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Washington state has 9 statewide offices…why?*

Every four years, Washingtonians vote for not two, not four, but NINE Executive Branch State offices. The 75 men who wrote our state constitution in 1889 were determined to protect the state from undue influence from railroads and other businesses, they wanted to reduce the power of the Governor, ensure that people of Washington could speak directly to a state office holder on many important issues, and they wanted to be sure that the state’s resources, especially state land, were used for all of the people.

The Framers wanted to distribute power across more offices within the executive branch, so that no one official would have too much power. They had seen in other states how easily public officials could be corrupted by wealthy business owners and interests, and they wanted to make sure that our government was honest and accountable to the voters. That’s why they created an elected Commissioner of Public Lands to protect the legacy of state-owned land, for example. And that’s why we have nine separately elected statewide officials in our executive branch.

Statewide Offices & Main Duties

GOVERNOR – partisan position

While Washington’s governor may have less power than governors in most other states, our governor still has a lot to do, including acting as Commander and Chief of the State National Guard, submitting first draft of state budget to legislature, signing/vetoing bills, hiring and directing executives of state prisons, mental hospitals, providing services and healthcare for low income residents, choosing boards of trustees for state colleges and universities, protecting the environment.

Lieutenant Governor – partisan position

The Lieutenant Governor presides over the Washington State Senate, and succeeds to the Governor’s office if the current officeholder resigns, is incapacitated, is removed, or dies.

Secretary of State – partisan position

The Secretary of State is the state’s chief elections officer, chief corporations officer, and supervisor of the State Archives.

Attorney General – partisan position

The Attorney General is in charge of the state’s own staff of lawyers. These lawyers represent state agencies when they have legal disputes. If a state law is challenged in court, they defend the law.

State Treasurer – partisan position

The State Treasurer manages the state’s cash and debts. She or he has to make sure that the state maintains a good credit rating, so that when the state wants to borrow money, it gets low interest rates.

State Auditor – partisan position

The State Auditor makes sure that everyone in state and local government follows the rules for how the public’s tax dollars are spent. From offices across the state, our independent auditors help government work better and maintain public trust.

Superintendent of Public Instruction – nonpartisan position

The Superintendent of Public Instruction is in charge of the state’s public schools and distributing state funds to them as well as implementing academic standards as required by law. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) does not have direct authority over schools – locally elected school boards do.

Commissioner of Public Lands – partisan position

The Commissioner of Public Lands manages over 3 million acres of state-owned land and 2.6 million acres of aquatic areas. Most of this land was deeded to the state by the federal government when Washington became a state. The land includes large forests that are logged to earn money for special purposes such as building public schools, maintaining the state capitol, and building state hospitals.

Insurance Commissioner – partisan position

The Insurance Commissioner is in charge of making sure that insurance companies treat customers fairly, and that insurance companies follow the rules.

*This article adapted from a guest column by Katherine Murphy, LWV Kittitas County member.

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