Why Hilary Franz sees a path to victory in the 2024 governor’s race
The two-term lands commissioner is banking on statewide appeal after working across Washington on wildfire response and other issues.
Democrat Hilary Franz, Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands, is running for governor in 2024. (Laurel Demkovich/Washington State Standard)
Olympia may be the center of government power in Washington but when Hilary Franz talks about why voters next year should send her to the governor’s office there, she points to credentials she’s gained in other parts of the state.
Now in her second term as state public lands commissioner, Franz says the job has brought her to communities dealing with some of their hardest moments — from wildfires to floods to economic pain brought on by sagging timber sales.
“The thing that makes me different from other names in this race: I have spent the last six-and-a-half years going to every corner of the state, not just as part of a campaign but as the responsibility of a state leader,” Franz told the Standard in an interview.
She thinks that her progressive Democratic values, mixed with an ability to listen and learn from people on all sides of complicated issues could be the recipe for winning.
“What people are looking for is a leader that’s going to care about everybody in this state, not just a certain area,” Franz said. “I have that proven track record.”
But the 2024 field of candidates vying to replace Gov. Jay Inslee, who decided not to seek a fourth term, is shaping up to be a complicated one, particularly for Democrats.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson, now in an “exploratory” phase with his run, has a great deal of name recognition, a campaign war chest stocked with cash, and a strong track record winning high-profile battles for liberal causes in court, including under the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Mark Mullet, of Issaquah, is staking out a business-friendly Democratic platform, doused in skepticism toward higher taxes. Mullet could eat into whatever margin Franz might otherwise have attracting moderate Democrats or crossover Republicans.
And there are at least three candidates on the Republican side who have begun raising money: Raul Garcia, a Yakima doctor; Semi Bird, a Richland school board member and military veteran; and Laurel Wheat Khan, a Chehalis restaurant owner.
It’s still early, though, with the primary over a year away, and plenty that could happen between now and then.
Looking at the cash side of the race, Ferguson is the frontrunner. He’s sitting on about $2.3 million, though much of it is from a transfer of surplus funds from his previous campaigns. Mullet and Franz have yet to report any contributions to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
A tough road to win support in eastern Washington
Despite pitching her statewide appeal, Franz may still struggle to gain support east of the Cascades, in areas that could prove key to getting her through the August primary.
In her first run for commissioner in 2016, Franz won with 53% of the vote, but she didn’t win a single eastern Washington county. In 2020, she climbed to 57% of the vote statewide but still only won one county in the east: Whitman.
When she launched her campaign in Seattle last month, she said she understood why people in eastern Washington didn’t vote for her the first time around. Back then, Franz said, they didn’t know her. Now, almost seven years later, Franz said she has spent much of her time as public lands chief on the road meeting people in communities across the state.
This was reflected to some degree at her campaign kickoff event. There, Franz was joined by wildland firefighters from across Washington, Twisp mayor Soo Ing-Moody, and leaders from the Lummi and Colville tribes.
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Before being elected lands commissioner, Franz was an environmental and land-use attorney and led Futurewise, a nonprofit group focused on environmental advocacy and sustainability issues. She also served on the Bainbridge Island City Council from 2008 to 2011.
As the head of the Department of Natural Resources, Franz manages 5.6 million acres of state land and the revenue it generates.
Since taking on the role, she said she has helped get record funding for wildfire response. She also led an overhaul of a 20-year forest health strategy, which set a goal of restoring 1.25 million acres of forest to healthy conditions to make them more resilient against fire. It focuses on “active” forest management practices, such as burning and thinning of overgrown trees.
Franz also highlights achievements during her time in office that are more local. Like her role helping reopen a lumber mill in Pacific County and to increase wine production near the Tri-Cities, offering a boost to the region’s economy.
During her tenure as head of public lands, Franz also terminated commercial fish farming leases following a “net pen” collapse that led to the release of Atlantic salmon into the Puget Sound. Last fall, she ordered an end to commercial net pen fish farming in Washington.
Housing, climate change among Franz’s top issues
Franz, 52 and originally from Portland, Oregon, was the first Democrat to officially announce a campaign to succeed Inslee when she declared her candidacy last month. The move came after she hinted at a possible run in 2020 but held off as Inslee ran for another term.
If elected governor, she said her top priority will be housing. She describes it as a “fundamental right” that must be met even before turning to issues like substance abuse or behavioral health.
Broadly, that’s in-step with the agenda Inslee and the Legislature pursued in this year’s session, which yielded record amounts of new housing dollars and other policy changes meant to increase the supply of affordable homes.
Given that housing is an issue that policy makers across the country have been grappling with for years now, how would Franz approach it differently?
She said she’ll release more specifics in the coming months, after she meets with experts in the field to gather more information. But, big picture, she said state government needs to make it easier for communities to build new housing through increased investments.
Franz pointed to her own agency as an example of where there could be untapped potential. The department owns different types of land where housing could be built to serve people like wildland firefighters, who often struggle to find affordable places to live.
The money generated from that housing could then go back to the state to help fund schools or other essential services, Franz said.
“Everybody at the government level, the nonprofit level, needs to be investing,” she said.
Other top issues for Franz are climate change and education. Both are issues she has experience with as head of state lands. Revenue the state makes from timber sales and other land use is funneled to public schools and other services in Washington.
Regardless of the policy area, she indicated that she’ll be looking to bridge the state’s political rifts. “We need someone who brings people together,” she said. “We spend too much time identifying divisions rather than looking for the ways we agree.”
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