Steve Hobbs, Candidate for Washington Secretary of State

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On this midweek show, Crystal chats with current Secretary of State Steve Hobbs about his campaign for Washington Secretary of State - why he decided to run for re-election, the threat of misinformation campaigns and cyber attacks on Washington’s elections, how partisanship affects the office, and whether partisan attacks on his opponent are warranted. On the topic of elections, they discuss how he builds trust in the system in an environment of disinformation, addressing issues with disproportionate rates of signature rejection across the electorate, his plans to increase voter turnout, and his stance and approach to local jurisdictions potentially adopting alternative systems such as ranked choice voting. The conversation continues with the experience Secretary Hobbs brings to manage other components that fall under the Secretary of State’s large umbrella and his vision to create greater accessibility for experiencing the state archives’ historical records, resources for corporate and charity filings, and requesting governmental documents via public disclosure requests.

As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.

Follow us on Twitter at @HacksWonks. Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii and find Secretary Steve Hobbs at @electhobbs.

Resources

Campaign Website - Steve Hobbs

Transcript

[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington State through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.

Today, I'm thrilled to be welcoming a candidate and the current officeholder for one of the most important roles that we have in our state - Secretary of State. Welcome, Secretary of State Steve Hobbs.

[00:00:51] Secretary Hobbs: Thank you. And thank you for saying it's very important. Thank you - I appreciate that.

[00:00:56] Crystal Fincher: It is extremely important. And I think a lot of people are recognizing just how important it is now perhaps. Many more people are recognizing that than they have before because of how much talk we've had over the past couple of years about how important elections and election integrity are. But also, in addition to elections, all of the other things that the Secretary of State is responsible for like archives and records management and all those different things. And we're seeing an increasing amount of news stories and coverage in issues and challenges in those areas. So with all of that, what made you decide that - one, you wanted to take this on in the first place, and two, that you want to run for a new term?

[00:01:41] Secretary Hobbs: Well, first of all, I've always dedicated myself to public service - starting at the age of 17 when I enlisted in the Army Reserves - then, and then going on to active duty shortly after that. So this was a nice transition from serving in the State Senate, which I did for 15 years, into this role because it's a nice little Venn diagram - you know how you have the two circles there? So one is defending democracy in my role in the military and the other is serving in the State Senate. And this is a great overlap because right now, as and your listeners would know, our elections have been under attack. Our democracy has been under attack.

[00:02:30] Crystal Fincher: Sure has.

[00:02:31] Secretary Hobbs: And so having that background that I have in the military - serving in the National Security Agency, being a Public Affairs Officer - having been in that role and defending elections in both Kosovo and Iraq, this is a great fit for me. And I enjoy it, I love it - but it of course has its challenges, which we have had several this year with three misinformation campaigns and a cyber threat that has occurred already just this year alone.

[00:03:04] Crystal Fincher: So how do you defend against those? And what is the plan to combat all of this misinformation and the targeted attacks?

[00:03:12] Secretary Hobbs: Well, it first started when I got into the office and there was an outbriefing by former Secretary Kim Wyman, who is now working for the Biden administration. And in that outbrief, she had told me there were several thousand - thousands - of attacks, cyber attacks, on elections and 180 instances of misinformation and disinformation. We all know about what happened in January 6 in our nation's capital, but some of you may not know or remember - there was an attack on our own State capital. We had to deploy the National Guard there. In fact, several of my soldiers had to go on that mission to defend our capital. And so I started by looking at the budget that was submitted by Kim Wyman and pulled it back and resubmitted it. And what I did was expanded the cyber security team. So we had a cyber team of four, now we've gone to eight. We're strengthening our relationships with the Air National Guard that we call upon for cyber security when we are overwhelmed. We are looking into doing exercises - one step up from a tabletop exercise, but actually a full-blown exercise in 2023, where we'll be having folks who are trying to penetrate our system through cyber and through misinformation, disinformation - a closed system there where we can react to it. We have created a team that would combat misinformation and do voter outreach and education, because some of the vulnerabilities that we have of people not having trust in our elections is because they simply don't know how we do elections here in Washington State. So we've got to do a little more education of that. And then creating a team of outreach to our disenfranchised and underserved and underrepresented communities that we're doing. Sorry, I went on, but there's a lot to do. And there's a lot that we have done so far in trying to push back on some of the misinformation campaigns that happen and the cyber threat that happened this year.

