Newcomers, up-and-comers and almost lifers. Here’s your guide to WA's statewide races

Oct 6, 2020

“Give me three terms” might be the motto of Washington’s November election. Gov. Jay Inslee, Secretary of State Kim Wyman and Attorney General Bob Ferguson are all seeking a third, four-year term this year.

Not to be outdone, State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is going for a sixth round.

Yes, long-term incumbents hoping to go even longer is a definite theme this year.

But the statewide ballot also features some newcomers, some higher office seekers and even a congressman who wants a one-way ticket back to the state Capitol.

But before we get to the races and candidates, here’s some information on voting.

Since 2011, Washington has been an all vote-by-mail state. This year, ballots will be mailed out no later than October 16. They must be returned to an official ballot drop box by 8 p.m. on Election Day or postmarked by that day. Election officials recommend voters use one of the nearly 500 official ballot drop boxes or voter centers statewide. If you do mail in your ballot, the United States Postal Service recommends doing so a week before Election Day.

You can track the status of your ballot at VoteWA.gov.

October 26 is the last day for online voter registrations and updates to be received. However, in-person registration is allowed until 8 p.m. on Election Day.

In-person voting is also allowed during the 18-day voting period at county voting centers. The deadline to vote in-person is 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Now, here’s your concise guide to Washington’s nine statewide races. For the most up-to-date fundraising totals click here.

Governor

Washington’s 2020 governor’s race is a lopsided matchup that pits a well-funded, two-term incumbent against a small town police chief turned first-time candidate from remote northeast Washington.

With a failed presidential bid in his rearview and now presiding over a pandemic emergency, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee is seeking to extend his incumbency for four more years. If successful, he would become the first three-term governor in Washington since Republican Dan Evans, who left office in 1977.

Inslee has amassed a $7 million war chest, but is running a relatively low-key campaign. Instead, he’s focused most of his time and energy on doing his day job. Inslee hasn’t talked much about what he wants to accomplish in a third term, beyond leading the state’s recovery from the Covid pandemic and rebuilding the economy. His just-the-basics campaign website highlights five top priorities: economic recovery, education, health care, climate and clean energy and justice and safety.

Inslee’s Republican challenger is Republic Police Chief Loren Culp, a first-time candidate best known for refusing to enforce Initiative 1639, the 2018 gun control measure that raised the age to buy a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21.

Culp is a pro-Trump conservative who’s been fiercely critical of Inslee’s response to the Covid crisis, including his mask mandate. In fact, Culp has been traveling the state holding outdoor rallies in defiance of the governor’s restrictions on crowds. Running as an outsider and a “law and order” candidate, Culp has generated enthusiasm among gun-rights supporters and conservatives. He’s active on social media and his yard signs blanket much of the state. Still, Culp faces an uphill battle extending his reach statewide. He also trails far behind Inslee in fundraising with about $2.2 million raised.

Lt. Governor

The lieutenant governor’s race is the only open statewide race this year. That’s because incumbent Democrat Cyrus Habib is leaving office to pursue the Jesuit priesthood. It’s also the only statewide race with two candidates from the same party – a result of the top-two primary in August. (Note: former Republican gubernatorial candidate Joshua Freed is running as a write-in candidate for lieutenant governor.)

Unlike in other states where the governor and lieutenant governor run as a ticket, in Washington the position is independently elected. It’s also unique in that it straddles the executive and legislative branches. In addition to serving as acting governor in the governor’s absence, the lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate.

The lieutenant governor also chairs the Senate Committee on Rules, which decides which bills advance to the floor of the Senate.

Other duties include chairing the Legislative Committee on Economic Development and International Relations and serving on 10 other committees or boards including the State Capitol Committee, the State Finance Committee and the Medal of Valor Committee.

This race features Democratic Congressman Denny Heck of Olympia and Democratic state Sen. Marko Liias.

Heck is a former five-term state representative and gubernatorial chief of staff who announced last December that he wouldn’t seek re-election to Congress. Heck’s priorities include expanding access to childcare, passing a clean fuel standard, banning the use of tear gas by police and instituting a capital gains tax while lowering property and sales tax. Heck also says he would bring “civility and fairness to legislative debate.”

Liias is a two-term state senator who currently serves as the majority floor leader. He seeks to become the state’s first openly gay statewide elected official. Liias’ priorities include adopting single-payer healthcare, implementing a price on carbon emissions, identifying new sources of “sustainable and progressive” revenue and ending three-strikes-you’re out crime policy. Liias also says he would work to “place an equity lens on all the work we do in state government.”

