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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Franz halts bid for WA governor, sets sights on Congress

Hilary Franz, commissioner of public lands, launched her campaign for governor at an event in Seattle in May 2023. Franz, a Democrat, dropped out Friday, saying she will run to succeed the retiring U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer in the 6th Congressional District in 2024  (Laurel Demkovich/Washington State Standard)
By Jerry Cornfield Washington State Standard

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz on Friday ended her bid for governor and launched a new campaign for Congress.

Franz, a Democrat, said she is running to succeed Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer in the 6th Congressional District which encompasses the Olympic Peninsula, the Kitsap Peninsula and much of Tacoma. Kilmer, who announced Thursday he won’t seek re-election, endorsed her for the job.

In a statement and video, Franz made no mention of exiting the governor’s race. Rather, she cited housing, abortion rights, climate change and “safeguarding our democracy” among the pressing concerns of voters she has met and will work to address if elected to Congress.

“The challenges we face extend beyond the borders of Washington, and so must our solutions,” she said in a statement. “I am running for Congress to bring my vision for bold, transformative action to our nation’s capital and keep fighting for families across our region.”

She punctuated the point in a video, saying, “I am not a patient person. We need to make epic progress now more than ever.”

Franz did not make herself available for interviews Friday.

Governor’s race reshuffle

Her political pivot resets the dynamics of the 2024 gubernatorial election. In May she was the first major Democratic candidate to formally enter the race though Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson was already stockpiling cash and endorsements as he carried out an “exploratory” campaign.

Franz struggled to gain momentum against Ferguson. When Mark Mullet, a Democratic state senator joined the field in June, it further complicated her path as he gave the party’s moderates and independents an alternative to the more left-leaning Franz and Ferguson.

Two Republicans, former Congressman Dave Reichert, and ex-school board member Semi Bird are also vying to replace Gov. Jay Inslee, who isn’t running for re-election.

Ferguson took to X (formerly Twitter) to thank Franz “for her public service and running a strong campaign for Governor.”

Mullet, meanwhile, endorsed her for Congress though she did not ask for it. Mullet described Kilmer as a thoughtful lawmaker who sought to make Congress accountable in its work, and didn’t follow the line pushed by the Democratic Party’s far-left members. Franz would serve in the same manner, Mullet said.

As for the governor’s race, Mullet said it’s too soon to assess how Franz’s early departure would affect the dynamics in the race. He said he and Franz offered voters Democratic candidates with alternative approaches to Ferguson’s.

“A lot of the people who weren’t voting for Bob were looking for a reasonable option,” he said. “I am there to be that reasonable option.”

A clear path to Congress?

In the congressional race, Franz could again find herself dueling other prominent Democrats. State Sen. Emily Randall, who won a second legislative term in 2022, said she is “seriously considering” the contest.

Republican state Sen. Drew MacEwen said Friday he is “definitely, seriously contemplating” a run and has formed an exploratory committee to steer the efforts.

“I am very humbled by the calls and emails encouraging me to run and I look forward to forming a team,” he said in a press release.

MacEwen, of Shelton, served five terms in the state House before winning a four-year term in the Senate in 2022.

Franz, a mother of three, lives in Grays Harbor County, according to her campaign.

She was first elected in 2016 to the state lands commissioner post, putting her in charge of the state Department of Natural Resources, its 5.6 million acres of state-managed lands and the revenue generated from them. She won re-election in 2020.

During her two terms, Franz has been at the center of high-profile issues like wildfire response, controversial timber sales and the state’s cancellation of leases for fish farm sites after a “net pen” collapse that resulted in the release of Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound, threatening native marine wildlife.

Prior to serving as lands commissioner, Franz held a seat on the Bainbridge Island City Council from 2008 to 2011.