[00:05:23] Crystal Fincher: Well, and it's really important - there is a lot going on. And I guess one of the more fundamental questions that people are asking themselves is - with the nature of the office and because this is a little bit different this year in that you're running against someone who identifies as an Independent, not as a Democrat or a Republican, what is the role of partisanship in this office? Is this an office that should be a partisan office? Is there any advantage or disadvantage to being a partisan in this office? How do you view that?

[00:05:53] Secretary Hobbs: Well, in my personal view, I can operate in this office if the Legislature deems that it should be a nonpartisan office. Now, in order for that to happen, you have to pass a bill to do that. I doubt that will make it out of the Legislature since the Legislature is controlled by Republicans and Democrats and I don't see that happening any time soon. I think what you have to do is look at the individual who's occupying this office. How do I say this? Well, I go back to a motto - when I'm serving an infantry battalion, all infantry battalions have mottos and mine was, or ours was - "Deeds, not words." So look at what I've done, not what I say. And you'll see that I'm a person that works across the aisle. You'll see that I'm a person that can get things done. And you look at the list of endorsements that I have - I have Republican endorsements, Democratic endorsements. I have the endorsement of the Association of Washington Business and the Washington State Labor Council. And having a label on there - it doesn't do anything if you're going to be a bad person. So the last three Secretaries of State were partisan - Sam Reed, Kim Wyman, and Ralph Munro - and they were trusted with the public and they got the job done.

I will say - in this day and age, though, people tend to trust Democrats running the elections, because they know where they're coming from. And I'm not going to back away from the fact that I am a Democrat. I'm proud that I'm pro-choice. I'm proud that I'm pro-labor. I'm proud that I support the environment. I don't think those are bad things at all. Whatever the Legislature decides - if they want to make this a partisan office - or nonpartisan office - that's fine. But I can operate in any environment. And I don't think it really matters anyway, at this particular time, but I'm not going to back away who I am. I'm a Democrat.

[00:08:05] Crystal Fincher: That makes sense. No secret here. I think the values that you listed are very good. And that the people, in this day and age - given the harboring of anti, disproven, disinformation about elections and campaigns that they see coming from the Republican Party are comfortable - more comfortable - with the Democratic Party in this position. But with that said, there have been - I don't know that any of this has come directly from your campaign. But the State Party and the leader of the State Party has attacked the other candidate, your opponent Julie Anderson, for her associations with some Republicans, or the Republican Party. Given that - you just talked about, hey, it's about who you are, it's about what you do - do you think those attacks are warranted or fair?

[00:08:57] Secretary Hobbs: Crystal, you did bring up a couple of points that have been brought up recently in this campaign. And all I can say is - to the listeners out there, look into it, right? So she did show up at the fundraiser of the minority party in the House who wants to take control of the House - that's JT Wilcox, Representative Wilcox. If you're calling yourself nonpartisan, I'm not sure why you would go to that fundraiser, representing a party and some folks out there that want to put these elections back to poll voting and eliminate vote by mail. And the same group of folks that fan the flames of misinformation and disinformation. She does have a political consultant that's Republican, and a communications team that's Republican, and a treasurer that's Republican. But I'm not here to bash on her. I'm just saying to the listeners out there - do your own research on it. But yeah, that's true that there are, she's - has some ties there.

[00:10:07] Crystal Fincher: You mentioned your willingness to work across the aisle. Could that just be her attempting to do the same types of things that you were talking about in reaching out? To that, it does look like she has also, in the past - I don't know if she has in this general election - but met with Democrats and Democratic organizations. Do you put that under the same umbrella? Or is that different than just trying to work in a bipartisan manner?

[00:10:33] Secretary Hobbs: I think it's an attempt to look at this race and go - okay, well, Steve's got the Democrats, so maybe I'll go get the Republicans. Because there are Republicans out there that simply just don't want a Democrat in office - and doesn't matter if that person's a good Democrat or not - they just can't stand the fact that there's a Democrat occupying that office. And so - she's going to reach out to those folks, it's just a campaign strategy. But again, I stress to the listeners - look at the backgrounds and see the deeds of the person and see what they can bring to the office. Again, I've been in the office so far for almost a year. And you got to ask yourself - is anything wrong with what's going on? And if not, why change horses at this particular moment in time?