Liias has been endorsed by outgoing Lt. Gov. Habib while Heck has the endorsement of former Lt. Gov. Brad Owen.

On the fundraising front, Heck has raised $901,451 to Liias’ $270,083.

Secretary of State

Democrats have held Washington’s governor’s office for 36 years, but Republicans have had the Secretary of State’s office for 56 years. If incumbent Kim Wyman, a former Thurston County auditor, is re-elected to a third term she could extend the Republican lock on that office to a full six decades. But Democratic challenger Gael Tarleton, who chairs the House Finance Committee, is working to end the Republican winning streak.

Wyman touts implementation of a new statewide voter registration system and, along with it, same-day voter registration, as well as the establishment of an Elections Security Operations Center as among her accomplishments. Recently, she's highlighted her emergency rule to require that ballots be sent out with a first-class stamp. That was in response to reports of possible post office delays. If re-elected, Wyman says she’ll continue to focus on election security and protecting voting rights.

Tarleton is a former Seattle port commissioner turned lawmaker who emphasizes her background in defense intelligence and national security, including dealing with threats from Russia. She says voting rights and election security are “under attack” and that the state needs to do more to address those threats. If elected, Tarleton says she’ll change how the state “purges” the voter rolls, seek more state and federal dollars to beef up election security and invest in new technologies.

Wyman reports having raised $845,268 to Tarleton’s $710,780.

State Treasurer

Four years ago, in an unusual occurrence, two Republicans emerged from the top-two primary race for treasurer. In the end, former Benton County Treasurer Duane Davidson won the election. Now he’s up for re-election and facing a formidable challenge from Democratic state Rep. Mike Pellicciotti, who out-performed Davidson by nearly seven points in the August primary.

The state treasurer is responsible for issuing state debt through bond sales, managing the state’s cash flow and investing on behalf of local governments. The treasurer also chairs the State Finance Committee, which reviews and approves the issuance of state bonds, and the Public Deposit Protection Commission, which protects taxpayer funds in the event a bank becomes insolvent. In addition, the treasurer serves on a number of other boards, including the State Investment Board which has a $140 billion investment portfolio and responsibility for managing state retirement plans.

Davidson, a CPA by training, touts a debt refinancing plan that he says saved the state $450 million in interest and helped the state achieve a first-ever triple-A bond rating. He’s an advocate for reducing the state debt service and ensuring the state has an adequate rainy day fund. He cites the endorsements of two former state treasurers, one Republican and one Democrat.

Pellicciotti is a former assistant attorney general who cites his efforts in the legislature to increase financial penalties under the Corporate Crime Act and legislation to improve treasury investments. Pellicciotti says if elected he will prioritize the return on $1 billion in unclaimed funds held by the state. He has hammered Davidson for not personally attending most State Investment Board meetings since 2017. (Davidson sent deputies to most of the meetings he didn’t attend.) Pellicciotti is endorsed by Davidson’s predecessor, Democrat Jim McIntire.

In the money race, Pellicciotti has outpaced Davidson with $368,265 raised to Davidson’s $190,843.

State Auditor

Rooting out waste, fraud and abuse is the bailiwick of the state auditor’s office. But that makes it sound more exciting than the day-to-day reality, which involves painstaking audits of state and local government entities right down to the sewer districts. The State Auditor’s office also investigates fraud and whistleblower complaints. Perhaps its most high profile role is conducting performance audits – a how-well-is-something-working audit -- under a 2005 voter-approved initiative.

Incumbent Democrat Pat McCarthy, the first woman to hold the office and a former Pierce County Executive, is seeking her second term as state auditor. During her tenure, the auditor’s office unearthed what’s been called the biggest local government fraud case in Washington. It involved $7 million in misappropriated funds involving the Pierce County Housing Authority. McCarthy also touts an increased number of cybersecurity and performance audits during her watch. Recent performance audits have focused on data backup and disaster recovery, child support payments and a review of Sound Transit’s planning and design process.

Republican challenger and first-time candidate Chris Leyba is a former Seattle police officer who now works as a detective for the King County Sheriff’s Office. Leyba cites his experience investigating financial crimes and his role as a certified performance auditor conducting audits related to the Seattle Police Department’s consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. If elected, Leyba says he will seek a change in state law to make the auditor a nonpartisan position and order a performance audit of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

McCarthy has so far raised $60,053 to Leyba’s $39,636.

