Kim Wyman’s Campaign Is A Cautionary Tale

washington secretary of state

The Secretary of State’s office is not a particularly sexy one; stop a person on 5th Avenue in Seattle and ask “hey stranger, who’s the Secretary of State?” and they will either name John Kerry or give you a blank stare.

This general lack of enthusiasm and recognition likely would have been beneficial for current Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman in her reelection campaign. Wyman, a Republican, holds a seat that has been (strangely) kept out of the hands of Democrats for nearly 50 years, and she could possibly have sailed into her second term on a hope and a prayer were it not for two key factors:

1.) Her opponent and

2.) Herself.

Way back in January—well before the primaries were even started in earnest—former Seattle City Councilmember and tech-sector leader Tina Podlodowski announced she would be challenging Wyman. Podlodowski’s campaign focused on expanding voting access (one of her first ads featured footage of Wyman saying she would not support the Washington Voting Rights Act), streamlining elections, and saving taxpayers money.

A major part of Podlodowski’s campaign against Wyman has been undermining Wyman’s time in office; she’s cited low voter turnout, a lack of ballot boxes, and the frustration voters felt over the caucus system in the spring. In September, she uncovered a glaring error in the state’s voter database that could have resulted in a data breach—and seemed to pin its existence on Wyman’s inattention.

Podlodowski has turned what might have otherwise been Wyman’s sleepy cruise into incumbency into an actual race. But she’s not even Wyman’s biggest enemy, as the last few days have demonstrated.

Despite netting endorsements from many of the local newspapers, Wyman’s earned media has largely been soured by her own record. After the Everett Herald wrote that she “deserves another term,” Rep. Luis Moscoso wrote in to correct their editorial, stating that “Wyman didn’t step up” on voting rights.

In attempt to turn the tide in her favor last week, Wyman made her first major announcement of the campaign—using the recent, deadly shooting at the Cascade Mall as a springboard, Wyman’s office released a proposal to require identification and proof of citizenship paperwork to register to vote.

“During this past week, questions were raised about the citizenship of Arcan Cetin, who confessed to murdering five people at Cascade Mall in Burlington,” read the release from the SoS’s office. “He registered in 2014 and voted in three elections. On each of those occasions, he affirmed that he was a U.S. citizen and met the other qualifications to be a voter. The penalty of registration and voter fraud is a prison term of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.”

Unfortunately for Wyman, Cetin’s citizenship had been verified just hours before her slated announcement; as a result, the proposal seemed desperate and in poor taste.

Voter ID laws are kind of a conservative (read: racist) dogwhistle—except for the fact that just about everyone can hear them, which means the announcement was sure to turn off some of the moderate folks that Wyman would need to win the entire state. To try to play both sides, Wyman’s announcement was slated as “bipartisan,” and included a provision for automatic voter registration. Unfortunately, that part of the story was quickly buried by all of the rest of it and likely didn’t win anyone over.

And then there’s today’s October surprise—a complaint filed by the Washington Attorney General’s Office alleging numerous instances of campaign finance reporting violations. They aren’t massive and they aren’t especially shady, but they are sloppy. And there are a lot of them.

Which doesn’t exactly bode well, considering the job that Wyman is trying to keep.

Up and down, Wyman has shown that campaigning is not her forte—unfortunately, in an office that oversees campaigns and elections, that seems like a pretty huge problem. Sure, you could say it’s just paperwork, but then what is the job of Secretary of State if not paperwork?

Wyman’s campaign isn’t a complete disaster, but it is a cautionary tale; public disclosure in Washington is watched closely and taken seriously, and paperwork needs to be filed in a timely manner. If Wyman can’t manage to do it on the campaign trail, it’s hard to say if she’ll be able to do it in office.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen
Hanna Brooks Olsen is a reporter in Seattle. Her writing about the economy and politics has appeared in the Atlantic, the Nation, Salon, Fast Company, and elsewhere.