Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, a Democrat first elected to the office in 1996, said he was most proud of helping ordinary citizens navigate bureaucracy to get their problems solved.
OLYMPIA — In a speech before the state Senate on Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen announced he would not seek another term.
Owen, a Democrat first elected to the office in 1996, said that after a long political career, he was most proud of helping ordinary citizens navigate bureaucracy to get their problems solved.
But Owen also said he has “personally felt the sting of partisan politics” and called his recent ethics troubles the most painful event of his career.
In a 20-minute speech, Owen recapped his time in politics, which included earlier stints as a state representative and senator, and exhorted lawmakers to be responsive to the needs of citizens.
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“You are in a phenomenal position to help people,” he said, “so please use it.”
Owen, long known for his guitar-playing of oldie rock hits combined with an anti-alcohol and drug message, said he is unsure what he’ll do next. But he added, “There has been some interest in me doing international work.”
The departure by Owen, 65, creates a vacancy in an office with few official duties. But that hasn’t stopped a slew of candidates — eight so far — from announcing their candidacies or interest in the post.
The lieutenant governor is, if necessary, responsible for succeeding the governor, and also serves as president of the state Senate.
Owen wields a gavel on the Senate floor, helping to direct floor debates and interpret and enforce the nuanced and sometimes confusing rules of parliamentary procedure.
The lieutenant governor’s work in that realm could be seen in a debate last year over a statewide transportation package. Owen at that time decided not to enforce a Senate rule approved by Republican lawmakers to require a two-thirds majority vote threshold for new taxes.
Owen — who currently earns an annual salary of $100,880 — has also made foreign-trade trips during his time in office, including to China, Singapore, Great Britain, Peru and Taiwan.
But his tenure as lieutenant governor also has been marked by ethics troubles.
In 2014, Owen settled a case with the Washington State Executive Ethics Board after a complaint that he used state resources for Strategies For Youth (SFY), his now-defunct nonprofit organization.
SFY was a youth-outreach group Owen started in 1989 that offered anti-substance-abuse messages to students through music. Owen would perform with the band around the state, sometimes wearing an Elvis tie and playing classics like “Johnny B. Goode” in front of schoolchildren. SFY, which later expanded to include anti-bullying and other messages, ended in 2011 with a performance at Lister Elementary in Tacoma.
The board settlement imposed a $15,000 fine. But Owen had to pay only $10,000 — in installments of $416 per month — as long as he committed no other violations under that part of the ethics law for two years.
The settlement listed several areas where the lieutenant governor’s private work mingled with state business.
Owen admitted to the ethics board that SFY’s quarterly board meetings were conducted in his state office and that state staffers scheduled SFY activities. The lieutenant governor even hired one SFY employee in 2009, musician Brent Pendleton, to join his staff.
Irked at the $15,000 fine, Owen later tried to push state lawmakers to change the way ethics investigations work.
Earlier in his career, Owen settled a case with the ethics board in 1998 for allowing his state office to be used to assist a campaign working against a ballot proposition. His settlement then included a $7,000 fine, according to state records.
After his speech Tuesday, lawmakers thanked Owen in a series of floor speeches. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, of Ritzville, said he appreciated Owen’s help in learning how the Senate worked, as well as the lieutenant governor’s work on drug and alcohol awareness.
Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, praised Owen’s work of presiding over the Senate, saying the lieutenant governor’s rulings were ““fair and consistent.”
Several Democrats and Republicans have already jumped in the race to replace Owen. Democratic Sens. Cyrus Habib of Kirkland and Karen Fraser of Olympia, and Rep. Jim Moeller of Vancouver have all announced their candidacies. Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, has announced his interest.
Running as Republicans are former TV anchor and businessman Phillip Yin, former medical professional and radio host Martin McClendon, and Javier Figueroa, the mayor of University Place.
One Libertarian Party candidate, Paul Addis, has also declared his candidacy.