Herrera Beutler adds heat to lands commissioner race
Former SW WA congresswoman would focus on wildfire prevention
October 19, 2023
Former congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler entered the race for Washington's Commissioner of Public Lands on Tuesday, giving Republicans a top-flight candidate in what's shaping up as one of next year's hottest electoral contests.
Herrera Beutler, whose decision had been the subject of speculation for months, said she would focus on reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfires, while working to preserve forest habitat and access to recreational areas.
She said in an interview she would rely on guidance of scientists and foresters to develop policies for responsible management of forests, including removal of dead and diseased trees that serve as fuel for the fires.
"What we've seen in the last 10 years is that things have gotten worse. I've seen unwillingness to do what is needed in our forests or on our land," she said. "The science shows what needs to be done. I want to be sure to empower folks on the ground to do it."
Herrera Beutler, who lives in southwest Washington, is the second Republican and seventh candidate vying for the job of managing state public lands and forests.
Five are Democrats: State Sens. Rebecca Saldana and Kevin Van De Wege, Patrick DePoe, director of tribal relations for the Department of Natural Resources, former state senator Mona Das a1nd King County Council Member Dave Upthegrove. Sue Kuehl Pederson, who lost to the current commissioner, Hilary Franz, in 2020, is the other GOP hopeful.
It is a crowded field because Franz is forgoing reelection to run for governor.
As head of the Department of Natural Resources, the lands commissioner is responsible for the caretaking of Washington's 5.6 million acres of state land and the revenue it generates. This income mostly comes from timber sales.
The position plays a critical role in the state's response to climate change, including with the rise in the number and severity of wildfires. The Department of Natural Resources is the state's lead wildfire-fighting agency. There's also growing attention on the value the state's forests could have for capturing and storing carbon dioxide.
"If you want to preserve our forests and pass them on to the next generation, and I do, we have to prioritize forest management for wildfire resilience," she said. "Fires don't distinguish between old and new trees. If managing mature stands protects the forests, we need to follow that.
"I don't think we need every summer to be living in a cloud of smoke, just waiting for that horrible 'go notice'. We don't want to leave our kids that legacy," she said.
Her entry immediately changes the dynamics of the race. Her political experience, statewide profile and proven ability to raise money bode well for her garnering enough Republican support to make it through next year's primary.
Her arrival will likely spur some Democratic hopefuls to consider whether the political math is no longer favorable enough for them to stay in the race.
Herrera Beutler is looking to become the first Republican to hold the office since Doug Sutherland, who served from 2001 to 2009. No Republican currently holds statewide office in Washington.
After two terms in the state House of Representatives, Herrera Beutler won a seat in 2010 representing the 3rd Congressional District in southwest Washington. The district covers Lewis, Pacific, Wahkiakum, Cowlitz, Clark and Skamania counties and a touch of Thurston County.
She served six terms in Congress before she was unseated after voting to impeach then-President Donald Trump. She lost in the 2022 primary to Republican Joe Kent, a former Army Special Forces soldier who had Trump's backing. He went on to lose in the general election to Democratic Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez.
Herrera Beutler said Tuesday she's seen no signs Republicans will work against her in this bid.
"I've had so many Republicans who have disagreed with me in the past who have come forward and asked me how they can help," she said.
Meanwhile, Upthegrove greeted Herrera Beutler's arrival with a scathing broadside in a fundraising email to supporters.
"She is an anti-choice, anti-environment Republican who would be a disastrous steward for our precious public lands," he wrote. "She may have stood up to Trump once, but she has never stood up to the corporate polluters who fund her campaigns."
Herrera Beutler, who grew up in Hockinson in rural Clark County, is a graduate of the University of Washington and recently completed a Fellowship-in-Residency at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics. She lives in Yacolt in southwest Washington with her husband and their three children.