OLYMPIA — Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib announced Thursday he would not seek reelection this fall in order to join the Jesuit religious order.
The announcement by Habib, considered a rising star in state Democratic politics, caught many elected Democratic officials by surprise.
The lieutenant governor’s decision means at least one of Washington’s nine statewide elected positions will be an open seat in the August primary and November general elections.
In light of Thursday’s news, state Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said he would run. Meanwhile, Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, and state Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown said they might consider a bid for the office.
Elected to the statewide position in 2016, Habib is an Ivy League-educated attorney, a Rhodes Scholar, a law professor and a former state representative and state senator from Bellevue.
The lieutenant governor has been known, among other things, for breaking barriers during his time in office. He has been the highest-ranking Iranian-American elected official anywhere in the United States.
After his statewide election, the Legislature installed a special system so Habib — who has been blind since age 8 — could preside over the Senate.
More recently, Habib has taken other roles, including creating a fellowship program in 2018 and being named in 2019 to the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders.
In a statement Thursday, Habib said he has “felt called to a different vocation, albeit one that is also oriented around service and social justice.”
“I have felt a calling to dedicate my life in a more direct and personal way to serving the marginalized, empowering the vulnerable, healing those who suffer from spiritual wounds and accompanying those discerning their own futures,” he wrote in the statement, which first appeared in America Magazine, a Catholic publication.
“I have also come to believe that, while we certainly continue to need people of goodwill to serve in elected office, meeting the challenges our country faces will require more than just policymaking,” he added later.
Several Democratic officials said the announcement caught them off-guard.
State Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said he was shocked because Habib had given every indication he would stay in office and potentially succeed Gov. Jay Inslee if he were to accept a job in a Democratic presidential administration.
“I had no inkling,” said Pedersen. “It’s doubly surprising that at the moment when it’s looking more likely that he could just move into the governor’s office.”
But Pedersen said as a fellow person of faith and regular churchgoer, he understands “it happens to people — that they sense a calling.”
Inslee in a statement called the news “unexpected” and said Habib called him about it Thursday morning.
“He has had a meteoric career in elected public service, so I was surprised when he called me this morning to say he wasn’t running again,” Inslee said in prepared remarks.
“While the news was unexpected, anyone who knows Cyrus is not surprised by his commitment to faith,” the governor added.
Senate Democratic Floor Leader Liias said he had an inkling that Habib was “restless,” especially as the lieutenant governor took on additional roles.
“It’s not anything he ever said, I just sensed that restlessness,” said Liias. With the fellowship work and serving on various boards, Liias said he thought Habib “wanted to accomplish more, and he wanted to achieve more.”
State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said Habib has seemed more contemplative and less engaged in the daily political dramas in the state capitol over the last year. “Not disinterested, but a bit removed,” he said.
Still, Carlyle said he knows of no one who saw Habib’s move coming. “People are just so off their chairs,” he said.
Hobbs confirmed he will run for the job. “I’m in,” he said. Hobbs also ran for the position in 2016, finishing fourth in an 11-person primary.
Liias said he is “taking a serious look” at running for lieutenant governor, but hasn’t made a decision. Brown, director of the state Department of Commerce and a former state senate majority leader, said “I’ll probably think about” running, too.
Habib had only raised $20,774 so far this campaign cycle, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
By contrast, Inslee has raised $3.2 million, Attorney General Bob Ferguson has raised $2.3 million and Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz has raised $763,000.
The lieutenant governor’s office is tasked with, among other things, presiding over the Senate while the Legislature is in session and filling in when the governor leaves the state on travel.
Habib’s decision comes as Washington voters are set to decide in elections this year a range of elected officials. Races on the ballot include governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, public lands commissioner, members of the Legislature and others.
Two Republicans are currently raising money to run for lieutenant governor: former Democratic Seattle council candidate Ann Davison Sattler and Joseph Brumbles. Brumbles in 2018 unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia.