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Mullet looks to seize middle lane in 2024 governor’s race


Mullet looks to seize middle lane in 2024 governor’s race

Jun 01, 2023 | 4:33 pm ET
By Bill Lucia
Mullet looks to seize middle lane in 2024 governor’s race
State Sen. Mark Mullet. (Mullet campaign)

In jumping into the 2024 Washington governor’s race, state Sen. Mark Mullet appears ready to test voters’ appetite for a more moderate brand of Democratic politics, one centered on a progressive social agenda but also skepticism toward higher taxes.

“I just don’t think the solution to every problem facing our state can be creating a new tax,” Mullet told the Standard in an interview on Thursday after launching his campaign earlier in the day. “We have to have solutions that are more creative.”

He joins a field that already includes Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, both Democrats. At least two Republicans, Raul Garcia, a Yakima doctor, and Semi Bird, a Richland school board member and military veteran, are also running.

The candidates are vying to replace Democrat Gov. Jay Inslee, who said in early May he would not seek a fourth term. 

Mullet, of Issaquah, was elected to the state Senate in 2012. He has served as vice chair of the budget-writing Ways & Means Committee and led the chamber’s capital budget team. 

Prior to getting into politics, he worked for over a decade in corporate finance, including for Bank of America and UBS. Mullet, 50, now owns a pizza restaurant and several Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shops. He is married and has six children.

Despite his calls to keep taxes in check, he can hardly be described as a conservative. He highlights his record in the Legislature in support of issues like abortion access, LGBTQ rights, strengthening labor unions and the ban adopted this year on semiautomatic rifles. 

“At the same time, I’ve also got a very strong record of saying Democrats can do better on public safety and Democrats can do better when it comes to taxes,” he said when asked about what he sees as his path to winning. “That message has always resonated with all of my campaigns,” he added. “And I’m highly confident that same message will resonate in this campaign.”

A continued focus on affordable housing, support for K-12 schools and combatting climate change are among the issues he said he would prioritize if elected governor.

Ferguson’s campaign quickly went on the attack Thursday, releasing an ad with Pro-Choice Washington’s Executive Director Kia Guarino, Ironworkers Local 86 Political Director Heather Kurtenbach, and IBEW Local 46 Director of Government Affairs Nicole Grant, criticizing Mullet as “completely out of touch.”

They criticized him for voting against a bill to protect health care data, his past positions on increasing the minimum wage, and for taking campaign donations from corporations.

His tax-averse remarks come as critics of the state’s cap-and-trade program aimed at curbing carbon emissions say it is sharply driving up fuel prices, and as a payroll tax that has drawn opposition is about to take effect in July to fund a new long-term care program.

“The long-term care payroll tax is the case in point,” he said. 

He noted when the plan was put forward in 2019 in the Legislature, “I made it very clear that I didn’t think the people I represented in east King County would support it. And now I’m really confident, statewide, it definitely does not have support.” Mullet said he has backed alternative proposals, modeled on an Oregon program, to help lower-wage workers save for retirement.

With cap-and-trade, Mullet pointed to an unsuccessful bill he sponsored this year to keep the cost of the pollution allowances at the core of the program no more than 20% above prices seen in California’s carbon market. Prices there have been lower than in Washington.

Under Washington’s program, companies that emit carbon dioxide into the air, like oil refineries, need to buy the allowances at auctions. The state held its second auction this week. Critics say residents are bearing the burden of companies passing on the cost of the allowances.

The state is also seeing revenue come in higher than expected from a capital gains tax that won the state Supreme Court’s blessing in a March ruling. Mullet didn’t vote for that tax, but said he would have been more open to the idea if the revenue went to property tax relief. Money from the tax is going to public schools, early childhood education and child care programs.

On housing, Mullet is “firmly against” rent control and said it is a “false premise” that limiting rent increases will lead to greater affordability. “When jurisdictions start passing rent control,” he said, “you can’t attract the money you need to attract to actually invest in building the housing.”

“We need to build more housing in the state of Washington,” he said. “That is the goal.”

Mullet flagged record sums of money directed toward housing in the latest state budget, as well as legislation to speed up permitting for construction as legislation he was proud of this year. 

As for addressing homelessness, he said greater state investment in tiny home villages is an example of a policy he would support. He said tiny homes offer a way to rapidly house people. Big picture, he sees building more homes and, in turn, pushing down housing costs as key to solving homelessness.

But he added: “We need something quick and short-term.”

“You can’t have people living in the public right-of-way,” he said, “our sidewalks, our parks, those places need to be safe for families.”

Will Mullet be able to make a compelling enough case to win over voters as he competes in a primary against two high-profile Democrats and as Republican candidates likely siphon away conservative ballots? He thinks so. “This is day one,” he said, adding that he has plans to travel all over the state campaigning.

As more voters learn his background, he said, “I am very optimistic they will be supportive and I think it’s going to close the gap.”