Crystal, I mentioned the three misinformation campaigns and the cyber threat - these are real things. These are real threats to democracy - I would say that you'd want someone who understands how to counter those threats. There was a story in NPR All Things Considered about a recent misinformation campaign that we pushed back on. And that happened in February - and it had to deal with one of the cybersecurity devices known as an Albert sensor that Homeland Security asks every government agency to have on their system network so that they can be warned when there's a suspicious IP address that data is coming from and to - because that's what an Albert sensor does - it tells you where the data is coming from and to. And you're not going to believe this, but the misinformation campaign directed at the Albert sensors was trying to tie the Albert sensor to George Soros. I'm not making this up.

[00:12:30] Crystal Fincher: Well, unfortunately, I do believe it, but it is wild. That is - the attempt to tie everything - my goodness.

[00:12:39] Secretary Hobbs: Yeah, yeah.

[00:12:40] Crystal Fincher: I'm sure lots of people are shocked to hear that what they've been working on is somehow masterminded by that person. But yeah, there have been wild and malicious attacks and just an outright denial of what has happened in elections. And I actually think you raise an excellent point that we don't talk about a lot - in that you brought up even - we see this stuff happening on the national level and even January 6th on a national level. But that we did experience that in our own state at that time - both in-person and the attacks on our voting system. And so I guess one of the questions I have is given that we're in this environment of not just misinformation, but malicious disinformation, and people with an agenda to erode and degrade trust - how do you build trust in our electoral system? Because although there are absolutely people who are intentionally misleading people, there's a lot of people who sincerely believe we have issues within our system - and for a variety of different reasons and from different perspectives - this is not just Republicans, it can be a variety of people. In an environment where there is so much disinformation, how do you build trust and credibility with voters in this state?

[00:13:58] Secretary Hobbs: Oh, it's a long-term campaign that you have to start right away and not only be aggressive on, but consistent on. So for example, the misinformation campaign on the Albert sensor, you have to - we brought together all the county auditors and we brought, we invited county commissioners, and we brought in Kim Wyman, Homeland Security and FBI to inform the county auditors - hey, don't believe this misinformation. It's not true. The Albert sensor is simply a device that protects you, not a George Soros machine. Unfortunately, one county removed that system and now we're still working with that. But we are right now launching a major voter information campaign called "Vote with Confidence" - we launched it yesterday. It'll be out on TV and probably when you're pumping gas - sometimes you see those video screens that are up that's showing commercials - and on social media platforms. And basically we're going to do more than just remind people to vote because we've done a great job of reminding people to vote. Myself and the county auditors have have all done that, but what we haven't done a good job of is letting you all know what happens to your vote and how it is secure, transparent, and accessible. You may know this here, Crystal, because you're familiar with politics - that you can go to your county auditor and witness the process. You can see these ballots come in, you can see them get counted, you can see every signature being checked. But the average person doesn't know that and that's what we need to start doing.

We need to start telling people - even things that are somewhat technical - that this state is part of the ERIC system, the Elections Registration Information Center, where our state is connected to other states and different databases so that if you were to move to another state and register there and fail to cancel your registration here - guess what? We're going to know about it. Don't try to vote multiple times in the same election by trying to register in different counties because guess what? We're going to catch you and we have caught people doing that. This whole myth about dead people voting - that's just not true and when it does happen on very rare occasions, it's because a spouse votes for a recently deceased loved one and maybe that spouse, before they died, said who they were going to vote for and they voted for them and they signed their ballot and guess what? We catch that. We find that out, but we have to do more though - we have to let people know what happens with their ballot and we haven't been doing that.

[00:16:49] Crystal Fincher: Well, and one question I have - we have seen, and there have been reported on, inconsistencies in how rigorous people are in either checking signatures or even potentially malfeasance in checking signatures. And we saw in a report on a county in our state where people with Latino surnames had signatures that were rejected at a much higher rate than those with other names, even though it appears they were valid voters, that everything else was in order - but they seemed to be disqualified visually with the commonality that they did have a Latino surname. And questions about whether racism was at play and bias within our electoral system - what role can you as the Secretary of State play to make sure that we're implementing process and executing processes across the state, throughout all of the counties, in a consistent way? And how do you hold counties accountable to that?

