Martin “Iceman” Wheeler pulls up to up to Rainier High School parking lot in a compact Scion hatchback. Wheeler, 61, is a stout man with a moustache. A Minnesota Twins cap covers a mop of greying hair as he sips from a cup of homemade tomato soup.
The car heater hums in the background as we talk — for “security reasons,” his wife says — in the main cab of his vehicle.
Wheeler’s name will be on the primary election ballot this August. He’s not running for local office, though — he’s running to be the next governor of Washington
Over the last three years, Wheeler, a retired firefighter and former Roy resident of 42 years, has been planning a run for the governor’s office. But without having served in public office, no financial war chest and little to no name recognition, does his longshot campaign have a chance?
Well, he thinks so.
“What they know is I bring a very huge round-arena of police and fire, medicine, schools, agriculture (policies),” Wheeler said. “But I’m not here to ask you to elect me. I’m here because of my father — I’m here because he’s asked me (to) never give up.”
Wheeler, who describes himself as more of a data-driven candidate instead of a traditional speaker, said he’s running for governor on the issues of trash management reform, housing and mental health, education, reform of the Washington State Department of Transportation and work toward regulations that benefit law-abiding gun owners and law enforcement.
Wheeler is CEO of Oak Hills Farms, which he describes as a network of vegetable farms based in Fall City. The farm, which now grows mostly potatoes, rhubarb and onions, was originally founded by Wheeler’s father more than half a century ago in the rural outskirts of Roy.
After Wheeler’s retirement in 2001 from the fire department that would eventually become Central Pierce Fire and Rescue, he helped move his family farm from Roy to Fall City, near Snoqualmie.
Being a farming family, the Wheelers also have a hand in selling wholesale produce at farmers markets across the state. Wheeler said his father also helped found the Olympia Farmers Market.
Wheeler said he has an associate’s degree from Tacoma Community College and studied at Western Washington University.
“Iceman” originally threw his hat into the race because his peers wanted him to deregulate code enforcement so firefighters could carry weapons on fire engines.
Wheeler said he had pushed for his department’s right to carry weapons long before his coworkers approached him about the issue.
“They knew that I was around the Olympia arena with the farmers market,” Wheeler said. “Basically, I took about 2 seconds to say ‘yes’ in my heart, but I got tons of counsel. And then we put the strategy together.”
The state hasn’t voted in a Republican governor for nearly 40 years. The argument Wheeler gives for Democrats to vote for him is one of promoting and preserving inherent freedoms.
“They are tired of the way things are running right now and it boils down to the Second Amendment. I’ve never seen such a roar of displeasure,” Wheeler said of the Democratic Party.
More than a dozen candidates, including incumbent Gov. Jay Inslee, have announced their candidacy for governor, according to Ballotpedia. More than anything, Wheeler will likely face major hurdles in beating out five other Republicans.
Wheeler says he believes he’ll be the Republican candidate who will be able to flip the state red because he’ll be an open, honest person who will advocate for agriculture, police, public safety and schools.
As for his nickname, Wheeler said he originally got that from serving shaved ice at the farmers market.
“It came from the kids,” Wheeler said. “The kids began to say ‘Hey, there’s Iceman.’ And I said, OK, that’s what we’re going to gravitate toward. Iceman. If you don’t have the farmers markets on your side, you’re not getting elected.”