The office of lieutenant governor sits deep in the heart of down-ballot purgatory. Unlike most states, the Olympia office is not a springboard to the U.S. Congress or the governorship. Nevertheless, the lieutenant governor serves as president of the state senate and assumes the governorship in the event of the governor’s death or resignation.
As voters, we should either pay attention to the occupant or chuck the office entirely. In 2012 the question is thrown into relief, with a dynamic and farsighted candidate challenging longtime Lt. Gov. Brad Owen. This year the Herald Editorial Board, which has endorsed Owen in the past, recommends Republican challenger Bill Finkbeiner.
Finkbeiner, a political wunderkind who was the state’s youngest senate majority leader, has been out of politics since 2006. He’s a refreshing paradox — a Republican endorsed by both Washington Conservation Voters and NARAL. More significantly, Finkbeiner advances a reform agenda that aims to change Olympia’s lobbyist-centric culture and breathe life into an otherwise fusty office.
Some of Finkbeiner’s reform proposals evoke a that-can’t-still-be-happening response. They include putting the kibosh on legislators collecting special-interest checks the day after weighing in on a bill and not allowing lobbyists in the senate chamber while members are voting (!) The latter sounds like something out of Tammany Hall, (hopefully) minus the envelopes of cash. Finkbeiner wants to cultivate a spirit of bipartisanship, literally eliminating the aisle in the senate chamber. However symbolic, it’s a hands-on idea to advance a more collaborative environment.
Owen, who has served for 16 years as lieutenant governor, has worked to promote international trade and serves as chair of the Legislative Committee on Economic Development and International Relations. Recently, Owen has come under a cloud. As the Associated Press first reported, Owen may face an ethics probe related to the operations of his now-defunct nonprofit, Strategies for Youth, which had a contractual relationship with his office. Yesterday, Owen and the Public Disclosure Commission came to an agreement on the lieutenant governor’s failure to report on time the source of almost $50,000 in contributions and $17,000 in expenditures, among other complaints. Owen vigorously denies any wrongdoing.
Owen, who has had a long career in politics, told the Editorial Board that he has done more for the office of lieutenant governor than any of his predecessors (the office was established in 1889.) What about the legendary Joel Pritchard, emblematic of the vital center and get-things-done bipartisanship? “A nice guy,” Owen said. “But he did nothing.”
The Herald Editorial Board recommends Republican Bill Finkbeiner, an energetic, thoughtful candidate who will serve his office, the new governor, and the people of Washington well.