Attorney General

Current Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, almost certainly would have run for governor this year had Inslee not derailed those plans by deciding to seek a third term. Instead, Ferguson too will seek a third term. Last month, Ferguson filed his 50th lawsuit against the Trump administration (Washington is the lead or co-lead in 19 of those cases). The internationally-rated chess master boasts that he's undefeated when it comes to challenging the president’s policies -- beginning with Trump's travel ban. Ferguson also touts his consumer protection work -- including a successful case against Comcast that resulted in a record $9.1 million penalty. 

Ferguson’s Republican challenger is first-time candidate Matt Larkin who calls the state’s homelessness crisis “unacceptable” and vows to “take back our streets and parks.” Larkin, a former prosecutor who worked in the George W. Bush White House, says he would “refocus resources” from federal lawsuits and work instead to reduce prosecutor caseloads and lend the support of the attorney general’s office to local police and prosecutors. He says he would also seek to change state law to allow cities to request the services of assistant attorneys general to help prosecute crimes in their jurisdictions. Larkin’s supporters include former Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna and Seattle Police Officers Guild President Mike Solan.

When it comes to the fundraising race, it’s not really a race. Ferguson enjoys a 10-to-1 advantage over Larkin.

Commissioner of Public Lands

If Inslee wasn’t running for re-election, state Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz is another Democrat who might have sought the office. Instead, she’s seeking a second term overseeing nearly six million acres of public lands in Washington. Like Inslee, Franz of late has been on the frontlines of disaster as catastrophic wildfires swept across the state. An attorney by training, Franz has sought to curate a reputation as someone who can bridge the urban-rural divide on thorny land use and environmental issues like marbled murrelet recovery. She cites as her first-term accomplishments record investments in wildland firefighting and a plan to restore 1.25 million acres of forests over the next 20 years.

Franz’s challenger is former Grays Harbor Republican Party Chair Sue Kuehl Pederson. With a background in fisheries biology and public power, Kuehl Pederson says if elected her priority would be to achieve a “steady, reliable stream of income” for schools from state trust lands. She also advocates for “improved timber management” to increase forest health and reduce fire risk. Crediting timber harvest taxes for the rural education she received growing up, Kuehl Pederson describes her approach to land management as striking a “good balance between environmental protections and human needs for materials and energy.”

As with the attorney general’s race, the fundraising disparity between the candidates is stark. Kuehl Pederson has only scraped together $38,695 to Franz’s more than $951,936.

Superintendent of Public Instruction

As the head of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the state superintendent is responsible for overseeing public education, distributing funding and working with the state’s 295 districts plus six state-tribal education compact schools. This is Washington’s only nonpartisan statewide position. Even so, it’s evident who the Democrat is and who the Republican is in this race. Incumbent Chris Reykdal is a former Democratic state lawmaker seeking a second term. Challenger Maia Espinoza is a former Republican candidate for the state Legislature.

Reykdal got a jolt in the primary when he took just 40 percent of the vote. This revealed his potential vulnerability heading into the general election. The disruption caused by COVID-19 and the politics of sex ed are additional factors that could contribute to the volatility of this race. Since March, most students have been learning remotely. Also this year, majority Democrats in the Legislature passed, and Inslee signed into law, a comprehensive sex education bill that incited fierce opposition. Opponents quickly rallied and, despite Covid, gathered enough signatures to place a referendum on the November ballot in hopes of repealing the measure. Reykdal supports the sex ed mandate, Espinoza does not.

While school disruptions persist and the sex ed controversy swirls, Reykdal, who is also a former teacher, is trying to focus voters on his record. He cites his advocacy for special education, his emphasis on career-connected education and the state’s rise in graduation rates during his tenure. If elected to a second term, Reykdal says he’ll prioritize such things as mental health services for students, kindergarten readiness and career and technical education. Reykdal’s supporters include the three previous state superintendents and the state’s teachers’ union.

Espinoza is the founder of the Center for Latino Leadership and served on the state superintendent’s race and ethnicity student data task force representing the Commission on Hispanic Affairs. She’s vowing to bring a “new perspective” to K-12 education. A supporter of charter schools and school vouchers, she’s calling for more innovation and “personalized learning.” She also wants schools to teach “life skills” and to alter their schedules to better serve working families. Her supporters include state Treasurer Duane Davidson and a number of Republican state lawmakers.

So far Reykdal has raised $206,342 and Espinoza $161,739.

Insurance Commissioner

The Office of Insurance Commissioner is responsible for regulating the insurance industry and advocating for consumers. The duties of the office include approving rates, ensuring industry players follow the rules and investigating insurance fraud.

