With Jay Inslee running for president, here’s who might lead WA next

We made a list of who might run for Washington governor and state attorney general in 2020. Here's what they had to say.

Top row, from left: Dow Constantine, Manka Dhingra, Bob Ferguson, Hilary Franz. Bottom row, from left: Lorena González, J.T. Wilcox, Noah Purcell, Drew Stokesbary.

Top row, from left: Dow Constantine, Manka Dhingra, Bob Ferguson, Hilary Franz. Bottom row, from left: Lorena González, J.T. Wilcox, Noah Purcell, Drew Stokesbary.

With Washington Gov. Jay Inslee running for president, more and more people are eyeing his current job. A Democrat in his second term, Inslee hasn’t ruled out seeking four more years as governor. But three-term governors are rare in Washington state: The last — and only — one to serve 12 consecutive years was Dan Evans, who left office in 1977.

Even if Inslee’s presidential bid flounders, many speculate he could be a candidate for another federal job if Democrats win back the White House in 2020. That, too, could leave the governorship open for the taking. 

As a result, other public officials are already lining up behind the scenes to be Inslee’s possible successor — a reshuffling that could, in turn, leave more statewide positions open, including attorney general.

Under state rules, a candidate can be on the ballot for only one position at a time, meaning many of these officials couldn’t seek re-election to their current job if they decide to pursue another.

Here are some of the people who have either expressed interest in running for statewide office in 2020, or who are frequently named as possible contenders.

Potential candidates for governor

Bob Ferguson: The second-term attorney general is considered a likely candidate to replace Inslee, should the governor decide not to run again. Ferguson, who led Washington state’s successful lawsuit challenging President Trump’s earliest travel ban, was listed as one of Time magazine's “100 Most Influential People” in 2017.

Ferguson, who attended Inslee’s campaign rollout in March, said Inslee gave him a heads up before deciding to run for president, a gesture Ferguson appreciated. But Ferguson declined to characterize his conversations with the governor. He said he will wait on Inslee to decide whether to seek re-election before making his own choice about running.

“If he makes a decision not to run for a third term, then obviously I’d make a decision whether to run for governor or a third term myself,” Ferguson told Crosscut.

The likelihood of Ferguson pursuing the governorship is prompting others to think about running for his job, including one of his employees, state Solicitor General Noah Purcell. (See the list of potential attorney general candidates below.)

Dow Constantine: First elected King County executive in 2009, Constantine said he would be interested in running for governor if Inslee does not seek re-election.

“I certainly would consider it,” he told Crosscut this week.

“I am really obviously waiting to see what ultimately happens with Jay’s candidacy,” he said Thursday. “Of course I would consider it if the opportunity presents itself.”

Already, Constantine said, he is “talking with folks around the region, around the state to find out what they are interested in” in terms of issues.

Constantine’s current term as King County executive runs through 2021.

Hilary Franz: In an interview with Crosscut this week, Franz said she is actively thinking about a campaign for the state’s highest office. Before winning election as the state’s commissioner of public lands in 2016, Franz was executive director of Futurewise, a statewide environmental group.

Franz, a Democrat, has been showing her quirky side on social media lately. In a recent video, she danced alongside Smokey Bear to promote wildfire prevention. Her office also posted a Carpool Karaoke-style video (in which Franz sings Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball”) to help spread the word about how people can rent Zipcars equipped with Discovery Passes to access state parks.

Should Franz seek the governorship, her current position as the state’s public lands commissioner would be open in 2020.

J.T. Wilcox: As the current Republican leader in the state House of Representatives, Wilcox, R-Yelm, has built a reputation as a moderating force within his caucus. So far, he hasn’t ruled out running for the state’s highest office, but said it isn’t something at the top of his list right now.

In a text message, Wilcox told Crosscut that his running for governor in 2020 is “possible, but unlikely.”

“The House Republican Caucus is a good team and I like working in a team,” he wrote.

Drew Stokesbary: A Republican from Auburn, Stokesbary was first elected to the state House in 2014. Now the House Republicans’ leader on budget issues, he said he doesn’t plan to run for attorney general in 2020, despite his background as a lawyer.

The governorship, however? It’s a maybe, he told Crosscut this week.

“That one I haven’t necessarily ruled out yet,” Stokesbary wrote in a text message. “Though I also haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it while I’ve been in Olympia focused on budget and appropriations stuff this session.

“After [the] session, I’ll talk to my family about what’s next.”

Bruce Dammeier: A former state senator who was elected Pierce County executive in 2016, Dammeier is frequently mentioned as someone who might carry the GOP banner in the governor’s race in 2020.

