When U.S. Rep. Denny Heck announced his retirement from Congress in December, the Olympia Democrat said he was fed up with a lack of civil discourse in Washington, D.C., and would prefer to spend time at home in Olympia with his wife, and write books instead of running for a fifth term.

But Heck isn’t through with politics after all. He’s running for Washington lieutenant governor in the wake of last month’s surprise announcement by incumbent Cyrus Habib, who decided not to seek reelection and instead join the Jesuit religious order.

In announcing his candidacy Thursday, Heck was endorsed by former Gov. Christine Gregoire, who said Heck will bring a steady hand to the office and use it to promote the state’s economy.

“We are entering an unprecedented era where a civil and fair approach to politics is urgently called for to get things done for Washington families,” Heck said in a written statement. “Especially in times like these, we need civility and decency in our political discourse and bold economic leadership to rebuild economic prosperity to every community.”

The lieutenant governor is officially responsible for presiding over the Senate while the Legislature is in session and filling in when the governor travels out of state. But occupants of the office have sought to broaden their scope of influence by going on trade missions and supporting other favored causes.

There has been speculation that the position could be an easy steppingstone to the governor’s office if Gov. Jay Inslee wins a third term this fall but later accepts a job in a Democratic presidential administration. But Heck said while he’d be ready to assume the duties of governor temporarily in such a scenario, he would not become a candidate for the office in any subsequent election.

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“I will not stand for election, period,” he said.

Heck said when he made the decision to leave Congress, he had no idea the lieutenant governor position — a job he’s always eyed as a good fit — would become open.

Political discourse in Congress is a whole lot more toxic than it is here,” he said. “Part of the reason I am so motivated, frankly, is I hope to keep the political discourse at the state level from getting as bad as D.C.”

The lieutenant governor’s race is already getting crowded. Democratic state Sens. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, and Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, are running, with Liias this week receiving an endorsement from Habib, who said he “understands the role of Lieutenant Governor better than any other legislator.” Hobbs ran unsuccessfully for the office in 2016; Liias ran unsuccessfully that year for state treasurer.

On the Republican side, candidates include Ann Sattler, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for Seattle City Council last year; and Joseph Brumbles, who ran unsuccessfully against Heck in the 10th Congressional District in 2018.

Heck was elected to the newly formed 10th Congressional District in 2012 and has been a player in state politics for decades.

He was elected to the state House of Representatives at age 24 and served for 10 years in the 1970s and 1980s. He was chosen by his Democratic colleagues as majority leader from 1981 to 1985. He was a founder of TVW, the state’s version of C-SPAN, which broadcasts state government proceedings. He ran unsuccessfully for state schools superintendent in 1988 and later served as chief of staff to Gov. Booth Gardner.

Heck says he will continue to serve out the remainder of his congressional term through this year.