In this 2019 photo, Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib presides over the Senate at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

In this 2019 photo, Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib presides over the Senate at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Washington’s lieutenant governor leaving for the priesthood

Cyrus Habib’s decision to forgo re-election creates a rare opening this year for a statewide office.

OLYMPIA — Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib said Thursday that he is not running for re-election and will join the Jesuit order of the Catholic Church to start the process of becoming a priest.

Within hours, one Democratic state senator from Snohomish County said he will seek the job while another said he is seriously considering it.

Habib, the state’s first blind lieutenant governor, said the decision comes after “two years of careful and prayerful discernment.”

A Democrat who has served in the position since 2017, Habib previously served in the state House and Senate. He said he understood why many constituents and supporters may be surprised and wondering why he “would trade a life of authority for one of obedience.”

“But over the past couple of years, I have felt called to a different vocation, albeit one that is also oriented around service and social justice,” he wrote in a statement in America, a Jesuit magazine.

“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.”

The second highest position in the state, the lieutenant governor is best known as the president of the Senate and presides over that chamber during the legislative sessions, ensuring that protocol is followed and weighing in on parliamentary questions that arise during debate.

Habib’s decision creates a rare opening this year for a statewide office. A crowded field of candidates could quickly form especially among Democrats.

Two Republicans had already begun their campaigns for the office — Joseph Brumbles, who lost to Democratic U.S. Rep. Denny Heck in 2018, and Ann Sattler, who ran unsuccessfully for a Seattle City Council seat in 2019.

On Thursday, state Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, launched his campaign. He ran for the same post in 2016 and lost to Habib in the primary.

Hobbs, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, is midway through his fourth term. He said he’s well-versed with the people, politics and procedures of the chamber.

“I have the experience to wield the gavel, he said.

A moderate, he’s worked with Republicans and business interests on some policies — sometimes too closely for progressive Democrats. The past two sessions, for example, he’s bottled up legislation for a clean fuels standard in the transportation committee.

“We need strong leadership,” he said. “As someone who can work across the aisle to get things done and who is not afraid of political controversy, I’m ready to be that leader.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, said Thursday he’s “seriously thinking” about running after receiving “a lot of encouraging messages from supporters.”

Liias is the Senate Majority Floor Leader. He ran for state treasurer in 2016 and finished third in the primary.

Senator Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, seen here in 2017, said he is “seriously thinking” about running for Lt. Governor. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Senator Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, seen here in 2017, said he is “seriously thinking” about running for Lt. Governor. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

In 2016, when then Democratic lieutenant governor Brad Owen retired, 11 candidates competed in the primary, including three Democratic state senators — Habib, Hobbs and Karen Fraser of Olympia.

Habib won the primary and went on to defeat Republican Marty McLendon.

When Habib joined the House in 2013, he was given a Braille reader and software on his laptop that provided both Braille and text-to-speech translation for the multitude of bills, emails and news stories he reads daily. He was elected to the Senate in 2014, and before he was sworn in as lieutenant governor in January 2017, the Senate underwent a makeover that incorporated Braille into that chamber’s floor sessions.

The desks of 49 senators got upgraded with a system that allows Habib to know by the touch of his finger which lawmaker is seeking to be recognized to speak.

Habib, 38, completely lost his eyesight to cancer at age 8. He went on to become a Rhodes Scholar and an editor of the law review at Yale before becoming an attorney.

Gov. Jay Inslee called Habib’s life and career “an inspiration to many.”

“While the news was unexpected, anyone who knows Cyrus is not surprised by his commitment to faith,” Inslee said in a written statement. “I have no doubt his future in the Jesuit priesthood will bring much good to a world that needs it right now.”

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