But in an interview with Crosscut in February, Dammeier was clear: He plans to seek another term in his current job instead.

“I am running for re-election as county executive,” said Dammeier, R-Puyallup.

May run for attorney general

Manka Dhingra: A state senator from Redmond, Dhingra delivered Democrats a big victory in 2017, when she won a special election that gave the party control of the state Senate. When she isn’t at the Legislature, Dhingra works as a senior deputy prosecutor of King County.

In a written statement to Crosscut, Dhingra said she may very well decide to run for attorney general if the job is open in 2020.

“I have been asked this by a lot of people and it is definitely an office I’m interested in, especially given my background as a prosecutor, and longtime engagement on domestic violence, mental health and gun responsibility,” Dhingra wrote. “If the opportunity is available, I will certainly give it very serious consideration.”

In the Senate, Dhingra serves as a deputy majority leader and chairs the chamber’s Behavioral Health Subcommittee.

Lorena González: A Seattle City Council member, González confirmed to Crosscut that she would strongly consider running for attorney general in 2020. González previously worked as a civil-rights attorney before winning election to the council in 2015.

“If the Office of Washington State Attorney General became open, I would seriously consider that as an opportunity to continue my public service to the people of our great state,” González said in a statement to Crosscut.

“Until then, I remain focused on my current role and the important work to be done on behalf of my Seattle constituents.”

While Seattle City Council positions are nonpartisan, González said she would run as a Democrat if she launches a campaign for attorney general.

Noah Purcell: As Washington’s solicitor general, Purcell made headlines in 2017 when he argued the state’s case against President Donald Trump’s first travel ban.

Purcell announced Thursday that he was forming an exploratory committee to run for attorney general as a Democrat in 2020. His campaign would be contingent on Ferguson, his current boss, not seeking re-election, he said in a news release.

“Bob Ferguson has been an outstanding attorney general,” Purcell said in a prepared statement. “I am announcing an exploratory committee for attorney general in the event that this office is open next year because I want to build on the great work we have done.”

Paul Graves: A moderate Republican who previously served as a state representative in the 5th Legislative District, Graves said people have approached him to discuss his interest in running for attorney general in 2020.

While he said he doesn’t have plans to run for attorney general right now, he also isn’t ruling it out.

“I have talked to people about it,” he said. With a 6-month-old child at home, however, Graves said he “is a very happy man right now.”

Graves, R-Fall City, recently lost his re-election bid to state Rep. Lisa Callan, D-Issaquah. He currently serves as general counsel at a family-owned trucking company, he said.

UPDATE 11:45 a.m., April 5:

Courtney Gregoire: The Port of Seattle commissioner announced Friday she won't run for re-election in the fall. Gregoire's news release said she "will be looking for other options to continue to serve the public."

In a message to Crosscut, Gregoire wrote Friday, "I would certainly consider AG if our incumbent decided to move on."

Gregoire, who became a port commissioner in 2013, is the daughter of former Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire. In addition to serving on the port commission, she is an attorney who works for Microsoft.

UPDATE 7:01 p.m. April 5:

Drew Hansen: A state representative first elected in 2010, Hansen is an experienced trial lawyer. On Friday, the Democrat from Bainbridge Island said he, too, would be interested in running for attorney general in 2020.

"We want an attorney general who has fought successfully for progressive priorities across a broad variety of issues, and I’ve done that," Hansen said.

"... I am very happy pushing progressive policies forward in the state Legislature, but if the attorney general’s office ever became open, I would look very, very seriously at that," he said.

Something’s up, but we don’t know what

Mike Pellicciotti: Pellicciotti (it’s pronounced pelli-chotty) is frequently mentioned as a potential replacement for Ferguson in the role of attorney general. A second-term state representative, Pellicciotti, D-Federal Way, has the lawyer thing going for him: When not at the Legislature, he works as an assistant attorney general in Ferguson’s office.

However, Pellicciotti told Crosscut he is not planning to run for his boss’s job in 2020. He is, however, considering another statewide office, he said.

He declined to name which one.

“I am starting to look at another position. It’s not really anything I can talk about right now,” Pellicciotti said by phone Thursday.

Jumping in the race for governor, though, isn’t among his plans, he said.

“We definitely have good folks being considered for that [already],” Pellicciotti said.

UPDATE 8:42 a.m. May 17: Pellicciotti announced he will be running for state treasurer, a position currently occupied by a first-term Republican, Duane Davidson. 

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About the Authors & Contributors

Melissa Santos

Melissa Santos

Melissa Santos is formerly a Crosscut staff reporter who covered state politics and the Legislature.