Jaime Herrera Beutler makes stop in Chehalis in bid for public lands commissioner


Jaime Herrera Beutler is no stranger to Southwest Washington.

As a state legislator and later a member of Congress, Herrera Beutler has represented the region for over a decade and a half, a service that earned praise from former Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund.

“She brings with her a constituency. She brings with her a proven record,” Fund said Monday night. “I remember, years ago, when you were first running for office, and I think about where you have come, and what you have learned. And I know you will continue to learn, you will continue to research, and I will support you on this.”

As she makes a bid for Washington state public lands commissioner, Herrera Beutler visited the Chehalis Eagles Club Annex for a meet-and-greet event organized by the Conservative Coalition of Lewis County.

“You come from a county where resources matter, and you’ve seen what happens when the government mismanages resources,” Herrera Beutler said. “It hits the schools. It hits police, fire, it hits communities, the land.”

The visit came days after the Washington state GOP convention in Spokane, where some attendees turned their backs in protest as Herrera Beutler spoke and the state GOP formally endorsed Sue Kuehl Pederson for the position. Herrera Beutler has drawn the ire of some conservatives for her decision to vote in favor of impeachment for former President Donald Trump while she was still in office.

“It was probably only 30% that were booing, which means, out of the most extreme of the most extreme, 60% didn’t boo,” Herrera Beutler quipped Monday night. “Those are gettable votes. Those are voters.”

Herrera Beutler is not facing an incumbent in her campaign, as current Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz has announced a bid for Congress. In her speech, Herrera Beutler noted the endorsement of Doug Sutherland, a two-term lands commissioner and the last Republican to hold the office.

“My view of the government is that it’s here to serve the people and be accountable to people,” she said. “Not that it's the boss of the people.”

The state commissioner of public lands manages nearly six million acres across Washington. In an interview with The Chronicle, Herrera Beutler noted the “broad responsibilities” of the agency, including mining, geology, forest management, the regulation of private timberland and shellfish management.

“I’m not looking to change current law. I’m not trying to go in and change any of the current forest and fish rules,” Herrera Beutler said. “I just want to operate within what has been set as the law of Washington state.”

A Republican, Herrera Beutler represented the Third Congressional District from 2011 to 2023, and the 18th Legislative District from 2007 to 2011. After leaving Congress, Herrera Beutler completed a fellowship-in-residency at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics and joined the board of the National Kidney Foundation, became a strategic adviser to the Children’s Hospital Association, and recently joined the public policy advisory committee of digital health insurance marketplace eHealth.

Herrera Beutler noted that while in Congress, legislation passed that delegated additional authority for states to manage federal land, such as Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

“We might actually be able to get work done, not just on our state forests, but on our federal forests,” Herrera Beutler said. “We spend all of this time fighting from the federal level, and it’s such a bureaucracy, but after this little change we would have the ability as a state manager to not just manage state forests, but federal forests.”

A goal, Herrera Beutler said, is to bring state and federal land “in line” with the regulations that private landowners face, which would help battle an uptick in forest fires and the poor air quality that has dominated much of the state in recent summers.

“It’s cleaner. It’s healthier. It’s better. It’s more fire resilient. It’s more disease resilient,” she said in an interview with The Chronicle. “That’s my big goal. We don’t need to have catastrophic wildfires that are dumping carbon into the air. I’d like to put a dent into that immediately because we can.”

According to Herrera Beutler, about half of the state-owned land in Western Washington is designated for responsible harvests.

“We don’t need to sign some accord in Paris and make it some global thing. We can immediately stop dumping carbon, excess carbon, and methane from these fires into the air,” Herrera Beutler said. “We can make an immediate dent if we remove those dead and diseased trees and we clean up and salvage what is happening on the floor.”

With Washingtonians set to vote on repealing the Climate Commitment Act (CCA) this November through Initiative 2117, Herrera Beutler said the outcome would likely have minimal impact on the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“I don’t ever want to get hooked on a form of tax revenue that I don’t even think should be there, so my goal would be to not be expanding any dependency on that,” Herrera Beutler said.

If elected, Herrera Beutler said she wants to make the DNR more sustainable. To do so, she said funds from the harvest of state trust land should be “kept within those forests” to keep the cycle renewable.

“So that we’re not forced to go hat in hand to Olympia saying, ‘Can we get another million dollars to do the silviculture work that’s needed to be done to maintain the forests?’” she said. “And we’ve gotten off of that. We don’t do that. And that should be how it functions.”

While she’s running in a state where Democrats control both legislative chambers, Herrera Beutler said she has a proven track record of working across the aisle.

“My first bills that were signed into law were signed into law by Democrat majorities or Democrat Presidents,” she said. “I think the experience of serving in a swing district has actually served me really well because it means you have to find the issues that are important to people. And you can always find someone on the other side who wants to solve the problem and work with them.”

A November poll from Public Policy Polling shows that in a field of seven candidates, Herrera Beutler led the pack with 18% support. The poll found that 48% of Washingtonians were unsure who they support.

Data from the Public Disclosure Commission show that Herrera Beutler has raised $323,000, trailing only King County Council Chair Dave Upthegrove, a Democrat, in the race.

Kuehl Pederson has raised $7,000.

Other candidates in the race include state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, former State Sen. Mona Das, DNR Director of Tribal Relations Patrick DePoe and Wildland Fire and Forest Resiliency Liaison Allen Lebovitz.

“You’re in this because you believe in it, and that’s certainly the case for me,” Herrera Beutler said. “And I think that the message of cleaner air, less smoke, forests that can take care of rural areas and communities, I feel like that message is resonating. And I’m confident that as we get in front of more people, that it will continue to grow.”

A top-two primary will be held on Aug. 6 to decide which two candidates advance to the Nov. 5 general election.