State Auditor Brian Sonntag said this morning (June 15) that he would decide on a race for governor by no later than July 4, and likely would do so before then.
"If I run," he said in an interview, "it will be to get Washington's finances and economy in order." "Everything else we want to do depends on financial and economic statibility — jobs, better schools, human services," Sonntag went on, "and we must have state leadership willing to be accountable and to take hard decisions. We must make difficult changes. If I were governor, I would not try to evade them; I would work with people and groups around the state to get them done. We cannot pursue politics as usual."
Sonntag, a Democrat from Pierce County, said he had been mulling a gubernatorial candidacy for some time and was surprised that other Democratic candidates had not yet stepped forward. When Gov. Chris Gregoire declared herself out of the race earlier this week, he said, it helped crystalize his thinking.
Gregoire, on declining a candidacy for a third term, appeared to endorse Rep. Jay Inslee as her annointed successor for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. But Inslee, though discussing a candidacy for many months, has not yet declared himself, saying it would be improper to declare before Gregoire had made her decision on running. Until now, Inslee has said that he would run only if unopposed in a Democratic primary.
Will Inslee step forward to declare a candidacy before Sonntag makes a decision? Would he decline a candidacy, as he has said he would, if Sonntag gets into the race?
A Sonntag candidacy would shake up Democratic state legislators, who consistently have tried to strip him of funding to pursue his highly visible performance-audit program. It also would trigger opposition among some at the Port of Seattle, Sound Transit, the Seattle School District, and state, county, and local agencies that have been hit by his performance audits. But it likely would be welcomed by a broad cross-section of state voters. Sonntag, a former Pierce County auditor, became state auditor in 1992 and has been reelected by thunderous margins since. He received some 70 percent of the statewide vote in his last campaign in 2008. He has consistently received endorsements across the political spectrum, ranging from organized labor to the state board of realtors.
That prospective range of support would almost certainly carry him to a general-election victory over Attorney General Rob McKenna, the likely Republican gubernatorial nominee. A Sonntag candidacy would strip away independent and moderate Republican votes from McKenna, who would have to rely on a conservative GOP base in a heavily Democratic state. Sonntag would not be a certain winner in a primary contest against Inslee, who no doubt could generate money and support from groups and people who would fear their influence might wane in a populist Sonntag regime.
Another dynamic in the race is the top-two primary in Washington, which means that the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, face off in the general election in November, 2012.
There will be plenty of time to speculate on all these questions once Sonntag and Inslee make up their minds about candidacies.
What will Sonntag do? The surrounding financial and economic conditions clearly make 2012 the year for a gubernatorial run for a 60-year-old who has devoted his life to politics and public service. The principal issues on the table are ones he has dealt with over many years. If not now, when? On the other hand, he has made a difference in the auditor's office and probably can hold it as long as he wants it.
I make it 60-40 that Sonntag decides to run. Inslee? Maybe 50-50. We will know within a few days.