By RACHEL LA CORTE
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington state’s Secretary of State Kim Wyman is the last statewide-elected Republican on the West Coast and as she readies for a new election security job in the Biden administration she says she’ll approach it with her core philosophy: “Party politics aren’t as important as our country’s elections.”
Wyman, who battled misinformation from some within her own party during the 2020 election, will serve as the election security lead for the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the agency responsible for safeguarding U.S. elections.
In the role, she will serve as the federal government’s top liaison to the states.
“This is one of those unique opportunities that doesn’t come often in your career, where your experience and your knowledge are exactly what is needed at a certain point in time,” Wyman, 59, told The Associated Press during a recent interview in her office.
Wyman’s new job builds off of the outspoken role she took in the 2020 election cycle. She was a constant presence on national networks in the weeks leading up to the polls, extolling the safety and security of the vote-by-mail system in Washington state, a process in place for years, and disputing former President Donald Trump’s claims that mail-in voting was fraudulent.
“There wasn’t fraud in this election,” she said. “As a Republican, and having people within my own party accusing me of all sorts of things, what I know to be true is the great job that people did in the election sphere.”
Matt Masterson, who held Wyman’s new position from 2018 until December 2020, has known her for years and said she “is the absolutely perfect person to come into this role.”
“Elections security is not a partisan issue and Kim gets that and understands what needs to be done to support state and local officials so that they can run a secure process,” said Masterson, who is now a non-resident fellow at Stanford, doing research and work on election security and misinformation surrounding elections.
Last October, Wyman published the book “Elections 2020: Controlling Chaos: How Foreign Interference, a Global Pandemic, and Political Polarization Threaten U.S. Democracy.”
She said that many of the threats that existed back in 2016 and into 2020 have not gone away.
“Obviously foreign threat actors are still going to try to undermine our elections and try to infiltrate them,” she said. “The misinformation and disinformation campaigns continue to this day and we need to have ways to combat that.”
Wyman, is the fifth consecutive Republican secretary of state in Washington dating back to 1965, and was reelected to a third term in November. Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee appointed Democratic Sen. Steve Hobbs to replace her.
Hobbs will be sworn in Monday and serve until the general election in November 2022, which will determine who will serve the remainder of Wyman’s four-year term.
Wyman said she knows she is letting some people down by leaving before the conclusion of her term and breaking the chain of GOP secretaries of state in order to take the position within the Biden administration, but said “this is a call of duty to serve my country and that takes precedence.”
Rep. J.T. Wilcox, the state House minority leader, said that while he’s disappointed to see her go, Wyman “has been very steadfast in never allowing herself to be the least bit partisan.”
He noted that she faced two tough reelection bids and prevailed over her Democratic opponents in years where political divisiveness was high.
“It’s always a gift in politics when the best route to winning is just being yourself,” he said.
In a statement issued last month when news of Wyman’s appointment was announced, Inslee praised her work in the state, writing that he had “no doubt that her expertise, energy and focus will lead to more secure elections and help restore faith in the democratic process.”
When asked if she still considers herself a Republican, Wyman answered that she still believes “in the Republican principles that Ronald Reagan espoused 40 years ago that made me a Republican in the first place,” citing smaller government, a strong military and lower taxes.
“I think our party has gotten off track from principles, and now it’s a lot of tests of whether you are a real Republican or not and that’s for each of us to decide,” she said.
Wyman starts her cross-country trek to Virginia on Tuesday. When she arrives, she said she plans to register as an independent, citing both the desire to ensure neutrality in her new job and the fact that she’s “kind of ready to step away from politics in every way right now.”
“I may return to politics down the road, but right now I’m just going to be an independent American for a while,” she said.
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