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Fortunato to join 2020 gubernatorial race, says homelessness is main issue

Sen. Phil Fortunato (AP)

Washington is one of the bluest states around, but the 2020 gubernatorial race just gained another Republican.

Sen. Phil Fortunato (R-Auburn) is officially throwing his hat in the race on Wednesday on the steps of Seattle City Hall. The senator serves the 31st Legislative District, which covers southern King County and parts of Pierce County — South Auburn, Bonney Lake, Carbonado, Edgewood, Enumclaw, and Sumner.

Washington hasn’t had a Republican governor since the mid-1980s, but Fortunato is confident in his ability to unite both parties based on the most recent general election.

“I am the last remaining Republican senator in King County,” he said. “And I gained two points [in 2018] when everybody else lost.”

RELATED: Fortunato says bonding against 167 tolls forces WSDOT to keep congestion

Last month, Republic Police Chief Loren Culp, who has become known for his gun rights advocacy following I-1639’s passage, also announced his candidacy as a Republican.

No Democrats have officially announced yet, though Attorney General Bob Ferguson, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz are rumored to be considering runs.

Fortunato thinks his campaign’s main issue is one that can appeal to both sides of the political spectrum — homelessness and crime.

“People in Seattle are fed up, and law and order is the number-one issue that comes up on polling,” he said. “So for the first time, we have a law and order issue, which is typically a Republican issue. People in Seattle are sick and tired of these people on the street.”

Fortunato will be encouraged if moderate Seattle City Council candidates end up winning in November; if elected governor, he plans to work with the future city council to put a stop to people living on the streets.

It is for this reason that Fortunato is announcing the campaign in downtown Seattle rather than in his district.

“We need to get Seattle cleaned up — we need to send the message that we’re not going to tolerate this kind of behavior,” he said.

At the state level, he wants to provide drug rehab, mental health counseling, and housing for everyone on the street who wants it. He also wants to put more money toward incarceration for those on the street who commit crimes.

“You have some of these people who are just down and out; stuff happens, the guy’s car broke down, he lost his job, next thing you know he’s out on the street or sleeping in his car,” he said. “We need to provide some housing for those people to be able to get their act together, give them some time to get their feet under them so that they can provide for themselves.”

For a Republican to win over the majority of Seattleites may be a long-shot, but Fortunato said that a candidate only needs 32 percent of the Seattle vote if he or she does well throughout the rest of the state.

“If we get 32 percent in Seattle, that boosts the countywide vote, that puts you over the edge,” he explained. “So you don’t need to win. We just need enough people willing to make the commitment to preserve law and order in the City of Seattle.”

Transportation funding is also an important issue for Fortunato, who sits on the Senate Transportation Committee. Instead of through tolls and through the much-talked-about congestion pricing and road usage taxes, Fortunato would choose an “inflation-link funding source.”

“The problem isn’t usage — the problem is inflation,” he said.

He would put the sales tax from vehicle sales into the gas tax account.

“If you do that, your transportation funding problem is over,” he said. “Now you have an inflation-link funding source — something that is going to go up with inflation.”

The 2020 gubernatorial race may seem like a far reach for someone on the right, but Fortunato never says never.

“The only sure thing in an election is that nothing is for sure,” he said.

And if he doesn’t win, Washington won’t lose a Republican senator — 2020 is not an election year for him in the Senate.

To learn more, visit Fortunato’s official campaign website.

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