciotti of Federal Way, an assistant attorney general when the Legislature isn’t in session.

First-term Auditor Pat McCarthy, a Democrat, is running against Republican Chris Leyba, a King County sheriff’s detective who is trained as a law enforcement auditor.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, who is finishing his fifth term in that office, has no announced Republican challenger yet but is facing opposition from Libertarian Anthony Welti, a Bothell insurance agent.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, the first-term occupant of the only statewide nonpartisan executive office, currently faces Maia Espinoza, a Tacoma entrepreneur and music teacher.

Under Washington law, however, candidates don’t officially enter their races until this week, so some people who have announced campaigns may decide to stay out, and some who have kept a low profile have until Friday afternoon to get in.