A conversation with Mark Mullet, who is running for governor

The state Senator from the 5th Legislative District is known to go against the Democratic grain when it comes to tax votes.

Mark Mullet, an Issaquah resident of nearly two decades, balances the roles of a husband, father of six, business owner and senator of the 5th Legislative District. Now, he’s setting his sights on a new role: governor.

Before Mullet’s diverse portfolio, he was a boy living in Tukwila, raised by a father in construction and a mother working at the local elementary school.

Mullet graduated from Foster High School in 1990 and played Division III tennis at the University of Redlands in California, later transferring to Indiana University to study finance.

Mullet’s venture into politics ignited when he turned the coin from his 12-year finance career — traveling to London, New York and Philadelphia — to establishing roots in Issaquah with his family in 2006. Shortly after, he pursued a master’s degree in public administration at the University of Washington, graduating in 2008.

Before becoming a state senator in 2012, Mullet was on the Issaquah City Council from 2009 to 2013.

“I think the best thing about the city council form of government is it’s nonpartisan,” he said.

The city council is where Mullet said he learned to solve problems without “a bunch of political vitriol.”

“I ran for the Senate because I just wanted to be in a position to try to solve problems for the communities that I represent,” said Mullet, a Democrat. “To me, why I have the most independent voting record in the state Senate is because I don’t always vote on party line.”

Throughout his career, Mullet credits his father, Steven Mullet, as the root of inspiration at each level of his political career.

Steven Mullet owned and operated a construction company before running for Tukwila City Council, where he sat on the council for two terms. He then pivoted and became the first full-time mayor of Tukwila until 2007.

“It was all when I was working in London and New York doing finances when my dad became the mayor of Tukwila — the town where I grew up,” Mullet said. “He did not do that when I was a kid. He was a contractor and did kitchen remodels.”

As Mullet witnessed his father’s impact on his hometown, his eyes opened to the power of local public service: “That’s what led me to run for Issaquah City Council, that’s what led me to run for the state Senate in 2012, and that’s what is leading me to run the governor’s office.”

Running for governor

Mullet said the decision to run for governor was more recent, citing his children’s future as the primary motivation behind his candidacy.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time in the Senate. But I think my wife and I are just having huge anxiety that as our oldest daughter finishes her junior year up at [Western Washington University] right now… we were having anxiety about how she’s going to afford to stay and live in the area we both grew up,” he said.

As Mullet begins his race for governor, he said his priorities center on tackling affordability and public safety issues within Washington.

“We have to have solutions to these public policy challenges that actually keep our state affordable. At the same time, I think, in the last five years, we’ve gone backward on public safety,” he said. “We need a governor who’s going to prioritize being a better financial partner to cities and counties willing to make progress on public safety.”

Mullet vocalized his optimism in creative solutions to tackle issues instead of proposing more taxes.

“We can’t just tax our way out of every problem that we have,” he said.

Mullet pointed to the carbon tax that went into effect in 2023, which aims to cut carbon emissions by 45% over the next six years. Consequently, the cost of gas has increased by around 45 cents per gallon, according to the Washington Policy Center.

“They’re just pricing Washington families out of the state by driving gas prices up,” he said.

Mullet noted his opposition to over-taxing is a cardinal difference between him and fellow Democrat Bob Ferguson, the state’s attorney general whom current Gov. Jay Inslee has endorsed to succeed him as governor.

“I feel like I’ve got much more of a balance when it comes to tax proposals,” he said. “Whereas honestly, I think Bob Ferguson is just a rubber stamp…I’ve never heard him come out against any tax proposal the entire time we’ve both been in Olympia, not once.”

Mullet is known to go against the Democratic grain when it comes to tax votes, such as the 2019 new payroll tax for long-term care and the 2021 capital gains tax. He has recently pushed back on a 1% property tax cap under discussion in the current legislative session.

One creative solution Mullet mentioned is a Senate bill that would channel Washington’s cannabis tax revenue to cities and counties to increase public safety.

“Right now, that money just gets plopped into the general fund of the state budget,” Mullet said. “When the initiative passed to legalize marijuana back in 2012, we were supposed to be using that money to help fight substance abuse treatment challenges.”

As a business owner of a pizza shop and several ice cream shops in the region, Mullet said this gives him a unique perspective — compared to the last two lawyer-trained governors — which is his acute awareness of finances.

“The most common theme among all small business owners is the thing they hate most: wasting money. It drives them all crazy,” Mullet said. “I think that’s what we need right now in the governor’s office is somebody who literally hates wasting money.”

“We have a $70 billion budget right now. It’s just that we need to get more return for those dollars than what we’re currently getting,” he added.

Mullet referenced a proposed Senate bill that would help to revive the state’s transportation budget through the above-average pension returns the state collected during the pandemic.

“Instead of sending a billion dollars a year to the operating budget, which will then go to wherever, why don’t we split it, where the operating budget gets $500 million, and the transportation budget gets $500 million,” he said.

Mullet said this is a standard concept to him as a small business owner.

Amid the pandemic, Mullet’s pizza shop was prospering, while his ice cream shop in Bellevue Square faced challenges due to the prolonged closure of the mall.

Using funds from his pizza shop, Mullet was able to support his ice cream shop and keep it afloat.

“This is the thing; the operating budget has had some amazing years of revenue growth. Yet, there’s been no willingness to support our transportation budget where we have these huge challenges.”

Response from Bob Ferguson’s campaign

A campaign manager for Attorney General Bob Ferguson emailed this statement after this story was posted online:

“Senator Mullet has his facts wrong. I have a proven record of fiscal responsibility. As a King County Councilmember, I built balanced, bipartisan multi-billion-dollar budgets. I forced the County to purchase used furniture to save money. As Attorney General, my office takes on bad actors and has made them pay hundreds of millions of dollars directly to taxpayers. As Governor, I will bring accountability to government to build an economy that works for everyone.”