Washington State Legislative & Elections Update – May 17

2023 Special Session

Shortly after the conclusion of the 2023 regular legislative session, Governor Jay Inslee called a special session to begin May 16, focusing on passing a new drug possession law. The so-called “Blake fix” was unfinished when the legislature concluded their business on April 23. The issue dates back to 2021 when the Washington State Supreme Court overturned the state’s felony drug possession law. Legislators adopted a temporary misdemeanor policy that expires July 1, 2023. In the absence of a statewide policy, local jurisdictions would have been left to pass their own ordinances.

The bill was well-negotiated heading into May 16 and the legislature took just one day to complete the vote. The bill sets the penalty for possession of controlled substances as a gross misdemeanor with a maximum confinement time of 6 months for the first two convictions and any fine for any conviction is capped at a maximum of $1,000. It also creates a system for pre-trial diversion into treatment and requires mandatory early conviction vacation if a person can prove that they have completed treatment or have “substantially complied” with the recovery navigator program or similar services for six months. The bill also creates the crime of public use. The bill passed the House with a vote of 83-13, the Senate with a vote of 43-6, and was signed by Governor Inslee later in the day.

2023-2025 Budgets

On March 16th, Governor Jay Inslee signed the 2023-2025 Operating, Capital and Transportation budgets into law. The budgets remained predominantly intact, but each budget received a partial veto (though nothing pertaining to the Conservation Commission or districts). You can read the partial veto messages here:

Republicans Elect New Leadership

On Sine Die, the last day of the 2023 legislative session, Rep. JT Wilcox (R-2) and Rep. Joel Kretz (R-7) resigned from their posts as House Minority Leader and Deputy Majority Leader respectively. Prior to this, Wilcox had said that he would resign if House Republicans failed to pick up seats in the 2022 election, which they did not, and in interviews after the fact, Wilcox added excessive partisanship as one of the reasons he stepped down. The next day, House Republicans elected Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-31), an Auburn lawyer, as Leader. In a press release announcing his election, Stokesbary pledged an interest in “public safety, student performance, and tax relief.” Rep. Mike Steele (R-12), the Executive Director of the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, was elected Deputy Leader. The leadership change also reflects a generational move as both Wilcox and Kretz are in their 60s, while Stokesbary and Steele are in their late 30s-early 40s. The rest of the House Republican Leadership Team remains unchanged.

2024 Statewide Elections

On the heels of the conclusion of the 2023 Legislative Session, a number of officials have jumped into the 2024 races. Governor Inslee’s announcement that he will not seek a fourth term has ignited a chain reaction of interest. Races where sitting legislators are planning to, or have announced, running will be especially notable for our legislative work. In addition to those listed below, several individuals are contemplating the pursuit of office. We will provide information on those campaigns as they are formalized.

Bob Ferguson (D) for Governor

Attorney General since 2012, Bob Ferguson (D) has announced his campaign for Governor. Progressive Ferguson grew to fame in Washington and across the country for countless successful suits beginning with one against then-President Trump’s earliest travel ban in 2017. This session, Ferguson requested and the legislature passed legislation related to banning the sale of assault-style weapons and holding gun-industry members responsible for crimes as well as the “My Health, My Data” privacy bill. Early endorsers include Democrat members of the federal delegation, a large number of Democrat legislators, and labor organizations including UFCW 3000 and Teamsters Joint Council 28.

Hilary Franz (D) for Governor

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz entered the race nearly a week after Ferguson. Franz, an environmental lawyer, has said that she hopes to pull some conservatives her way as her work as Commissioner has produced friendships across the aisle and in rural Washington since her election in 2016, a place Ferguson is unlikely to succeed. Under Franz, logging on DNR lands was allowed to increase in order to raise revenue for local government needs, drawing criticism from conservationists.

Mark Mullet (D) for Governor

Though he has yet to formally announce, the Seattle Times notes “State Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, a business owner who has clashed with Inslee and labor unions, is also considering a run, in which he would seek to carve out a moderate lane that could attract some independent and Republican support.”

Raul Garcia (R) for Governor

Dr. Raul Garcia, the medical director at Astria Toppenish Hospital, announced Friday, May 12 that he will run for governor. He was a late entrant into the Republican gubernatorial field in 2020 and did not make it past the primary race. A campaign news release wrote that “Garcia worked to promote vaccination among the state’s Latino population in 2020, and is the founder of the Partnership for Our Food Security, an organization that sought to educate and protect farmworkers against COVID-19.”

Misipati Semi Bird (R) for Governor

Army veteran and Richland School Board member Misipati Semi Bird announced his candidacy for governor in November 2022. He is running on a platform of tax relief, budget accountability, promoting community policing, and improving services for mental health and addiction. He is one of three school board members facing a recall election due to their defiance of the mask mandate.

Manka Dhingra (D) for Attorney General

The vacancy in the Attorney General’s office left by Ferguson has led Dhingra, a progressive Redmond Democrat to announce for Attorney General. Dhingra has been a Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for King County since 2000, the chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee, and currently serves as Deputy Majority Leader. She is the Senate champion of the “My Health, My Data” bill and also recently successfully sponsored the bill that allows the Department of Labor and Industries to once again regulate ergonomics, and a bill addressing hate crimes. Early endorsers include a large list of Democrat legislators. Dhingra is not up for re-election to the Senate until 2026.

Patty Kuderer (D) for Insurance Commissioner

First elected in 2000, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler recently announced he will not seek re-election. Progressive Democrat Sen. Patty Kuderer, a Bellevue attorney, has since declared her intention to see the office. Kuderer, who presently serves as chair of the Senate Housing Committee, credits her work on Universal Healthcare legislation with igniting her interest in the position. As commissioner, she says she would pursue a regional single-payer health care system with California, Oregon, Alaska, and Hawaii. She has also pledged to work on legislation to make gun owners buy insurance to cover negligence and accidents. Kuderer is not up for re-election to the Senate until 2026.

Christine Rolfes (D) for Kitsap County Commissioner

On April 19, Senate Ways & Means Chair Senator Christine Rolfes (D) announced she will seek appointment to the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners. If appointed, she will leave the Senate, opening not only a Senate seat but arguably one of the most powerful chairships in the legislature. Both Representatives Tarra Simmons (D-23) and Drew Hansen (D-23) have expressed interest in moving to the Senate in the event Rolfes leaves. If Rolfes is not appointed to the commission, her Senate seat will be up in 2024.

Commissioner of Public Lands

With Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz’s bid for Governor, a few names have emerged as exploring a potential campaign for that position. Those individuals are King County Councilman Dave Upthegrove (D), Senator Kevin Van De Wege (D- LD 24), Senator Drew MacEwen (R- LD 35), and Representative Bill Ramos (D- LD 5).

Brynn Brady
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