Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
See the latest RNC updates from NPR

Franz says opportunity, not opportunism, driving her bid for WA seat in Congress

A woman in a navy suit crosses her arms and smiles in front of greenery.
Steve Dipaola
Franz campaign
Hilary Franz announced Friday Nov. 10, 2023 she will run for Congress in 2024. Until then she had been campaigning for governor.

Hilary Franz issued an urgent proclamation in spring when she launched her bid for Washington governor.

Anything shy of epic won’t cut it,” she said in May. “There’s no shortage of challenges, but I know we can tackle them together.

Six months later, Franz, Washington’s two-term Democratic Commissioner of Public Lands, is pursuing a new political objective with a recalibrated sense of urgency: a seat in Congress.

“The challenges we face extend beyond the borders of Washington, and so must our solutions,” she said Nov. 10, six months to the day from her gubernatorial kick-off.

It is an opportunity not opportunism, she said in an interview this week.

Franz faced long odds at becoming Washington’s chief executive given the crowd of gubernatorial candidates including two Democrats, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and state Sen. Mark Mullet, and a Republican former congressman, Dave Reichert.

“I didn’t look at any polls. I didn’t do any evaluations. I make decisions based on whether I believe I have an opportunity to make an incredible difference in the lives of others,” she said.

She said serving in Congress would be an “unbelievable opportunity” to bring her experience and expertise and sense of urgency to work on issues such as climate change, housing and rising consumer costs that demand a larger national response.

A quick pivot

Democratic U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer revealed Nov. 9 he would not seek a seventh term representing Washington’s 6th Congressional District, which encompasses the Olympic Peninsula, the Kitsap Peninsula and much of Tacoma.

“As nourishing as this job is, it has come with profound costs to my family,” Kilmer said in a statement, adding: “I’d sure like to make a bit more time for those I love.”

Franz announced her candidacy, and Kilmer’s endorsement, the next day.

She said Kilmer called a few days earlier to say he was considering not running again and “asked me if I would consider it. He wanted to be sure he was leaving the 6th District in good hands.”

A woman with short brown hair smiles and stands with her arms crossed outside.
Emily Randall campaign
Democratic state Sen. Emily Randall launched a campaign for Congress on Nov. 16, 2023.

Democratic state Sen. Emily Randall of Bremerton has since entered the race ensuring an intraparty duel in next year’s primary.

Republican state Sen. Drew MacEwen of Shelton has an exploratory committee but, unlike the two Democrats, has not registered a campaign committee with the Federal Election Commission.

The seat is likely to remain in Democratic control given its measurable partisan leaning.

‘In my DNA’

Randall, a native of Port Orchard, touted her lifelong ties to communities in the congressional district in her campaign launch.

“This is where I was born and raised. I feel my roots and experience make me uniquely positioned to bring the voices of my neighbors to Congress to fight for the issues they care about,” said Randall, who is in her second term representing the 26th Legislative District encompassing parts of Pierce and Kitsap counties.

It seemed a subtle alert that Franz, originally from Portland, may be cast as an outsider when the contest heats up next year.

Franz said she doesn’t think biography will be an issue, asserting the district “is in my DNA” and a place “I have called home for much of my life.”

She said her ties date back to 1938 when her grandparents moved from South Dakota to a ranch in Tacoma, near where the Tacoma Mall was later constructed. Though raised in Portland, Franz said she spent a lot of time on the ranch.

Franz raised her three sons on Bainbridge Island where she served on the City Council from 2008-11.

When her two youngest asked to attend the same Seattle high school as their father, she moved to the city. After four years and following the last son’s graduation, Franz bought a home in Grays Harbor County in 2022 and moved in earlier this year when construction was completed.

She contends that issues she’s worked on as lands commissioner, such as forestry, aquaculture, climate change and housing, are ones she’s worked on in the district.

“I’ve been on the ground, on the water and in the woods in the district. I know these communities very, very well,” she said.

As the race gets under way, Franz and Randall can each cite support from a slew of current and former civic leaders in the congressional district.

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence.

Jerry Cornfield is a reporter at the Washington State Standard. He joined the Standard after 20 years covering Olympia statehouse news for The Everett Herald.