[00:17:48] Secretary Hobbs: Yeah, thank you for that. That was a study that came out of the State Auditor. And she had - it's very shocking - Blacks were four times as much rejected, Hispanics three times as much, Asians twice as much. Young men were actually rejected at a slightly higher rate. And our role on that one is we're taking action on it. So already we're working with the Legislature. Now we know about this data, now we got to find out why that is - and so we're doing another study with the Evans School at the University of Washington. But we're not going to stand idly by and wait for the study. There's some actions that we can take already to try to mitigate that. And one of the things that we are doing, though it won't come online for probably another - probably not 'til next year - and that is text messaging the voter the moment their ballot is rejected. Because the main reason why ballots are rejected - it actually has to do with not signing the ballot. A lot of folks just fail to sign it because they - maybe they didn't see the signature block. Or, especially those where English is not their first language, they just didn't read it because it was in English. And so you have ballot rejections happening because people fail to sign. And right now the current system is we send you mail, which - not very efficient. Counties might call you. But what we're thinking about doing and what we'd like to do is - hey, send a text message out to them right away so that they know their ballot is rejected and so they can do something about it before, and sometimes even before the Election Day. Because right now most people get their ballots cured - and the term cured is used when your signatures don't match, or you failed to sign your signature - is there's a close election and a bunch of people go into a particular Legislative District or jurisdiction and they're curing ballots because there's a campaign - the campaign is trying to get their candidate across the finish line.

[00:20:12] Crystal Fincher: So now - with that, and you're trying to get voters there, you're trying to make sure every vote counts. Do you also see one of your core roles as getting more people to vote - increasing turnout and participation? And if that is, how do you plan to do that?

[00:20:30] Secretary Hobbs: Oh, absolutely. I think it's very important. I think we have to constantly try to do that. It's a struggle because sometimes voters just - oh, this election is not important, so I'm not going to vote. Well, we have to constantly remind folks that, hey, elections are important, it's part of the democratic process. That's why I'm happy that the Legislature gave me the funding to not only do this voter information campaign letting people know how their ballots process, but also reminding them again - hey, don't forget you got to vote, there's an election coming up. One thing that we are trying to do to increase voter turnout and increasing the amount of people getting registered - because there's a lot of people out there who are eligible to be voters but haven't done it yet - is getting at young people before they even turn a voting age. And so we're looking at, and this is theoretical this moment, but we're going to try to really push it in the next - if given the opportunity to serve out the rest of the term - a mobile gaming app targeted at young people. Maybe it is where they vote in a fantasy setting, they vote for imaginary folks - we throw on some civics questions, and maybe they get points, and they level up - to get them jazzed up, if you will, about voting and participating in our democracy. And looking at our curriculum, because we do provide curriculum to the elementary, middle school, and high school about elections - and so maybe there's a way we can make that more exciting, maybe we team up with our local tabletop game companies here in the State of Washington and send out - in a form of a game. The other thing we need to do is reach out to our underserved communities out there.

And so taking a great idea from King County, the trusted messenger program - hiring folks that come from a particular community - knowing the language, knowing the community, knowing the culture. They go out there and do the outreach necessary to get people registered to vote, and teaching them and informing them about the process of voting. I can't hire enough people to do that, so we're already looking at - well, maybe we also contract out to different organizations that do that already. I was talking to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce a couple weeks ago - maybe that's an opportunity there out in the Tri-Cities - I'm going to go visit them again on the 18th of October. But we just have to do more. I was very excited - we started because COVID is slowly getting manageable - we were able to go to the July 4th naturalization ceremony in Seattle and we registered about 300 new citizens. And that is exciting - we're going to be at those events as well.

[00:23:41] Crystal Fincher: So in a debate early in this race, you shared your view that we shouldn't change our electoral process to ranked choice voting, which is on the ballot in a handful of jurisdictions in our state, or approval voting - because you had concerns that some people already have issues with trust in our system and making changes might make that problem even worse. Is not making changes because of a fear of misinformation a valid reason not to explore changes? Or should we be investing in things that help make the process more clear to people, especially if it's going to update them on a voting system that should increase turnout? How did you come to that decision?

[00:24:19] Secretary Hobbs: Well, Crystal, it basically - it comes to the fact that I've been in this job for a while, I've seen the amount of disinformation that's going out there. There's a King 5 poll that showed 35% of Washingtonians didn't trust the 2020 election - that's Washingtonians. And looking at the voter turnout - right now our system is pretty easy - you vote for the person that you like and it's one vote. Under ranked choice voting, you have an algorithm, you rank people. And at this particular moment in time, when you have this amount of disinformation going on and you have the situation in our own - US capital and or state capital - really now is not the time to do something like that. But one thing that I get very concerned about, and this is my own personal connection to this, is that you're asking people to vote in a foreign way, something completely different. And that we have a huge population of people where English is not their first language. And so now you are going to disenfranchise a group of people. And that's something we certainly do not want to happen. I think about my own mother who naturalized to this country - English is not her first language - and I can't imagine if you go back in time and all of a sudden you said - hey, vote ranked choice voting, and you didn't have a voter's guide or any explanation to her in her language, it'd be very difficult. I also think about my son. I have a - my middle son, Truman, who's got a cognitive disability. It's very easy for him to vote because I show him the ballot and I show him the voter's guide and I go - hey, Truman, all you do is you color in the bubble to the person that you like. And for Truman, a lot of it's visual - he's going to look at the picture, he's not going to do a lot of reading. And by the way, he has every right to vote. If you have a disability, that shouldn't prevent you from voting.

