Jefferson County Commissioner Kate Dean announced Tuesday that she is running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Dean hopes to succeed Rep. Derek Kilmer, who …
Jefferson County Commissioner Kate Dean announced Tuesday that she is running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Dean hopes to succeed Rep. Derek Kilmer, who announced his retirement in November.
Immediately after Kilmer’s retirement Dean floated the idea of running for his Sixth District seat. (Port Townsend Leader, November 15. 2023). Several weeks of research and meetings, both within and outside the district, convinced her to commit.
Dean, 49, was first elected as commissioner in 2016. She was unopposed for a second term in 2020. If elected, she would be the first U.S. Representative to originate from Jefferson County since the district was created in 1932.
“I will bring a unique perspective to Washington, D.C.,” Dean told The Leader on Sunday. “Congress doesn’t have an incentive to consider rural communities, and those communities deserve a voice. There are critical issues that must be addressed, such as climate change and natural resource protection.”
Dean accepts the “liberal” label, but said she can understand and relate to issues across the political spectrum. She said she will not always vote along party lines, calling U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez (D-District 3) an inspiration for her ability to balance rural and urban concerns.
“My voting record shows that I am responsive to constituent issues,” she said. “I tend toward the liberal but I have not voted to stop every timber sale. I support what makes the most sense on a policy level, as timber sales support education and other necessities.”
As a Jefferson county commissioner Dean serves on over 20 local and regional boards and committees and represents the county in consultation with the Navy and tribal nations.
Dean said that she has no current plans to run for a third term as county commissioner, that she is committed to her congressional race. But it is early in the cycle and things can change.
She said that it will be stressful to both serve as commissioner and run for Congress: there will be times where she will have to miss a county meeting for a congressional campaign appearance.
“I love being county commissioner and will serve as long as possible,” she said.
Since her 2016 election Dean has become Jefferson County’s voice in the nation’s capitol, making about 13 legislative trips.
She said that the county has subsidized a minority of these trips as most were supported by advocacy groups like the Puget Sound Partnership and Olympic Workforce Development. She has also traveled at her own expense. These trips have paid off, she says, for example securing $30 million of government funds to build the Port Hadlock sewer.
Candidate filing week takes place from May 6 to May 10, two weeks earlier than in years past.
There are two other declared candidates for the open seat. Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz previously announced for governor, but jumped into the Congressional race a day after Kilmer announced his retirement. Also running is Washington State Sen. Emily Randall (D-26th District), who is endorsed by several members of the legislature including Port Townsend resident Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-24th District). Randall serves in the same State Senate office held by Kilmer immediately prior to his 2012 election to Congress.
The top two vote getters in the August 6 primary will advance to the November 5 general election. It is possible but unlikely that two Democrats would advance, according to District 24 Democratic Chair Bruce Cowan, as the Republican party is likely to field a candidate who will end up in the top two (although no Republican has held the seat since 1965).
“It would be really good for Jefferson County and the North Olympic Peninsula if Kate were elected to Congress,” Cowan said. “But the district is big, and we are only a small part of it.”
The Sixth District covers 69,000 square miles over five counties. The population is 773,000, nearly 80 percent of whom are white. The area is mostly rural, aside from municipal areas in Bremerton, Gig Harbor and parts of Tacoma.
The current congressional salary is $174,000 per year.
If Dean wins the seat she would take office in January 2025. It is of course uncertain which party will control the House of Representatives or who will be elected president. Dean isn’t fazed by the possibility of Donald Trump winning the presidency as she accommodated Trump administration policies as commissioner. (She visited the White House in 2018 but Trump met with Kanye West instead of the county officials he had invited.)
“It is a good thing to be in the majority, but the minority party can mobilize issues,” she said.