As he pursues the Democratic presidential nomination, Gov. Jay Inslee’s refusal to rule out a third term has left a pileup of politicians waiting on his decision.

And, increasingly, some are not standing idly by.

Two statewide elected officials, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, are openly eyeing the governor’s office should Inslee step aside. So is King County Executive Dow Constantine.

That, in turn, has started to create oh-so-polite down-ballot maneuvering as other ambitious Democrats look to move up.

State Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, is the latest to join Washington’s conditional 2020 politicking.

She’s announcing formation of an “exploratory” committee on Monday for the lands commissioner post — but only if Franz runs for governor, which, remember, Franz has said she’ll only do if Inslee moves on.

“I am not running against Hilary Franz, who I think the world of,” said Rolfes, 52, who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee. But she said she’s putting down a stake to let other potential candidates know “I am interested and am serious about it should the opportunity arise.”


A former Bainbridge Island City Council member who has served in the Legislature since 2008, Rolfes cites her work on public lands and environmental issues, including Puget Sound cleanup. “Protecting natural areas and working in support of public lands has really been a focus of mine for my career in public service,” she said.

The public lands commissioner leads the state Department of Natural Resources, the agency charged with managing 5.6 million acres of forest, range, aquatic and other lands to provide about $200 million a year for public schools, state institutions and counties. DNR also leads state wildfire crews that have battled increasingly severe summer blazes.

Rolfes’ announcement follows a similar exploratory bid for attorney general launched in April by Solicitor General Noah Purcell, who said he’s started a political committee to raise money for a campaign, but only if his boss, Ferguson, runs for governor.

On the Republican side, former Seattle port commissioner Bill Bryant has been mentioned as a potential candidate for lands commissioner. In an interview last week, Bryant did not rule that out but said he has no plans to run for office again. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2016.

Franz, meanwhile, has signaled in no uncertain terms her desire to run for the state’s top job in 2020, if it’s an open-seat contest.

Her fundraising emails have ventured into issues far past the usual purview of the public lands office.


And one overly enthusiastic Franz supporter jumped the gun with a recent invitation to a June 9 “meet and greet” with “Candidate for Governor Hilary Franz.” The invitation described Franz as “a force to contend with … who’d make ‘a powerful governor.’ ” A correction soon followed, saying the event was for Franz’s reelection campaign for lands commissioner.

It all could sound like insiders are increasingly betting that Inslee will forgo a third-term bid regardless of whether his presidential campaign picks up momentum. (A Washington governor has not served three terms since Republican Dan Evans from 1965 to 1977.)

But so far, people close to Inslee insist he has not made up his mind. And Rolfes said her exploration of higher office should not be taken as an omen.

“I have no insight or knowledge about what Governor Inslee’s next move is or what anybody’s next moves are,” she said.