[00:26:29] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely.

[00:26:30] Secretary Hobbs: He is going to have a hard time doing ranked choice voting. It's just not possible for him. And so I know the advocates out there pushing the ranked choice voting, but let's not disenfranchise a whole group of people out there. They may not be the majority, but they're out there and we shouldn't disenfranchise them. Also, I don't know what this is solving. I really don't. We have the most diverse legislative body right now under the current system of voting, a very diverse city council if you live in the City of Seattle. I'm not quite sure what this is trying to solve. But I will say this because I know that there has been - people say, oh, well, he's not going to help us out when we do ranked choice voting. That's not true. My job as Secretary of State is to support the elections in the state and local municipalities. And that is exactly what I'll do if a municipality or county chooses to do ranked choice voting. But I am telling you and I am asking the citizens, please pause and think about it before you choose ranked choice voting, because there are other people out there that may not get it. It may be difficult to understand. Let's not leave them out in the cold and let's think about our democracy right now with the amount of misinformation that's out there.

[00:27:59] Crystal Fincher: Well, and I guess I should ask a clarifying question because ranked choice voting is certainly one reform or change that is on the ballot. There's also another change currently on the ballot in a jurisdiction this year - approval voting. We see different methods of voting - one, just in our neighbor to the south in Portland - there they have a different type of voting on the ballot for their city this year. We're seeing a number of different types. So is your opposition strictly to ranked choice voting or to any of the kinds of changes, whether it's ranked choice or approval voting or any kind of change that would be made?

[00:28:36] Secretary Hobbs: It's right now - this particular moment in time - is any kind of change, unless you can find a way where you're going to get the word out to those individuals where English is not their first language, where they've got cognitive disabilities, and the fact - hey, is this vulnerable to a misinformation? Because right now, if there's a close election, you just count out the votes and whoever has the most votes wins. That's how it's done, right - in close races. But let's say it's ranked choice voting or preferred voting - it gets slightly complicated. In ranked choice voting, you're basing it upon an algorithm. And so now, what's going to happen? Well, what's going to happen is you're going to have a group of individuals who didn't get their way, and they're going to say, oh, this algorithm got hacked, which is not true. This algorithm, written by George Soros, and again, not true. But that's what's going to happen.

[00:29:36] Crystal Fincher: Well, I don't know that I would call it an algorithm, but a different method of tabulation and rounds of tabulation.

[00:29:42] Secretary Hobbs: Well, that's what we call it - it doesn't make it a bad thing. It just - that's what it is. There's nothing wrong with it. I'm just saying to you that you just leave yourself vulnerable to misinformation that could attack it.

[00:29:59] Crystal Fincher: I got you - but I think the underlying, as you pointed out, related concern is they are on the ballot and those changes may be made in places. And so the role of - again, in the implementation of these things - certainly there can be a lot of challenges that are introduced with implementation - how well just the system itself is implemented, and how well residents are trained and informed and educated before it happens. Do you plan on playing a role in that and being an advocate for voting and participating in the system should one of those be implemented?

[00:30:41] Secretary Hobbs: Well, we have to - that's the role. I can't not do that as Secretary of State. I have to make sure that these - if a local jurisdiction chooses this form of election, then of course, we're going to be there to support it.

