Hobbs has eye on lieutenant governor’s office — if the job is open

State Sen. Steve Hobbs isn’t shy about his political ambitions.

The Lake Stevens Democrat has been very open about wanting to add to his political resume in 2016 by becoming the state’s next lieutenant governor.

That is, if the job is open.

Hobbs made clear he won’t run for the statewide office if the current five-term lieutenant governor, Brad Owen, seeks re-election.

“I am considering it depending on what he does,” Hobbs said. “Right now we have an effective lieutenant governor, and until that changes I’m happy to continue working on economic development, transportation and education issues for the hard working people in my district.”

Hobbs must be confident Owen will decide to not run, because he’s already mulling the kinds of obstacles he’d face in what would be his first statewide campaign. One issue, money, is not an immediate problem. He’s socked away about $150,000 in surplus campaign funds that could be used.

But Hobbs’ iterated that his decision hinges on whether Owen runs again or retires.

And Owen said, “I’m not sure when that decision will be made.”

To keep his options open, Owen said he would register as a candidate with the state Public Disclosure Committee. And he’ll set up a campaign committee to raise money, should he go forward.

All this campaign talk is pretty rare for a fairly unique position in state government, with both executive and legislative duties.

The lieutenant governor is president of the state Senate. He presides during floor sessions and, as the chamber’s lead parliamentarian, can issue rulings which uphold or derail contested legislative maneuvers.

And the lieutenant governor is first in the line of gubernatorial succession, which means he steps in as acting governor whenever the governor one is out of state or otherwise unable to serve. It happened 69 days in 2011 and 45 in 2012.

Owen has been doing this job for a long time. He was first elected in 1996. He’s guided the state Senate through its share of rough-and-tumble sessions with a steady hand and timely humor.

But he could face a tough time securing a sixth term because of his past off-the-dais behavior.

In 2014, the Washington State Executive Ethics Board fined him for improper use of state resources in support of his now-defunct nonprofit Strategies for Youth. Among its findings, the board concluded staff in the lieutenant governor’s office worked on taxpayer time for the nonprofit.

Owen insisted he did nothing wrong but agreed to pay the fine to put the episode behind him. But that issue is certain to resurface should he run again and it may be too much to overcome.

Meanwhile, it’s not abundantly clear why Hobbs – who was mentored by Aaron Reardon and, in turn, mentored Kevin Hulten – now wants to be lieutenant governor. Last year, Hobbs was weighing a run for county executive.

The job would pay a greater salary and give him the title of acting governor a few times a year. But the 45-year-old husband and father of three would lose much of the influence he now enjoys in the Legislature.

“It is a leadership role. It is an executive position,” he explained. “I see the office as more than presiding over the Senate. It is a means to move our state forward and facilitate a compromise when both parties are at loggerheads over an issue.”

And a means for the ambitious Hobbs to build on his political resume – but only if the job opens up.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com and on Twitter at @dospueblos

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