With the unexpected decision earlier this year by current Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib to not seek re-election and instead join the Jesuit priesthood, a wide field of candidates ran to succeed Habib.
Of a slate that included two Libertarians, five Republicans and four Democrats, a plurality of voters selected two veteran Democrats for the general election: state Sen. Marko Liias, who represents the the 21st District in Snohomish County; and outgoing U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, who represents the state’s 10th Congressional District, which includes portions of Thurston, Pierce and Mason counties.
Since the late-1950s, the Office of Lieutenant Governor has been served by only four men: Democrat John Cherberg, from 1957 to 1989; Republican Joel Pritchard, 1989-97; Democrat Brad Owen, 1997-2017, and Democrat Habib’s one term.
The state’s lieutenant governor has a long list of responsibilities, among them: serving as acting governor whenever the governor leaves the state or if the governor were unable to serve; as president of the Senate, interpreting Senate and parliamentary rules; serving on 10 state committees or boards, including those addressing state finance, economic development and international relations, higher education facilities, and the state’s medals of valor and merit; and making appointments to more than 100 state boards and commissions.
In addition to those duties each lieutenant governor has shaped the office to offer leadership on important issues during his tenure. Liias and Heck now seek the state’s “bully pulpit.”
While the candidates — both of whom were interviewed jointly by the editorial board — are not widely divergent in their political views, the race offers voters a choice between a younger progressive and a more experienced moderate.
Liias, 39, a native of Snohomish County, won election to the Mukilteo City Council when he was 24, and was then appointed to a 21st District House seat in 2007, and appointed to the district’s state Senate seat in 2014. His current Senate term expires in 2023.
Heck, 68, a Washington state native, has represented his district in Congress since 2013. He also served as chief of staff for Gov. Booth Gardner, was elected five times to the state House and also was co-founder and president of TVW, the state’s public affairs channel and website.
One responsibility of the office has received more attention than in past elections, that of assuming the state’s top political office if the governor were to step down. Gov. Jay Inslee, in a separate interview, has said plainly that he will not accept a post with the federal government should Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden win in the Nov. 3 election. Still, both Heck and Liias said the possibility was a consideration prior to filing for office.
Both candidates maintained they would be ready to serve as governor if necessary, Heck noting that he has some familiarity with the responsibilities after working closely with Gov. Gardner. Heck insisted however, he would only serve in that role until voters chose a successor in the next general election. Liias offered no statement about running for the governor’s office. Both said they looked forward to working alongside Inslee.
Both candidates have the intelligence and experience to attend to the basic responsibilities of the office. And both have shown they can work with Republicans as successfully as they do with members of their own party. Which leaves the choice between the two to their priorities, experience and abilities in using the office’s visibility to lead on issues of importance to the state.
Liias, noting that Owen elevated the issues of economy and trade and Habib advocated for workforce training, said he would continue those efforts, adding emphasis on building the state’s community college system to develop workforce training, development of jobs, health care and the state’s budget and revenue challenges.
Adding to the office’s portfolio on economy and trade, Heck listed his desire to pursue investments in renewable energy, the availability of housing and environmental issues.
But more than a week before the announcement by the Boeing Co. that it would move production of the 787 out of Everett, consolidating the line in South Carolina, both candidates said that the future of aerospace in Washington state will need to be a focus for the office.
“I think we need to begin thinking about how it is we in effect become not just a manufacturing center but the aerospace center of excellence,” Heck said, identifying three areas of attention: recruiting leadership among the industry, meeting the needs of machinists and others who will be displaced by Boeing’s decision and bolstering the health of the aerospace supply chain, noting that more than 1,000 businesses in the state serve as suppliers to Boeing.
“We ought to have a serious investment in a strategic plan on how to make lemonade out of lemons,” Heck said.
Liias sees a necessity to continue to work with Boeing, regardless of the decision on the 787, as the company begins plans for its next airliner.
“We need to be laser-focused on the next airplane,” Liias said. “I think that Everett is still an excellent place to site that next new market airplane.”
And the state has maintained and can build on a good working relationship with Boeing, Liias said, noting that the Legislature acted quickly this year to adjust the company’s tax preferences — at its request — when the WTO rejected earlier tax incentives for the 777x.
“It sent a message to the company that we are still here in state government to be partners. We will look at the workforce, transportation and tax side to make sure we remain competitive,” Liias said.
The truth is that either Heck or Liias would be an able successor to Habib and a benefit to the state. The tie-breaker here is Heck’s past work in both state and federal offices and the institutional knowledge that his resume provides. Heck should have the voters’ confidence to succeed in this increasingly important role.