[00:30:59] Crystal Fincher: And so I do want to talk about - we've talked about elections - and that's, to most people, the most visible thing that you're involved with as Secretary of State. But my goodness, you have a lot more responsibilities than that - just going down the list, aside from dealing with elections and initiatives and referendums - producing and distributing the Voters' Pamphlet and any legal advertising; registering private corporations, limited partnerships and trademarks; registering individuals, organizations and commercial fundraisers involved in charitable solicitations; administering the State's address confidentiality program, which is really important for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking; collecting and preserving the historical records of the state and making those records available for research; coordinating implementation of the State's records management laws; affixing the State seal and attesting to commissions, pardons and other documents to which the signature of the governor is required; regulating use of the State seal, which came in handy in another state - there was a whole thing about - that is an important and relevant thing. Filing and attesting to official acts of the Legislature or governor and certifying to the Legislature all matters legally required to be certified. You're also frequently called upon to represent the State of Washington in international trade and cultural missions, and greet and confer with dignitaries and delegations visiting the State of Washington from other countries. This is a big, big job and my goodness, you have your hands full with just elections, but there are so many other things underneath the umbrella of your responsibility. How do you both focus on elections and all of the other stuff? And how has this gone so far?

[00:32:47] Secretary Hobbs: Well, I've got a great staff and I got great people who manage these different divisions. Thank you for mentioning those other things because sometimes my employees that are in libraries and corporations and nonprofits and legacy - which is history of Washington State - not to mention our CFD, our Combined Fund Drive - sometimes they feel neglected. My Secretary of State's office is about nearly 300 people and 22 people occupy Elections. There's a lot more that we do than just elections and I love it. I actually love the other side. It's very therapeutic to me because there's not the controversy that's involved in those other aspects. Libraries are near and dear to my heart. In fact, we have libraries in every state institution - our state prisons and our state hospital. I'm proud to announce that we're actually going into our state juvenile detention facilities, which we haven't done, and I'm glad we're doing that. It's about time - they should be in there. What I'm going to do and what I'm starting to do is use our state libraries as a place for rehabilitation - getting folks who are incarcerated, giving them the skills necessary when they leave the prison. We really haven't done that in the past and I'm looking forward to doing that. I get it's not going to be a lot of people, but you know what? Let's not let that space go to waste.

I'm also excited using libraries as a place where we can provide therapy for the incarcerated. I'm working with, or talking with, some of the tabletop gaming companies - the use of RPGs and gaming as a form of therapy is an opportunity for us - to have that in our state libraries, so I'm looking at that. We team up with rural libraries and community libraries out there in Washington State - we're looking at doing more of that - creating game libraries out in the rural communities. They do it in Vancouver and in Spokane - they actually have game libraries where you can go and play games and it's an opportunity to create a safe space for young people out there in rural communities where a library is the only place where they can go to.

And of course, corporations, charities - you had mentioned that. We are on the verge of creating satellite offices so that you don't have to drive all the way to Olympia if you have a problem with your corporate filings and your nonprofit filings, so I'm looking forward to that. People shouldn't have to drive to Olympia if they're having major problems. And there's a lot of people out there just - it's hard for them to navigate the internet, especially those who are older. So we're doing a lot out there with the other agencies of my office, so thank you for bringing it up.

[00:35:53] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And so there are a few things - so many things we could talk about - these are all things that have areas, they're crucially important, they require deep expertise. You are there, and as in many departments and in many areas, there are very professional, dedicated, experienced staff who keep this running between and across administrations who are crucial to the work. But there are conversations about how important having a leader with experience in these types of work is. And that's been one of the areas that your opponent, Julie Anderson, has talked about as an advantage that she has in this race - as an auditor who, in addition to dealing with elections, also deals with a broad portfolio of responsibilities - that she has experience with many of these things, in addition to elections. And decades of experience she talks about, and that it's important to have that kind of experience in elections and in these other areas in the office, and saying you don't have it. How do you respond to that?

[00:37:06] Secretary Hobbs: Well, I would say that clearly she doesn't know my background. And again, I offer anyone to look at my background, but I've been in the military for 33 years. And I've had varying levels of experience in the military leadership - commanded recently a 750 joint task force dealing with COVID support operations in Western Washington. That is far more employees than I even have now as Secretary of State, far more than what Julie Anderson has in her office doing multiple tasks. And that's just not just one thing - commanding companies and commanding battalion-level units - multiple people in a unit. Also, the the fact that I'm doing it right now. I've been running the Secretary of State's office for almost a year, and no complaints - I really haven't heard any major complaints from anybody. And it's been a blast doing it, using my skills - not just in the military - but having a Master's in Public Administration, my service in the State Senate. It's not easy being Chair of Transportation and managing that very large budget and navigating legislation. So I have more than enough skill, right now, in this office. Again, I just invite you to look at the backgrounds of each of us.

