King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove became the fifth Democrat to enter the race for state commissioner of public lands.
Upthegrove, of Des Moines, has represented District 5, which includes parts of Kent and Renton, on the King County Council since 2014.
“After spending months travelling the state, I have heard clearly that people want a lands commissioner with strong environmental values who also has the relevant background and experience to put those values into action,” Upthegrove said in a Sept. 25 media release to announce his campaign. “For me, running for state lands commissioner is the culmination of a life and career focused on environmental and natural resources issues, not a stepping stone to higher office. I am ready to deliver on a forward-looking conservation and climate protection agenda.”
Current Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, also a Democrat, is running for governor rather than reelection. Both races will be on the 2024 primary election ballot.
The other Democratic candidates who have announced so far include Mona Das, of Kent, a state senator in the 47th District from 2018 to 2022 who didn’t run for reelection; State Sen. Rebecca Saldana, of Seattle; State Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, of Port Angeles; and Patrick DePoe, of Neah Bay and a member of the Makah Tribe, who is tribal relations director for the state Department of Natural Resources working for Franz, who has endorsed him.
Sue Kuehl Pederson is the only Republican candidate so far. Pederson lost to Franz, who received 56.6% of the vote, in 2020.
“With Republican and timber industry-backed candidates expected to make a strong run for the seat, I also believe I am the candidate best positioned to win both the primary and a potentially challenging general election,” Upthegrove said.
In a multi-candidate field, Upthegrove, a former Washington Conservation Voters’ Legislator of the Year, stands out as the candidate with a proven record of major environmental and conservation achievements, according to his media release.
During his 12 years in the Legislature from 2002 to 2013 representing the 33rd District, Upthegrove chaired the House Select Committee on Puget Sound, helping to create the Puget Sound Partnership. Later he chaired the House Environment Committee, working across the state to reduce carbon pollution, clean up toxic sites, and improve oil spill protection and helped to lead the Blue-Green Alliance in the Legislature that brought together labor and environmental leaders around a shared policy agenda, according to his media release.
Voters elected Upthegrove to a third, four-year term on the county council in 2021. He defeated Shukri Olow, of Kent, with 63.9% of the vote.
On the county council and as chair of the King County Flood Control District, Upthegrove has worked to preserve public lands and manage growth, doubled funding for salmon recovery and led reforms to better protect rivers in the central Puget Sound, according to his media release.
Upthegrove, who said his life experience as an early LGBTQ elected official shaped his views on environmental and social justice, would be the first out LGBTQ statewide executive officeholder in Washington state.
He enters with the support of several Democratic elected leaders including King County Executive Dow Constantine, U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, and State Auditor Pat McCarthy, as well as many environmental and conservation advocates, according to his media release.
“Dave has a proven track record as a progressive leader for environmental and natural resource issues, passionately advocating for environmental justice in underserved communities,” said Seattle Port Commissioner Hamdi Mohamed, who is the first Somali woman elected to public office in Washington state.
“I’ve watched Dave get big things done over the years to protect our rivers, salmon and natural areas by working collaboratively with tribal governments and indigenous people,” said Rep. Chris Stearns, D-Auburn, who was the first Native American member of Auburn City Council before being elected to the Legislature in 2022 over Olow in the 47th District.
In terms of his issues agenda for the Department of Natural Resources, Upthegrove said he pledges to focus on a progressive environmental approach to reflect our climate crisis—including preservation of mature legacy forests. He also will prioritize a commitment to good jobs, supporting a strong rural economy, on centering environmental justice, honoring tribal treaty rights, improving wildfire prevention and expanding recreational opportunities for residents across the state.
Upthegrove ran unsuccessfully for lands commissioner in 2016. He placed second in the primary election among Democrats behind Franz, who had 22.8% of the vote to 14.12% for Upthegrove. Franz then defeated Republican Steve McLaughlin in the general election with 53% of the vote.