It’s a popular job: 8 aspire to be lieutenant governor

  • Why are so many people running to become Washington’s next lieutenant governor?
  • Wednesday, March 2, 2016 2:14pm
  • Local News

So far eight candidates, including four state lawmakers, are in the race or, in the case of one person, about to enter.

That’s not counting Lt. Gov Brad Owen who has held the job since 1997, because next week I expect him to announce he will not seek a sixth term.

More candidates have emerged for this job than for governor (six), superintendent of public instruction (five), auditor (three), public lands commissioner (two), secretary of state (two), treasurer (two), attorney general (one) or insurance commissioner (one).

It’s perplexing. Although the lieutenant governor is first in the line of gubernatorial succession, it is generally viewed as a bookend for political careers rather than a stepping stone to becoming the state’s chief executive.

Of the 15 men who have held the office since Washington became a state, three ascended to governor. But Henry McBride, Marion Hay and Louis Folwell Hart each did so as a result of the death of a sitting governor.

Typically, lieutenant governors must be satisfied with filling in as governor whenever the real one is out of state or otherwise unable to serve. It happened 69 days in 2011 and 45 in 2012, for example.

Although the statewide position lacks obvious upward political mobility, it does pay better. The next lieutenant governor will earn $101,889 a year, which is twice what legislators’ make.

And it can carry political heft.

The lieutenant governor is president of the state Senate, a central figure in the daily machinations and dramas of the chamber. It means presiding in floor sessions, maintaining partisan peace as best one can. And as the chamber’s lead parliamentarian, the lieutenant governor issues rulings which uphold or derail contested legislative maneuvers.

As of Wednesday, four Democrats, three Republicans and one Libertarian had enrolled with the state Public Disclosure Commission as candidates for lieutenant governor.

The big primary fight will be among the Democrats, each of whom has proven they can raise money, conduct campaigns and win elections.

Sens. Cyrus Habib of Bellevue and Karen Fraser of Olympia, and Rep. Jim Moeller of Vancouver, started their electoral journeys last year. Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, started talking about it last year, formed an exploratory committee last month and is expected to officially jump in when the session ends.

Republican Philip Yin of Sumner is emerging as the best GOP hope to be one of the top two vote-getters when the dust of the primary settles.

As for those Democrats, the intrigue in the coming months will be to understand better each one’s motivations for seeking the office.

Fraser, a 28-year legislative veteran, and Moeller, a six-term state representative, are each forgoing likely re-election to run. That means it’s all or nothing for them this year.

Habib and Hobbs are both midway through their terms and will still serve in the Senate if they lose. But they are both young and too politically ambitious to make this job the last entry on their resume, should one win.

Back to the original question: Why do so many established lawmakers want the job?

Maybe it’s as simple as desiring the bully pulpit for their political philosophies.

Voters will be the ones to answer that question.

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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