[00:38:41] Crystal Fincher: Which makes sense. And so within those, what are you doing to preserve historical records, which is one of the things within the state - especially as we see in some areas, there are people who are much less interested in the preservation of historical records. And sometimes challenging that and attacking that at the federal level, bleeding down to other levels. And how do you make those records more readily available to the public than they are today?

[00:39:09] Secretary Hobbs: Ah, yes. Well, so one of the things that we're doing - and it's challenging, because we just have so much paper records right now - digitizing all those records. So we're trying to provide more, hiring more people to do that, hiring better equipment. Just as I got into office, I traveled all - most, pretty much all the state archives buildings, except for one - talking to rank and file there. When I went to Bellingham, I talked to the archives folks there. And they were telling me, Hey, we need a large scanner to be more efficient, because right now we got to take - so you got to scan sometimes larger maps and stuff, you got to send it all the way to Olympia. It's well, let's see if we can purchase and get you a scanner so that you can do it there to make things more efficient. So those are the things I've been looking at.

And of course, being able to have access to that online is very important to me. And digitizing our records is just one small part in keeping our records, but also telling the story about our state. As the state archives, I have the - we have the State Constitution, we have these old documents, and they shouldn't be behind a vault, a dark vault. People should see this, so I'm again, this is theoretical, and hopefully I have to get the Legislature's funding approval on this. But I'd like to bring these artifacts out, this history out, and travel the state and show people, show young people - visit, maybe, the high schools and elementary schools - hey, this is the history of our state. We're building a new library, and we're going to put a lot of info - not just our archives in there and books, but the state's history and the state's culture - let's tell the story about, especially in my community - I'm an Asian American, there's the Japanese that were put into camps. Let's talk about that story. Let's talk about Native, our Native peoples in this state - how we took their land and how they were struggling, and now they've become a political power in this state and how great that is, and how they have educated us on the environment - saving salmon. We need to tell these stories, and I've been looking at using our archives and our libraries to develop - not competition with you, of course - but doing a podcast.

[00:41:35] Crystal Fincher: I'm all for it. I'm all for it.

[00:41:38] Secretary Hobbs: Yeah, and talk and do it in the style of YouTube and Twitch, so there's interaction there at the same time. And I'm going to go on a bit of a tangent here, because I forgot to mention this, but - the listeners out there, if you're really into podcasts, there's one called Ear Hustle, which is a podcast ran by those incarcerated in the California penal system. And I want to do that here in the State of Washington. I want the prisoners to do their own podcasts to talk about how they got there, and how is life behind bars, and how they're changing themselves for the better. No, I really want to bring to life, light, what is going on in Washington State.

[00:42:26] Crystal Fincher: So is it fair to say that you would want to - we have our physical libraries, we have our archives across and around the state - that you want to also create a digital library that is accessible to researchers, to the public - to see these artifacts. I was on a different site reading treaties, actually, that are incredibly interesting - to see what was promised and agreed to, and what actually wound up being delivered - which are in most cases, two very different things. But is that what you're looking to do - to be able to have people access, have access to these things - to view, to see - virtually as well as in-person?

[00:43:08] Secretary Hobbs: Oh, yes, absolutely. You can do some of that already. But man, we have so much - so much archives. I was up in, again, the Bellingham one, and I pulled out this old, dusty, large leatherbound book. And I opened it up - a lot of the pages were empty. I just kept on turning the page, turning the page, and finally a page came up, and there was this story. It was very funny - it was nice handwriting - it basically said something like, Laura Smith marries David Hamilton, and two chickens, a cow, and some land was exchanged, or something like that. That, I don't know, I geek out over that. I think that's totally cool. It was a story of, obviously, a wedding, because we counties always record marriages, and that was recorded before the days of statehood in our territorial days. So all that needs to be preserved, that needs to be digitized, and we all need to see it. I think that's fantastic.

[00:44:09] Crystal Fincher: All right - so we have heard from several municipalities, several reporters in municipalities about challenges with record management. And this is another part of your portfolio - records management across the state, which is also really related to the ability to deliver on public records requests, public disclosure requests - the ability to do that. And how many challenges there are within the system - hearing from municipalities and from reporters across the state that wait times for documents, for discovering whether something exists or doesn't exist, for records that should have been retained that have been deleted - creating lots of challenges for - really the goal of retaining a record is so you can be able to access the information. And so people who are entitled to that information, including the public, can access their information. We are seeing so many challenges with that right now - in the length of time it takes to fulfill requests, in the consistency of how records are retained and managed. What can you do to improve that?

