Commissioner of Public Lands – Dave Upthegrove

Legislative Questionnaire

Candidate Info

Candidate Name:   Dave Upthegrove
Position Sought:    Commissioner of Public Lands
Are you an incumbent for this position?    Non-incumbent
Home Legislative District:    33rd LD
Are you a Democrat?    Yes

Campaign Info

Campaign Manager or Point of Contact:    Emma Mudd

Part I – Candidate Background

1. Please briefly describe your qualifications, education, employment, community and civic activity, union affiliation, prior political activity, and other relevant experience. Beyond your qualifications, what makes you the best candidate for this position or office? Please describe any specific background or unique perspective you offer and how those will help you accomplish your goals for the position sought. If possible, give practical examples.


I bring 25 years of policy and political experience– with a focus on leadership on natural resources issues– in both state and county government. I not only bring strong environmental values, but also the relevant background, experience and record of accomplishments to put those values into action.

My love of the outdoors developed at a young age. I spent my summers in high school and college working outdoors — teaching young people about conservation on Dabob Bay and leading week-long treks through the Cascade Mountains.

My interest in politics developed as an environmental activist on campus at the University of Colorado where I earned my degree in Environmental Conservation and Biology— later earning a graduate certificate in Energy Policy from the University of Idaho.

During my twelve years representing the diverse working-class suburbs of South King County in the State House of Representatives, I served as Chair of the House Select Committee on Puget Sound– helping create the Puget Sound Partnership to restore our State’s crown jewel. I later served as Chair of the House Environment Committee— working in every corner of the State to reduce carbon pollution, clean up toxics, and improve oil spill prevention.

In the legislature, I was a leader of the Blue-Green Alliance—a pro-labor, pro-environment coalition that rejected the false choice between jobs and the environment, and instead found common ground to promote sustainable economic opportunities.

For my work, I was honored as Legislator of the Year by the Washington Conservation Voters.

Now, as Chair of the King County Council, I am working with my colleagues to preserve public lands and manage growth, parks, wastewater and transportation in environmentally sustainable ways in our state’s most populous county.

As Chair of the King County Flood Control District, I doubled funding for salmon recovery and led major reforms to better protect our region's rivers.

I am proud to have the sole endorsement of WA Conservation Action— the leading policy and political voice in Washington’s environmental community. I understand that in order to have good jobs and a strong economy, we need to keep Washington State a great place to live. This means managing our public forests, aquatic lands, and other natural resources in the public interest.

2. What prompted you to run for this office?

Our world is changing. We are experiencing the impacts of climate change all around us. We are seeing rapid loss in biodiversity. I am running for Lands Commissioner to improve the management of our public lands to meet these realities of today. For me, this isn’t a stepping stone to higher office; it is the capstone of a life and career focused on environmental and natural resource issues. Our climate crisis and social injustice requires a fierce urgency of action. This requires us to approach this work with bold policy ideas and a deep commitment to environmental justice and tribal sovereignty.

3. What are your campaign’s most important themes, issues, or priorities (three to five)? Share issues or priorities specific to the office that you’re running for.

In order to have good jobs and a strong economy, we need to keep Washington a great place to live. This means protecting our clean air, clean water and habitat, improving wildfire prevention and response, and expanding recreational opportunities on public lands.

1. Protecting clean air, clean water and habitat.
Our state lands don’t belong to industry. They belong to “we the people.” They are public lands. They are our lands. The Commissioner of Public Lands has a responsibility to manage our precious public lands for the benefit of current AND future generations. It is important to nurture rural economies, create jobs, and fund public services, but we can and should do it in a way that protects our clean air, clean water and habitat. Because when it is gone, it is gone forever. Specifically, I intend to sign a mature forest policy on my first day in office to end the destruction of our mature legacy forests. I intend to incorporate honest carbon accounting into our environmental analysis of timber harvests. I also want to make sure the aquatic lands division is not the forgotten stepchild of the agency– and intend to seek legislative funding to beef up the aquatic lands restoration teams.

2. Improving wildfire prevention and response.
Wildfire prevention and response needs to be a top priority for public safety and public health. The loss of property and life is scary and heartbreaking. The smoke also creates health risks—and does so disproportionately on already marginalized community members.

That’s why we need to do more to continually improve our prevention efforts. We need a greater emphasis on prescribed burns and non-commercial thinning to not just manage wildfire prevention but also forest health. This means working to address barriers to local-level training and support—including securing increased dedicated funding and capacity. I want to pursue effectiveness monitoring to get better information on how these different forest health treatments impact wildfire behavior.

I also intend to work with local governments to improve land use plans and building codes in wildland urban interface areas—those areas on the edge of urban and forested areas. I’m worried we currently have a bit of a “one size fits all” approach, and need to better tailor our management to the local circumstances.

At the end of the day, I am going to support the DNR fire chief and fight to get them the resources to do their job. Public safety and public health demand it.

