WA governor candidate Semi Bird set for school board recall vote

The military veteran and Republican from Richland said he'll continue his gubernatorial campaign regardless of the result.

A picture of Semi Bird, a Richland School Board member and republican candidate for governor.

Richland School Board member and Republican candidate for governor Semi Bird. Local voters will decide whether Bird will have his seat on the Richland School Board recalled. (Courtesy of Semi Bird)

Richland School Board Member Semi Bird is a Republican running for Washington governor and angling to clear the all-important August 2024 primary elections. But first Bird faces another vote – Tuesday’s recall election to decide if he and two others should remain on his local school board.

Bird, a military veteran who has worked in the federal government and as a business consultant, says the public health measures by Gov. Jay Inslee to curb COVID-19 during the pandemic sent him into politics. He won a seat on the Richland School Board in 2021 and is now being recalled because of pandemic-related actions he took while on that board.

“When Jay Inslee shut down our state, our schools, our businesses, our places of worship, that was the trigger for me to run for school board,” said Bird, 62.

Voters in the Richland School District will get to weigh in on some of Bird’s pandemic actions in the recall, which asserts, among other things, that Bird and two other board members violated the state Open Public Meetings Act. And supporters of the recall argue that the three board members used “poor judgment” when they voted in February 2022 to make masks optional in the schools while the state's indoor mask requirement was still in effect.

Opponents of the recall have called it frivolous, and Bird last week called the effort politically motivated. He disputed the claim that the Open Public Meetings Act was violated, and said he stood by his decision to make masks optional, saying he was “honoring my word to constituents” to take action.

Regardless of the outcome Tuesday – votes will be counted in the days after – Bird said he is committed to running for governor.

With the August top-two gubernatorial primary more than a year away, a pack of candidates are vying for campaign dollars, attention and votes. Among them are a pair of statewide elected Democrats, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz. State Sen. Mark Mullet, a more moderate Democrat from Issaquah, is also running.

Bird’s candidacy highlights divisions in Washington’s Republican party between the more traditional, moderate faction – which has allowed the GOP at times to win statewide office and capture a branch of the Legislature – and the harder-edged right-wing populist movement that grew during the Trump years. That clash was on display in 2020 as Loren Culp – a populist Republican who campaigned against, among other things, Inslee’s pandemic measures – advanced to challenge Inslee. The governor won his third term that fall 56.6% to 43.1%.

Earlier this month, former U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, a former King County Sheriff who long represented the 8th Congressional District, jumped into the race, giving Republicans a more moderate option. Shortly after Reichert’s announcement, another moderate, Raul Garcia, switched from running for governor to a bid for U.S. Senate. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell is running for re-election next year. 

Bird appears ready to do battle with the more moderate camp, saying he was contacted by Republicans urging him to run for a different office – like lieutenant governor or state schools superintendent – to further clear the field for Reichert.

“That whole move was a clear example of the establishment swamp,” said Bird. He noted that some prominent Republican elected officials have come out in support of Reichert instead of embracing his candidacy. If he gets on the November 2024 ballot, Bird added, he would be the first Black Republican candidate for governor in state history.

If elected governor, Bird said he would work to repeal the law passed in 2021 – and loosened a bit this year – that restricts vehicle pursuits by law enforcement. He also wants to make sure communities are notified when the state is moving sex offenders into new facilities or group homes in their neighborhoods.

Bird said he also would use the governorship as a way to highlight county prosecutors who don’t perform to his view of the job. 

“If a prosecutor is not prosecuting criminals ... well, then, the people deserve to know that,” he said. County prosecutors are elected by local voters and do not answer to the state executive branch. 

Bird has collected endorsements from several county-level Republican organizations, as well as half a dozen county sheriffs. Among them is Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer, one of more than a dozen county sheriffs who declared they wouldn’t enforce a package of firearms regulations passed by Washington voters. Songer embodies the so-called “constitutional sheriff” movement, which posits, according to news reports, that county sheriffs have more authority than state and federal agents. Songer also declined to enforce public health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bird also has the endorsement of Joe Kent, the Republican firebrand who ran last year for U.S. Congress in southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District. Kent lost narrowly to Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, and is running for a rematch next year.

State disclosure records show Bird has so far raised about $134,000. Reichert hadn’t yet reported any fundraising amounts as of late last week. His campaign is less than a month old.

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