[00:45:15] Secretary Hobbs: Well, just like I said last time, I just got to get more people to do the digitization of our records and better equipment - especially the older documents - to have that scanned in. But the other thing that we've been noticing, Crystal, and maybe your listeners out there might know this - is the weaponization of the public records requests, where you have somebody making an outrageous request of a government agency to simply overwhelm them. And we have seen the rise of that as well, which is unfortunate, because that is not what the public records laws were meant to do. It was meant for transparency, not to overwhelm a local government with a frivolous request. Which is unfortunate - local governments and our own state government are struggling to try to keep up, but we have to be transparent, and that's what we constantly are trying to do.

[00:46:19] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and even that area is a big challenge. For the person making the request, it's always interesting, but I think there have been some instances - certainly that I can recall - where someone who disagrees with the nature of the request, or maybe it's from some political - people who disagree with decisions that they've made before, or reporters who are simply investigating what is going on - being characterized as malicious, but seemingly making some standard requests. Now, there are certainly bad actors out there, but that is not the entirety of the issue. And so for - looking at implementing records management processes across the state, assisting municipalities with that - is there anything that can be done? Is it a situation where truly - sure, we have these retention policies, we have to save this, but if we don't have the staff, then that's just it. And ultimately, then the public does not get access to information that they're entitled to. Are we really relying on allocations of funding from the Legislature and from other levels of government to be able to deliver upon this really basic entitlement that the public has?

[00:47:32] Secretary Hobbs: Well, there's certainly attempts and technology changes to make this easier, but it does come down sometimes to people. And so that is a struggle. But we've done a really good job of meeting the public records requests ourselves in our own - we're a separately elected agency - but some of these small towns and cities are, they're having some challenges out there.

[00:48:02] Crystal Fincher: Well, as we get close to wrapping up our time here, as voters are considering who they're going to choose in this election and trying to weigh - okay, I'm hearing arguments on one side, I'm hearing arguments from the opponent. Why should I choose you, and what am I going to see that's different, or what will I not see that's different - if they vote for you? What do you say to voters who are undecided as they consider this decision?

[00:48:33] Secretary Hobbs: What I would say to them is the Office of Secretary of State has changed. It has changed across the United States and those offices as well. It's not one that it just simply works with the counties to manage, oversee, and support elections. It is now one where you have to protect democracy, you have to protect elections from threats of misinformation and cyber threats. And I am the only candidate that has the background to do that - with my background in the military, having served in the NSA, with my background of being a Public Affairs Officer, being a graduate of Department of Defense Information School, knowing how to combat misinformation and combat cyber threats. Also, the fact that I can work across the aisle and have done so in my 15 years in the State Senate - it's the one of the reasons why I have Republican endorsements and why I've been endorsed by organizations that typically oppose each other, like the Association of Washington Business and the Washington State Labor Council. Also, we need to have somebody that understands and can speak for those communities that are underserved and underrepresented. I'm a son of an Asian immigrant. I am the first API member that's ever been Secretary of State, and I'm the only statewide official who's a person of color. We need to have somebody that represents them as well. And lastly, I ask you this - because in all these elections, when you're trying to get rid of someone, is that person just not working for you? Are they not doing a good job? I've been in this office for almost a year. Are there any complaints? If the horse is getting you to the place where you need to go to, and the horse is a good horse and strong and improving, why change horses? We've done, like I said, we've handled three fairly large misinformation campaigns that - reported in NPR and NBC News. We've had two special elections in a statewide primary, and those have gone smoothly. And then you've heard in this episode here about what I want to do with other aspects of the office, such as libraries and corporations and legacy. So if you're happy with those things, there's really no need to change. And so I'm hoping that you will give me a chance to do the full term. And just to think of the improvements that I can do in the next two years. And of course, I'm always going to be there to defend democracy, defend elections, because I did it for real in Kosovo and Iraq, and I'm doing it now as your Secretary of State.

[00:51:34] Crystal Fincher: Well, thank you so much for joining us today, for having this conversation, and for letting the voters get to know you a little bit more. Much appreciated. Thank you so much.

[00:51:42] Secretary Hobbs: Thank you.

[00:51:43] Crystal Fincher: Thank you all for listening to Hacks & Wonks. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler. Our assistant producer is Shannon Cheng, and our post-production assistant is Bryce Cannatelli. You can find Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks, and you can follow me @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered right to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave us a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.

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