3. Increasing recreational opportunities on state lands.
Expanding recreational opportunities on state lands is crucial for rural communities because it enhances quality of life, boosts local economies, and preserves our natural heritage. Rural areas often have abundant natural resources and scenic landscapes, making them ideal for outdoor recreation such as hiking, fishing, hunting, and camping. By investing in recreational infrastructure and promoting activities like trail development and park enhancements, we can attract visitors, stimulate tourism, and create jobs in rural areas. Additionally, increased recreational opportunities help to preserve our rural way of life by encouraging stewardship of our land and fostering a sense of pride in our natural heritage. By prioritizing recreational access and investment in rural communities, we can ensure that residents and visitors alike can enjoy the beauty and benefits of our state's vast outdoor spaces for generations to come.

4. What steps are you taking to run a successful campaign?

I have the sole endorsement of WA Conservation Action, our statewide environmental political organization, which has announced a robust statewide voter engagement project around the race.

I am leading all candidates in fundraising– with more than $325,000 cash-on-hand for direct voter contact on TV and digital media. I have done this despite being the only candidate NOT accepting contributions from the timber industry, their corporate executives or lobbyists. I am running a grassroots people-powered campaign.

I have secured a very broad coalition of endorsements from Democratic Party organizations, labor unions, progressive organizations and Democratic elected officials such as US Congressman Adam Smith, Seattle Port Commissioner Hamdi Mohamed, King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus, King County Executive Dow Constantine, State Auditor Pat McCarthy and many many more.

Former Commissioner of Public Lands (2008-2016) Peter Goldmark has endorsed me, noting “Dave’s deep experience and track record of accomplishments on conservation issues is head and shoulders above the other candidates in the crowded race for Commissioner of Public Lands.”

I also have built out an impressive grassroots network of energized volunteers and organizers in the conservation movement– recently drawing 95 people at a fundraiser in Clallam County. My coalition is diverse—geographically, culturally, ideologically. I am building a multicultural working class coalition that will not only win this race but also help us deliver on our agenda in the years ahead.

I have hired top tier campaign consultants with deep experience in statewide elections and a fabulous campaign manager with strong relevant experience.

I’m energizing the base with a clear progressive environmental agenda, and the chance to make history by electing the first out LGBT statewide executive office holder. My relevant natural resources background, experience, record of accomplishments, breadth of support, and history as an effective pragmatic suburban leader, positions me best to win over the widest range of statewide voters.

Part II –  Yes or No Questions, please qualify your response if necessary

1. Do you support steps to build a fairer economy through tax reform, including a wealth tax?    Yes
Optional: Qualify Your Response to #1    
2. Do you support the right of public workers, excluding military, to bargain and strike?    Yes
Optional: Qualify Your Response to #2    
3. Do you support legalizing multi-unit homes statewide, as proposed in the #Homes4WA bill, to help alleviate the affordable housing crisis?     Choose Not To Answer
Optional: Qualify Your Response to #3    The state needs to do more to hold cities accountable for meeting housing targets. My preference is to allow local flexibility in how a city meets those targets. I haven’t read this particular bill, and this isn’t an issue within the purview of the State Dept of Natural Resources.
4. Do you support legislation to address climate change and protect our environment, including the Keep Washington Evergreen Act?    Yes
Optional: Qualify Your Response to #4    
5. Do you support women’s unrestricted access to reproductive healthcare?     Yes
Optional: Qualify Your Response to #5    
6. Do you support achieving a universal, affordable, quality single payer healthcare program?     Yes
Optional: Qualify Your Response to #6    
7. Do you support laws regulating the purchase, ownership, and carrying of firearms?     Yes
Optional: Qualify Your Response to #7    

Part III – Free Response (Please answer at least four questions fully, consider the remaining three optional)

1. Why are you running as a Democrat? What aspects of the Democratic platform most resonate with you?

Serving in elected office as a Democrat for more than 20 years, I have supported the party platform and the values we hold dear. I have supported the Democratic Party platform and values by participating in and supporting party activities – serving many years as a Democratic Party PCO, and previously serving as Chair of the 33rd District Democrats, and Chair of the King County Democrats Platform Committee. It was the political honor of my life to serve as a delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention for then-Senator Barack Obama.

For me, being a Democrat means embracing values of inclusion and opportunity. It means recognizing that all people, regardless of our differences, have value, have something to contribute, and deserve equal rights and fair treatment. It means recognizing that the government can play an important role in improving the lives of the people of our state. During my twelve years in the Legislature and eleven years on the King County Council, I have been a consistent and reliable defender of these values.

2. What important state and local issues have you worked on (or taken an interest in) that you feel aren’t getting enough attention from elected leaders and the media?

3. What legislative reforms do you support to achieve greater equity and inclusion for BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ individuals in our communities?

I came out of the closet the year I first ran for office. My mentor at the time told me she loved me but that now I couldn’t run for office. This was 23 years ago, and the thought of an out gay legislator deep in South King County was unheard of. But I ran. Won. And made history as the first out LGBT legislator outside the City of Seattle in the history of the state.

I share this because what drove me then, still drives me today: a passion for justice. LGBT equality. Racial equality. Fighting for tribal treaty rights. Labor rights. I’m the son of a father with disabilities. The brother of someone who has overcome addiction and criminal justice involvement. My commitment to justice is personal.

