OLYMPIA — Cyrus Habib’s surprise decision not to run for reelection in order to join the Society of Jesus has set up an 11-candidate scramble to be Washington’s next lieutenant governor.
One of Washington’s nine statewide elected positions, the lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate when the Legislature is in session, and fills in when the governor travels out of state. Over the years, the role also included a focus on international relations, such as foreign-trade trips and advocacy for education.
Yet this year’s race brings a touch of intrigue, since the lieutenant governor would also ascend to the state’s top job if it became vacant. Watchers of state politics envision a scenario where a President Joe Biden could appoint Gov. Jay Inslee to a federal position in his administration.
Inslee, who last year sought the Democratic nomination for president, is now seeking a rare third term. He has said he would complete that term if voters reelect him.
For lieutenant governor, 11 candidates are facing off in the Aug. 4 primary. The top two vote-getters will advance to November. Ballots are getting mailed this week.
The two most prominent Democrats in the race are U.S. Rep. Denny Heck of the Olympia area’s 10th Congressional District and state Sen. Marko Liias of Lynnwood.
Heck — who among other roles has been a state legislator, chief of staff for former Gov. Booth Gardner and co-founder of TVW, the state’s public-affairs channel — announced in December that he wouldn’t run for a fifth term in Congress.
In that announcement, he condemned attacks against the free press as well as President Donald Trump’s “distant relationship with the truth” and the unraveling of public discourse.
But with Habib’s announcement to step down, Heck plunged into the lieutenant governor’s race. If elected, Heck said he wants use the office to help keep Olympia from going down that road.
“The fact of the matter is, if you allow the disagreements to become personal, that affects your ability to get to solutions on … issues where you ought to be able to,” Heck said.
Heck, 67, has far out-raised the rest of the field, pulling in $657,000 in contributions as of Thursday, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC).
He’s gotten endorsements from, among others, former longtime Lieutenant Gov. Brad Owen and former governors Christine Gregoire and Gary Locke.
Heck described the possibility of Inslee’s appointment to a Biden administration as “the elephant in the room.”
While he touted his long experience in government and business, Heck said he wouldn’t run for governor in a special election if that scenario played out.
“I believe that whomever is lieutenant governor, should that circumstance occur, ought to focus on the crises before us … to the budget situation, to rebuilding the economy, to achieving some racial justice,” Heck said. “And not be talking to political consultants or commissioning polls or engaging in a campaign.”
Liias, who holds the leadership position of Senate Democratic floor leader, touts himself as the most progressive candidate in a party that has moved to further to the left in recent years.
First joining the Legislature in 2008, Liias said he wants to use the lieutenant governor’s office as a platform to advocate for progressive causes. That would effectively continue the way Habib — who has endorsed Liias — has viewed the office’s role.
In that spirit, Liias said he would advocate for universal healthcare, equality for the LGBT community and “be a clear voice for the kind of progressive tax reform we need, to balance our tax code.”
Liias — who has raised about $167,000 — said he would bring a diverse perspective to the office since he is a millennial who would also be the state’s first openly gay lieutenant governor.
Would he run for governor if Inslee decamped for the other Washington?
“I don’t want to rule it out or rule it in,” said Liias, 39. But, “I am not running for a backdoor path for the governor’s mansion.”
For Republicans, the focus falls on Ann Davison Sattler, a former Democrat who ran unsuccessfully last year for the Seattle City Council, and Marty McClendon, the GOP candidate who ran against Habib in 2016.
Sattler, an attorney and former executive for the Seattle SuperSonics, said she switched parties after her experience in that nonpartisan council race, “and really getting to see kind of up close the inner workings of a machine and power-holders within that.”
“The party switch is really about that we’ve got to open up our minds to differing political thoughts, we have to see it happen from within Seattle and King County,” said Sattler, 51. “We need to have political balance.”
Sattler — who has raised $70,000 — said she would be a “bridge builder” to bring together differing perspectives, “so that we really can have the sharpest, most strategic approach to an issue.”
That approach could include even abolishing the lieutenant governor’s office, which Sattler suggested as a way to save money during the economic downturn brought on by the coronavirus.
“You’ve got to think outside the box and everything has to be on the table,” she said.
A host of Republican legislative leaders and lawmakers have endorsed her, as well as former Gov. Dan Evans and former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton.
As a longtime Seattle resident, Sattler said she has the best chance of any Republican to capture a statewide office in a state that now largely elects Democrats to such positions.
McClendon, who works in real estate and hosts a conservative radio show, faced off against Habib in 2016, capturing 45.6% of the vote that November.
In deciding to run again, McClendon cited several decisions by Democrats in recent years after they added control of the state Senate to their longtime hold on the House and governor’s office.
He criticized recent tax increases, as well as the passage of a comprehensive sex-education law that will appear on the ballot in November as a referendum.
“I think things are getting worse, and you have this ultra-partisanship, sort of ‘we’re going to do what we want to do, we’re not going to include the other side,'” said McClendon, a 53-year-old Fox Island resident. “I think we need to change that.”
McClendon — who is also a former chairman of the Pierce County Republican Party — has raised about $16,200 as of Thursday.
Other candidates who filed to run include former GOP state Rep. Richard “Dick” Muri and Joseph Brumbles, who in 2018 unsuccessfully challenged Heck for the 10th District congressional seat. As of Friday, Muri had raised $1,850 and Brumbles — who has also filed to run as a Republican — had raised $6,900.
Also running are Democrats Michelle Jasmer and James Rafferty, Republican Bill Penor, and Libertarians Matt Seymour and Jared Frerichs.
News researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.