OLYMPIA — As Washington’s Republicans cast about for someone to break their three-decade-plus losing streak for the governor’s office, Phil Fortunato, a brash GOP state senator from Auburn, has announced his bid for the job.
Fortunato, 65, is an outspoken conservative presence both on the Senate floor, where he once ripped up a pocket Constitution to make a point, and at pro-gun rallies in Olympia, where he has displayed a sidearm while giving a stemwinder on the Second Amendment.
An environmental consultant, Fortunato won election to his Senate seat in 2017 after serving in the state House. So far, he’s the most prominent Republican to enter the governor’s race.
“Our state’s economy is strong, but that is despite the current political leadership,” said Fortunato in a statement. “We are constantly managing crises; whether it’s education, mental health or housing and the only solutions we hear from the political establishment is that we need more money from those that can least afford it.”
Fortunato said he will make his formal announcement 1 p.m. Wednesday at Seattle City Hall, a location picked because he wants to spotlight the homelessness crisis in Seattle, especially what he calls the “criminal homeless.”
“They’re criminals, you got to get these people off the street, they’ve got to be incarcerated,” he said, adding that they also need treatment for issues like drug addiction.
The senator from the 31st District — which includes the southern part of King County and part of Pierce County — said he also wants to boost transitional housing for the homeless people who have experienced economic troubles, and to reduce the cost of new houses by slashing permitting costs.
Washington State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski on Monday dismissed Fortunato as being out of touch with a majority of Washingtonians.
“I think we’re witnessing a long, slow and painful decline of the Republican party in Washington state,” she said.
Loren Culp, the police chief of Republic, a town of about 1,100 in Eastern Washington’s Ferry County, has also announced a GOP bid for governor. Culp made headlines last year for saying he wouldn’t enforce Initiative 1639, the gun-regulations measure Washington voters widely approved.
Anton Sakharov has also filed to raise money for a Republican in the contest.
Washington’s 2020 race for governor remains hazy, as Republicans wait to see if other candidates step forward to end a Democratic winning streak that dates to 1984. In 2016, GOP candidate Bill Bryant lost to Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee by 8 points.
On the Democratic side, Inslee, who is slogging through a long-shot bid for president, has not ruled out running for a third term.
Awaiting Inslee’s decision are at least three Democrats who have signaled interest: Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and King County Executive Dow Constantine.
Podlodowski said only Inslee and perhaps his wife, Trudi, know whether he’ll try for a third governor term.
But she said the criteria for the Democratic presidential primary’s fall debates will probably play a role in his decision. His campaign has said Inslee is reasonably close to hitting the needed 130,000 individual donor threshold. But Inslee also needs to hit 2 percent in four different qualified polls by Aug. 28. He hasn’t yet achieved that in any poll.
“Whether he hits those milestones, I’m certain will factor into the question for him,” she said.