OLYMPIA — State Sen. Steve Hobbs will be the new Washington Secretary of State.
Hobbs, a Democrat from Snohomish County, will take over for Kim Wyman Nov. 22 as she begins her job in the Biden administration as a senior election security lead.
When he replaces Wyman — currently the only Republican statewide elected official — Hobbs will be the first Democrat to hold the position in more than five decades.
"Steve has demonstrated through his career as a senator the ability to act independently to not be swayed by any party," Gov. Jay Inslee said. "And I think his record should give confidence to people he will continue to exercise that type of character that I think will help maintain credibility of our elections."
Inslee announced Hobbs' appointment Wednesday in a video from Glasgow, where he is currently attending the United Nations climate conference.
Wyman's departure gave Inslee an opportunity to appoint whomever he wanted, regardless of party. In the event of a vacancy in a statewide office, the governor appoints a replacement until the next general election. Hobbs will have to run in the general election in 2022 to keep the job. The winner of the November 2022 election will hold the position until the end of Wyman's term in 2024.
Hobbs told reporters he does plan to run in 2022 to serve the remainder of the term.
The secretary of state is Washington's top elections official. Their role also includes archiving government records and providing information and access to the business community about corporations and charities.
Although he does not have elections administration experience, Hobbs said he does have experience managing and leading large teams. He added he will be reaching out to county auditors to hear their concerns moving forward.
"This is a partnership," he said.
Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said Hobbs's background will fit well into the secretary of state position, and he would be able to address cybersecurity issues well. She said she looks forward to working with him to get him up to speed on the job but cautioned that it would take quite a while for him to understand everything.
"It's like drinking from a firehouse," she said. "There's a lot of information and a lot of items to absorb."
Dalton said the county auditors had not yet met with Hobbs but will soon. In the last 20 years, Dalton said the county auditors have had a very close working relationship with the secretary of state's office.
"That's a relationship that needs to retain closeness and respect," she said.
Hobbs has served in the state Senate since 2007. He is also a lieutenant colonel in the Washington State National Guard and has served in the U.S. Army for more than 32 years.
He has recently completed defense information school through the U.S. Department of Defense, according to the governor's office. His experience in the National Guard and in cybersecurity will help him stand up to the national security threats against elections systems happening across the country, Inslee said.
Hobbs said his goals as secretary of state are improving cybersecurity, facing national threats to elections and countering misinformation. Otherwise, he said he did not think there would be much he would change from how Wyman ran the office.
"Kim Wyman left me with a great office," he said. "If it's not broke, don't fix it."
As an Asian-American, he will also be the first person of color to serve as the secretary of state.
When looking for Wyman's replacement, Inslee said he was looking for someone who demonstrated the ability to act in a bipartisan way, who is able to work with others to help "defeat the national security threats" and someone who has been able to win the trust of citizens.
"That's important to have a secretary of state in that regard to help maintain trust in our electoral system," Inslee said.
In a statement, Wyman said pointed to Hobbs' ability to work in a bipartisan way to solve complex issues, something she said is essential in the role as 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," she said in a statement.
Hobbs pointed to his history of working with those across the aisle. As a moderate Democrat, he even opposed some of Inslee's proposals, such as his climate bills this past session.
Both Democrats and Republicans want confidence in their elections systems, Hobbs said, and he is in a position to provide that.
"We need an elections manager, an elections leader, that all Washingtonians can trust," Hobbs said.
Republicans still spoke out against Inslee's pick Wedneday.
When Wyman announced her departure, state Republican party chair Caleb Heimlich said he hoped Inslee would follow in the voters' footsteps and choose a Republican as Wyman's replacement.
On Twitter on Wednesday, Heimlich called Inslee's pick a "crass political move" that he's using to "rubber stamp his radical agenda." If Inslee cared about having an independent secretary of state, Heimlich said he should've chosen an Independent.
"There are lots of qualified county auditors to choose from," he tweeted.
The Republican party can choose a candidate to run for the seat in the 2022 election, and after Wyman's announcement last month, Heimlich said they would choose a "good and capable candidate" to run.
Hobbs' replacement in the Senate will be determined by Snohomish County.
Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said in a statement Hobbs has always been a strong voice in the Legislature and "a steadfast champion" for transportation infrastructure, voting rights, reproductive rights and healthcare.
"I look forward to seeing him guide the Secretary of State's office with the same passion and integrity he brought to the halls of the Senate," Billig said.
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