Incumbent Democrat Mike Kreidler, a former congressman and doctor of optometry, is seeking his sixth four-year term as the state’s insurance commissioner. Kreidler says his office has saved Washington insurance customers $300 million in “excessive” rates over his five terms and recovered $200 million in delayed or denied insurance claims. In 2019, Kreidler championed passage of a law to stop the practice of “surprise billing” whereby consumers would get out-of-network charges for emergency care or care by an out-of-network provider at an in-network hospital. Kreidler says his goal in a sixth term is to maintain a healthy business climate for insurers in the state and increase access to affordable health care while reducing the number of uninsured people in the state.

Kreidler’s Republican challenger is Chirayu Avinash Patel, an insurance agent and self-described “autistic savant” who says he plans to use the position to recruit 168 students who can major in every degree program offered by the University of Washington. Patel also says if elected he will share the role of insurance commissioner - in a 60/40 split -- with Kreidler and Libertarian candidate Anthony Welti who lost the August primary.

Kreidler reports having raised $38,186 while Patel has not reported any contributions.

Supreme Court

Four supreme court positions are up this year, but only two are contested races. They are positions three and six and both seats are currently held by Inslee appointees.

Justice Position #3

Former Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis is the state’s first Native American justice. Inslee appointed her to the high court last December to fill a vacancy left by former Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst who retired. Montoya-Lewis is now running for election to that seat. She describes herself as a “voice for underrepresented communities” and an advocate for investing in youth to avoid a “cycle of incarceration.” Montoya-Lewis is rated “exceptionally well qualified” by the King County Bar Association and is endorsed by all of her colleagues on the court.

Montoya-Lewis’ challenger is Dave Larson, the presiding judge in Federal Way who previously worked as a trial lawyer and mediator. Larson touts his support of specialized alternatives like drug courts, efforts to address homelessness and mental illness and his work to increase jury diversity as among his accomplishments. Offering a historical footnote, Larson also notes that in 1996 he filed a lawsuit to prevent the Seahawks from decamping to Los Angeles. With 12 years of experience on the bench, Larson says he will be “fair, impartial and nonpartisan” as a justice. He’s rated “qualified” by the King County Bar Association.

Montoya-Lewis has raised $173,546 to Larson’s $31,526.

Justice Position #6

Former Pierce County Superior Court Judge G. Helen Whitener became the first Black woman to serve on the Washington Supreme Court, and only the second Black justice, when Inslee appointed her last April. Whitener, who is also openly gay, replaced Justice Charles Wiggins who retired. With experience as both a prosecutor and defense attorney, Whitener cites her reputation for “efficiency” and “fairness” and her work as co-chair of the Washington State Minority and Justice Commission. Whitener also teaches “street law” to high school seniors in Tacoma. Whitener is rated “exceptionally well qualified” by the King County Bar Association and is endorsed by all of her colleagues on the court.

Whitener’s challenger is retired school superintendent and principal Richard S. Serns who first became a member of the Washington State Bar Association earlier this year. Serns holds both a law degree and a Ph.D, and has studied education-related legislation in Washington. If elected, Serns says he will bring his expertise in education law to the Supreme Court. He touts his political independence and argues that state and federal courts have become too partisan. Serns is rated as “not qualified by the King County Bar Association.

Whitener has raised $67,890. Serns reports having made an in-kind donation of $2,725 to his own campaign.

Referendum 90

Earlier this year, majority Democrats in the Washington Legislature passed, and Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law, a mandatory sex ed bill. The measure requires all public schools to teach comprehensive sexual education by the 2022-23 school year, beginning with 6th through 12th graders the year prior. Schools must teach the curriculum at least once or twice a year, depending on grade level. Under the law, the training must include information about affirmative consent and bystander training. The curriculum must also be scientifcally accurate and "age-appropriate." Parents can choose to have their students opt-out of the classes. 

Passage of the bill brought swift condemnation from opponents who immediately began collecting signatures for a referendum measure. Despite Covid restrictions, they managed to collect a record number of signatures to qualify Referendum 90 for the November ballot.

A "yes" vote for Referendum 90 is a vote to approve the law. A "no" vote is a vote to reject it.

The Approve 90 campaign says the new law will reduce unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, among other benefits. The approve campaign has been endorsed by the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, Planned Parenthood and the Washington Education Association. 

The Reject 90 campaign says the law will result in the "early sexualization" of kids and represents a costly mandate to districts. Among those who have endorsed the reject campaign are the Washington State Republican Party, Human Life of Washington and Parents' Rights in Education.