District 24 senator eyes state lands role

Van De Wege wants to manage resources

Kevin Van De Wege.

Kevin Van De Wege.

PORT ANGELES — State Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, who has worked as a firefighter for 30 years, is running for the office of state commissioner of public lands, he announced Tuesday.

“I’ve been a state lawmaker for years, but I’ve been a firefighter my entire professional life,” Van De Wege, 48, said in a press release.

“When I say I understand the danger and destruction caused by wildfires, which are becoming more frequent and more destructive, I speak from experience. Of everything our state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) can do, preventing and reducing wildfires needs to top the list,” he added.

The present public lands commissioner, Hilary Franz, is running for governor.

Van De Wege, a Democrat who lives at Lake Sutherland with his wife Jennifer — a public school administrator — is serving his second term in the Senate following five terms in the House of Representatives. He represents Legislative District 24, which covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.

He said his emphasis as lands commissioner would be to manage natural resources, such as forest land, while improving job opportunities.

He noted Tuesday afternoon that he has lived in rural areas most of his life “that have struggled with natural resources jobs.

“I’m not going to be able to bring it back the way it was,” Van De Wege said, but his aim is to “do what we can to stabilize natural resource jobs. People should be able to work in natural resources and own a home and raise a family comfortably.”

“I hate the general poverty that places like Port Angeles have experienced,” he said.

Van De Wege, a lifelong Washington state resident, became a volunteer firefighter in Whatcom County in 1993, as soon as he was old enough to serve. He earned degrees in fire administration and fire investigation along with certification as a paramedic and first worked in Sunnyside in 1999 as a firefighter/paramedic.

He moved to Sequim in 2001, working as a firefighter/paramedic; he was promoted to lieutenant in 2008 and to captain in 2021.

Van De Wege chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks. He also serves on the Committee on Ways & Means that writes the state budget and on the Committee on Health and Long Term Care.

Van De Wege pointed to his accomplishments in the area of management of the state’s natural resources and parks: helping to secure permanent, year-round funding for a rescue tug at Neah Bay and keeping state parks open to the public even in the midst of severe budget challenges.

The purpose of the full-time rescue tug was to reduce the likelihood of oil spills and other problems from potential marine accidents and his work earned him a Sound Hero award from People for Puget Sound.

Van De Wege holds a bachelor’s in social science from Washington State University and a master’s in public administration from Fort Hays State University.

He and his wife, with whom he has two adult children, also have a home in Olympia.