Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib’s announcement that he would leave office to join the clergy created a surprise opening in one of Washington’s highest offices. Far from being an honorific position, the lieutenant governor controls the flow of Senate business and fills in for the governor when needed. 

Little wonder that a stampede of 11 candidates filed for the job. U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, who came in first in the crowded primary, clearly excels as the choice Washington’s voters should make. Heck is a moderate Democrat with a long history of making wise decisions on complex issues.

In this extraordinary time, having Heck willing to come back to Olympia is a full-fledged boon. Heck’s integrity will be sorely needed to run the Senate impartially as highly charged proposals to repair the budget come up for debate. His enthusiasm for the lieutenant governor’s obscure but important duty boosting business — along with his knowledge from eight years of trade advocacy in Congress — can help the state’s business sector bounce back from the COVID-19 free fall. 

Seattle Times editorial board endorsements: Election 2020

Those roles are certainties of the lieutenant governorship Heck is uniquely poised to address. But a major reason voters should choose Heck is a contingency factor. He is a head-and-shoulders better pick to run the state as a substitute for the governor. And although Gov. Jay Inslee insists he’s committed to being Washington’s governor if reelected this fall, a Democratic victory in the presidential race could change his calculus. Cabinet appointments are rare opportunities. If Inslee finds a chance to fix the other Washington too tempting to pass up, he can make such a decision knowing Heck would be a capable interim steward. 

Heck’s career — within and outside government — is replete with reasons to have confidence in his abilities. He has served in the Legislature and as Gov. Booth Gardner’s chief of staff, experiences which give him deep knowledge of state government’s functions and needs. He founded the invaluable public resource TVW to broadcast important civic affairs throughout the state. And he built a corporate-solutions company in Seattle from the ground up to hundreds of employees. 

In Washington’s time of dire need, Heck has the potential to be a steadying leader. His opponent, Democratic State Sen. Marko Liias, speaks of using the lieutenant governorship as a springboard for a generational power shift. 

By contrast, Heck told this editorial board he would not run for a full term as governor if the line of succession put him in that office to manage multiple crises. “Anyone airdropped in and immediately running (for reelection) is not going to have the bandwidth,” he said.

That’s foresight. That’s why voters should choose Denny Heck for lieutenant governor.