This afternoon Gov. Jay Inslee announced his decision to replace Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman with state Senator Steve Hobbs, a conservative Democrat and — or so I choose to believe — a Level 45 necromancer. (He’s a board member for a tabletop gaming convention called OrcaCon, which I respect.)
The Governor's office said the appointment makes Hobbs, who represents the 44th Legislative District, the first person of color to serve as SOS. Inslee's decision to fill the position with a Democrat also leaves the entire West Coast without a Republican in statewide office. How tragic! But don't cry for Wyman — she's taking a job in President Joe Biden's administration. In any event, the Snohomish County Council will soon vote on someone to replace Hobbs in the Senate. Longtime State Rep. John Lovick has already raised his hand.
Inslee picked Hobbs over county auditors who have extensive experience running elections (Thurston County’s Mary Hall, for one), highlighting his bipartisan bonafides and his work in the National Guard. Inslee did not, however, highlight the fact that the appointment removes Hobbs from his role as chair of the transportation committee, where he routinely blocked the Governor's climate proposals and tirelessly advocated for expanding the Highway 2 trestle despite evidence that expanding the trestle wouldn't ease traffic concerns.
In the next week or so, the state Senate’s committee on committees will decide who will replace Hobbs as transportation chair. Interested lawmakers will throw in their hats and start whipping the caucus for votes. Top contenders will likely include transportation vice chair and South Seattle state Senator Rebecca Saldaña. In a text, Saldaña confirmed she was “all in.” Senate floor leader and Edmonds state Senator Marko Liias said he’s "considering it." I have heard rumors that state Senator Mark Mullet might go for it, too, which would be funny in the sense that it would piss off Inslee but not funny in the sense that the world is burning.
No matter who takes the chair, Seattle Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon speculated that whoever replaces Hobbs will likely smooth the way for a “greener” multibillion-dollar transportation package, which the Legislature still needs to iron out next session.
Right now that bill must include a 5-cent gas tax, and it may include several climate-killing highway expansions. Negotiations are still in flux, but, in essence, Sen. Joe Nguyen said most of the current disagreement revolves around how to pay for the bill. Some lawmakers like the 5-cent gas tax, while others would rather pay for the package with a collection of other smaller revenue options; some lawmakers also want to spend expected revenues from the cap-and-trade bill on more transit and bike/pedestrian improvements, while others want to spend more of that money on highway expansions and preservation/maintenance of roads.
With Hobbs attending to the state’s election system, Fitzgibbon said we’ll “likely see more enthusiasm for using the Climate Commitment Act dollars [cap-and-trade dollars] on transit and bike/ped stuff.”
No one could confidently weigh in on what this change means for the fate of Hobb’s prized project — the expansion of the Highway 2 trestle — but I’ve asked him and will update this post if I hear back.