Commissioner of Public Lands – Kevin Van De Wege

Legislative Questionnaire

Candidate Info

Candidate Name:   Kevin Van De Wege
Position Sought:    Commissioner of Public Lands
Are you an incumbent for this position?    Non-incumbent
Home Legislative District:    LD 24
Are you a Democrat?    Yes

Campaign Info

Campaign Manager or Point of Contact:    Ryan O’Connor

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 became a volunteer firefighter as soon as I was old enough to serve my community in Whatcom County in 1993. I have earned degrees in fire administration and investigation and now serve as Captain protecting the Olympic Peninsula and families in Sequim. I hold a BA in Social Science from Washington State University and an MA in Public Administration from Fort Hays State University. I have been serving as a firefighter for over 30 years and currently work as Captain in Sequim. I am a proud union member and former president of our IAFF local.

I also have 18 years of experience in the Washington State Legislature. I served 5 terms in the State House of Representatives and am finishing up my second term in the State Senate. I represent the Olympic Peninsula and the 24th Legislative District, comprising the largest wildland area in the state. In the Senate, I am chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources, and Parks. Through this position and by way of representing the Olympic Forest, the largest wildland area in the state, I have been a strong voice in the protection and management of the state’s natural resources.

In my community, I am an orca task force member, highway 101 safety corridor committee member, Sequim Elks Member, and Sequim Grange member.

2. What prompted you to run for this office?

Summers have changed in Washington State. It is still a time to spend with our families, but now our summers have been cut short by wildfires and stifling smoke. I don't believe this has to happen. I've been a firefighter for 30 years. I live with my family out on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula. Our public lands are the lifeblood and so of our community. I believe we have work to do to manage and protect our forests. We can manage our public lands in a balanced way that reduces the likelihood of fires, gives our first responders the tools they need to do their jobs, and make sure the communities on the frontlines facing these wildfires know they are protected.

I have been preparing to run for this office my whole life, and this is the final destination to my career of public service as Senator and Chair of the Natural Resources committee, and as a union firefighter. The Department of Natural Resources is the state's largest firefighting agency in the state, and wildfire is by far the greatest threat to our public lands. I am running for Commissioner of Public Lands to develop critical solutions to reduce the presence and impact of wildfire in our state. As Commissioner, I will maintain and create healthy forests through smart forest management, and by continuing my strong relationship with tribes to develop critical plans on how to protect our land. I will continue our state’s efforts to address the urgency of climate change, so that we are leaving public lands protected and healthy for the next generation of Washington residents.

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.

The most important issues facing Washington’s public lands and environment are wildfire, climate change, and environmental and economic justice.

Wildfire: DNR is the WA’s leading wildfire-fighting agency. Wildfires are the #1 threat to natural resources in the state. I’ve been a state legislator for years, but a firefighter my entire professional life. As Commissioner, I will maintain and create healthy forests through smart forest management, and by continuing my strong relationship with tribes to develop critical plans on how to protect our land.

Climate Change: Centuries of industrialization have filled our skies with CO2. I will help address the urgency of climate change to leave public lands healthy for the next generation of WA residents. I will bring coordination between DNR and Ecology, working with the state’s top scientists, and by driving legislative action in an arena I’ve guided bills into law for two decades.

Environmental justice: For generations, our state’s natural resources have provided a wealth of recreational and employment opportunities for tribes and rural people. These groups and minority communities are most impacted by pollution, degradation, and wildfire. I commit to continuing work with these communities to address their concerns, and invest in their economies by creating good well paying jobs.

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

I have developed positive relationships through decades of communication and hard work with state leaders, conservation experts, tribal communities, firefighters, unions, stakeholders, farmers, rural and natural resource dependent communities, and more. I am honored to have received so much support and am continuing to expand my network on my campaign by reaching out to democratic groups, unions, tribes, and political groups statewide.

I have robust fundraising plans and am scheduling fundraisers all across the state. I plan to convey my campaign message to voters and believe I have a strong base of democratic supporters who recognize the importance of our public lands and how a dual firefighter-legislator is much better poised to combat wildfire, the largest threat to our public lands, than are career politicians. I have also worked with rural communities and farmers across the state, and have strong connections to communities that are natural resource dependent and prone to wildfire.

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    A federal wealth tax in this country would work well and is something I strongly support. A state wealth tax gets tricky quickly and the rich can easily move money around to avoid it. Washington has been a leader in the past decade of improving progressive taxation, right now we need to concentrate on defending what we have in place.

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?     Yes
Optional: Qualify Your Response to #3    Yes. I was the sponsor of SB 5364, the bill I believe you are referencing.

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?

As a union firefighter, I know how critical worker protections, the ability to collectively bargain, the ability to organize is an economic opportunity for workers across our country. The Democratic party has been much more aligned with fighting for workers. I am also strongly pro-choice, pro-environment and pro-economic justice for all people, and these values are personal to me and align very closely with the Democratic Party.

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?

At DNR I look forward to being more inclusive of bipoc communities in recruiting a future workforce. DNR has a large amount of entry level jobs that provide for a stable living, yet has one of the lowest rates of women, bipoc, and veterans in their workforce of any large state agency. As a former union president, I will work to hire a diverse workforce and make sure that these workers receive amble benefits for their 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?

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

I strongly favor the state moving in the direction of having law enforcement that better represents the communities they serve. Still today, new candidates in most jobs have to pass a lie detector test, cannot have any criminal convictions, and cannot have used drugs. This perpetuates a small sample of people being eligible for police jobs and likens that past mistakes may be repeated. DNR has a police force and I look forward to bringing a new perspective there.

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

I have supported making voting more accessible by voting to remove advisory votes and supporting common sense voting reform for decades. Other than legislation, I believe voter education and voter registration is the best way to increase voter turnout because it’s personal to the voter.

I believe there are many ways to connect with non-committed voters. I plan to engage with voters on issues close to them, but one thing that unites us all is that we live in a naturally beautiful state that offers all kinds of outdoor recreation. Whether it’s hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, swimming, farming, or other outdoor activities, no matter where we grow up, we all share the same expectation that we should be able to pursue the choice of recreation that’s right for us. And we can’t do that unless we take good care of our lands – not just for today and tomorrow but for our children and their children. As Commissioner, I will work to expand these recreational opportunities.

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?

No, public schools are not adequately funded. The Department of Natural Resources has a robust program established to help schools by not raising general taxes. We need to use this more and I am the only Democrat in the race that is ready to stand up and do that.

Printed Name    Kevin Van De Wege
Date (mm/dd/yy)    04/13/2024

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