By RACHEL LA CORTE, ASSOCIATED PRESS
OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Nov. 10 appointed Democratic state Sen. Steve Hobbs as the state’s 16th secretary of state, marking the first time a Democrat will hold the office since the mid-1960s.
He replaces Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman, who left office Nov. 19 to take a key election security job in the Biden Administration. Hobbs, who is of Japanese descent, is the first person of color to head the office, which is one of nine statewide elected positions.
Inslee announced the appointment via a video that was taped in Glasgow, Scotland, where he was participating in this year’s U.N. climate summit. Hobbs’ appointment was effective Nov. 22.
“Steve has demonstrated through his career as a senator the ability to act independently, to not to be swayed by any party,” Inslee said.
Wyman echoed those statements, saying in a written statement that Hobbs “has a demonstrated record of seeking bipartisan solutions to complex problems, which is essential to the position of secretary of state.
“It is imperative the secretary of state — the state’s chief elections official — serve as a neutral arbiter in order to inspire confidence across the political spectrum in our election processes and results,” Wyman wrote.
Hobbs, 51, is considered a centrist in his caucus, which holds a 28-21 majority in the Senate. He had previously sought a statewide office, briefly running for lieutenant governor last year before withdrawing from the race, citing his COVID-19 response work with the National Guard.
“This is a tremendous honor and responsibility,” Hobbs said in a written statement. “There is nothing more sacred than the right to vote. I’ve fought for that right overseas and will do everything in my power to protect that right here in Washington.”
Caleb Heimlich, head of the state GOP, reacted on Twitter, calling the appointment a “crass political move” by Inslee. Hobbs, once part of a the so-called “roadkill caucus,” had opposed parts of Inslee’s climate agenda, and, along with two other Democrats, voted against a capital gains tax that was ultimately approved by the majority of his caucus.
“If @GovInslee truly cared about picking an independent voice, he would have picked an Independent,” Hemlich wrote. “There are lots of qualified county auditors to choose from. Instead he made the selection based on political benefit to his agenda.”
In an interview with reporters after the announcement, Hobbs disputed that as a reason for his appointment, saying that both the Democratic governor and Republicans in the Legislature “want a secretary of state that everyone can trust.”
“I think it would be horrible to have a secretary of state that is too ideologically to the far left or far right to fill this position,” he said. “I think the governor was thinking about all Washingtonians, on both sides of the aisle.”
In addition to being the state’s chief elections officer, the secretary of state also serves as chief corporations officer and supervisor of the state archives and state library.
Hobbs grew up in Snohomish County and has represented the 44th Legislative District in the Senate since 2007. He served for decades in the Army, serving in Iraq and Kosovo, and currently serves as a lieutenant colonel in the Washington State National Guard.
Inslee said that Hobbs’ service in the National Guard will be “an asset in dealing with the best cybersecurity effort in the United States.”
Inslee’s office said he spoke to a number of candidates, including current county auditors. Wyman and her predecessor, Sam Reed. Both were Thurston County auditors before being elected to statewide office.
Hobbs said that while he doesn’t have the county auditor experience that Wyman and Reed had, he pointed to his management and leadership experience in the National Guard and said that he plans to keep most of Wyman’s staff. He also plans to meet with county auditors to hear their ideas and concerns.
“This is a partnership,” he said. “We work together.”
Hobbs served as chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and also served on the Financial Institutions, Economic Development and Trade Committee and the Environment, Energy and Technology Committee.
He holds a masters of public administration and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington, and recently completed Defense Information School through the U.S. Department of Defense. He also has additional training for officers from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.
Wyman, 59, has led elections in Washington state for years, and she was re-elected to a third term last November — the lone statewide-elected Republican on the West Coast. She will serve as the election security lead for the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the agency responsible for safeguarding U.S. elections
Unlike vacancies in other partisan offices, like the Legislature or county offices, the governor is not limited to appointing someone from a specific political party, which opened the door to Republicans losing their hold on the office for the first time in more than 50 years.
Hobbs will serve until the general election in November 2022, which will determine who will serve the remainder of Wyman’s four-year term. He said Wednesday that that he plans to run in that election.
An appointment process to replace Hobbs in the Senate will begin in Snohomish County, and Democratic Rep. John Lovick said he is seeking the appointment and has already called precinct committee officers to express his interest. Three names will be ultimately be put forth by Snohomish County Democrats, and the Snohomish County Council will choose who will serve the remainder of Hobbs’ term through November 2022.