I choose to live my life with kindness, and above all else, treat people with respect. I think this is such a part of who I am because I grew up as a closeted gay kid with messages that were unkind toward me, and I experienced prejudice and fear and unfair treatment for being different. So along with my passion for protecting planet earth, the other thing that gets me out of bed in the morning is the opportunity to use the privilege I DO have to make the world a little more fair for others who also are different. Those who speak a different language. Who has a disability. Who are transgender. Who are a different race.

I have represented the most diverse corner of our state for more than 20 years—and have found joy in immersing myself in communities of color and immigrant and refugee communities. Being present. building authentic relationships and friendships. Listening. And working hard to deliver results. Results like eliminating the local match requirement for parks and open space grants in low-income diverse communities. Or providing funding to an immigrant and refugee farming cooperative to purchase farmland in South King County to grow culturally relevant crops.

My campaign also reflects these values—and is guided by a written code of conduct that prioritizes respect and inclusion. I’ve done my best to make space for community based leadership from diverse backgrounds to help build and shape this campaign.

At DNR, my mission will be to incorporate equity and social justice into all of our operations and programs.

This starts by hiring people who share this mission and people who bring lived experience from a range of backgrounds.

It also will mean making an effort to ensure the nearly 100 commissions, task forces and advisory committees at DNR reflect the diversity of the state. And that we listen to them.

It means working with women and minority owned businesses to identify and eliminate barriers to contracting with DNR.

And it means transforming the way DNR engages with and empowers the community.

For example, I don’t need 20 plus communications staff promoting me at headquarters. Instead I will shift resources into the regions for authentic community engagement. Because the staff in the field has those local relationships and builds community trust. We need to get them the resources, and empower them to create the spaces and create the processes for authentic co-creation of programs and up front early engagement that we know is most meaningful.

I also plan to go beyond the requirements of the HEAL Act and conduct environmental justice assessments on key agency actions—including some of the MANY at DNR that are currently exempted from the law.

I think it is important to approach this social justice and environmental justice work with the same sense of urgency and commitment to transformational change—as we do the other environmental work.

4. What are some obstacles inherent in proposed legislative solutions to climate change? How would you approach those obstacles in order to best overcome or minimize any negative effects?

State law requires Washington utilities to provide 100% of their energy from clean, renewable energy sources by 2045. If not deployed strategically, large scale wind and solar development can create community and tribal conflicts and put at risk productive agricultural lands and valuable habitat. Transitioning to clean energy, if not done thoughtfully, can create a disproportionate burden on low-income communities (often communities of color and immigrant/refugee communities) in the short term.

That’s why I intend to push for the establishment of a new clean energy trust that would allow Washington State to strategically purchase land to facilitate the development of clean energy infrastructure. The loss and fragmentation of critical shrub-steppe habitat is a growing concern impacting wildlife in Eastern Washington.

I envision funding for land acquisition coming from revenue generated by the state’s Climate Commitment Act and state capital bonds. The land would be placed in a new trust managed by the Board of Natural Resources, which could then generate revenue by leasing the properties for clean energy infrastructure, including wind and solar energy generation.

The proceeds from the trust would be used to support rural economic development, including assisting low-income rural residents with energy costs.

Strategic acquisition of lands for clean energy infrastructure would allow the state to implement a holistic plan that not only maximizes operational suitability, but also minimizes the impacts on natural areas, working lands and wildlife.

This approach would also allow the Department of Natural Resources to incorporate community input much earlier in the process—including from communities most impacted—and would help ensure treaty rights and tribal sovereignty are respected.
Facilitating and speeding up our transition away from fossil fuels would reduce carbon pollution while boosting the economic benefits of the clean energy sector in Washington State.

The development of a clean energy trust land acquisition strategic plan would utilize and build upon the “Least Conflict Solar Siting on the Columbia Plateau” process led by the Washington State University Energy Office.

Lease revenue generated by the trust would be invested back into rural communities for rural county economic development programs and to supplement local utility programs which assist low-income rural residents with upfront investments needed for them to shift to less expensive clean energy.

5. What safety, law, or justice reforms are you currently in favor of, and how will you work to implement them?

6. What steps do you think need to be taken to improve voter turnout and increase voter trust in our election process?

It starts with restoring the civic mission of our schools and ensuring all young people are taught their rights and responsibilities as citizens, where they come from, and how to exercise them.

It requires elected officials to demonstrate that we take our responsibilities seriously to achieve positive change in people’s lives, rather than treat politics like a game. We need to offer a bold and meaningful agenda.

We already have strong voter participation laws in our state, but we need to strengthen electoral outreach programs at every level of government to encourage civic and electoral participation, especially among young people and among historically disenfranchised communities.

7. Do you think public schools are adequately funded? If not, what minimum requirements should be met in an adequately funded public school system? What specific forms of taxation would you support to attain that funding?

Printed Name    Dave Upthegrove
Date (mm/dd/yy)    04/21/2024

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