February 23, 1996 in Nation/World

Lowry Declares He’s Out Of Running Surprise Announcement Throws Governor’s Race Wide Open

Lynda V. Mapes Tom Roeder Contributed Staff writer
 

Flanked by his wife and daughter, Gov. Mike Lowry dropped a bombshell Thursday on the 1996 gubernatorial race, announcing he won’t be in it.

The state’s top Democrat said he wants to focus on being “the best governor I can be” for the remaining 11 months of his term and be on hand to help his ailing mother, 83, and father-in-law, 82.

Lowry also said he doesn’t want to spend another five years in the public eye. “Our privacy is very important,” he said of his family.

He said he reached the decision in conversation with his family over the weekend.

“Whether or not you win or lose is not as important as your family,” said Mary Lowry, the governor’s wife.

Badgered by the press to attribute a political calculus to his decision or discuss how his record in office had positioned him for re-election, Lowry said, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

Asked how a sexual harassment scandal that engulfed him last year factored in, he had a two-word answer: “Did not.”

Glum supporters and staff members watched as the 56-year-old governor made the announcement in an ornate conference room adjoining his Capitol office. But Lowry and his wife and their 21-year-old daughter, Diane, appeared relaxed, even elated.

The governor declined to name a preferred candidate for his job.

His decision throws the gubernatorial contest wide open, with more Democratic candidates expected to enter the field. GOP candidates now face a tougher race, some said.

“The prospect of running against Mike Lowry was too good a fantasy to be true,” said Brett Bader, a conservative political analyst.

Lowry faced mounting political woes. A recent statewide poll conducted for The Spokesman-Review and KHQ-TV found only one in four voters rated Lowry’s job performance as excellent or good, and only 14 percent said they would vote for him again.

Character was also rated as the most important issue in the race, and there, too, Lowry faced questions.

A former press aide, Susanne Albright alleged last year that the governor touched her inappropriately and made lewd comments. Last summer, Lowry agreed to an out-of-court settlement, paying Albright $97,500 out of his own pocket in return for her agreement not to sue him.

Albright said Thursday she was pleased by the governor’s decision but doubted Lowry’s claim that the scandal had nothing to do with it.

“That’s a little tough to swallow. It’s not like his numbers were great before it happened, but it’s pretty hard to go through a year and a half of this and say it didn’t affect you.”

She predicted the scandal would cloud Lowry’s legacy. “I would love to kid myself. But I will be remembered for this. And so will he.”

Top Democrats said they were glad Lowry was out of the race because of the sexual harassment issue.

“I am saddened but relieved by Mike’s decision,” said Paul Berendt, chairman of the state Democratic Party.

“I think this increases our ability to win and retain the governor’s office. The way I see it, Mike Lowry would have won the primary and had a very hard time in the general election.”

But many were puzzled by the timing of the announcement. Lowry has long said he would not announce his intentions until after the legislative session, which is in its final two weeks, when deals on major bills are cut.

“I don’t know why he would do this now. It will make it very hard for him to have much impact,” said Ken Eikenberry, chairman of the state Republican Party. “He still has his veto pen, but that’s about it.”

Women’s groups had already announced they would not support Lowry if he chose to run again.

“I’m really quite pleased that Mike made this announcement now,” said Maralyn Chase, state co-chairwoman of the Women’s Political Caucus, which dropped its support of Lowry last summer because of Albright’s allegations.

“Our consensus was that Mike disqualified himself from representing women.”

Democratic political consultant Cathy Allen rated the scandal as one more nail in the coffin.

“You’ve got a governor who came in, raised taxes, did his own thing on health care and burned a lot of bridges all in his first year,” she said. “Then came the Republican victory in 1994, and low poll numbers that never improved. Mike Lowry is stubborn, and pays attention to only his own advice, but Mike is not stupid.”

Berendt said Jennifer Belcher, state commissioner of public lands; Bob Drewel, Snohomish County executive; King County Executive Gary Lock; and Seattle Mayor Norm Rice would all be good Democratic candidates.

King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, a front-runner among GOP candidates, said Lowry’s news doesn’t change things much for him. “The face of the campaign changed, but the issues remain the same.”

Like many, Sen. James West, R-Spokane, was surprised by the news. “I fully expected him to run.”

Longtime Lowry supporters said they were saddened by the decision. “It’s going to be hard without his spirit out there - his willingness to sail against the wind,” said Gary Moore, a top Lowry aide who’s known him more than 20 years.

“I am sad,” said Mark Brown, director of the state Department of Labor and Industries, who has known Lowry since 1969. “But happy also, because this is absolutely the best decision for him and his family.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo Graphic: Gubernatorial candidates?

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. Lowry’s troubles Mike Lowry experienced three controversial years as governor, with personal scandals and political setbacks that could have plagued a re-election campaign. Here are some of the problems he faced: Sexual misconduct - Former press aide Susanne Albright said Lowry gave her uninvited pats and hugs while she worked for him. She never filed a formal complaint and a 1995 investigation said the behavior did not constitute sexual harassment. Women’s groups criticized his lack of sensitivity. He paid Albright $97,500 to avoid a lawsuit. Speeding - Lowry was stopped by state troopers three times for speeding but the governor was not given tickets. He said each was a situation in which other drivers normally would not be ticketed. Although he is their boss, Lowry said he never told the troopers not to give him a ticket. “I didn’t ask them to give me a ticket, either, but I doubt if too many people do that.” Alcohol allegations - Former campaign aides said Lowry appeared to have a drinking problem during the 1992 election, a problem so obvious the staff met to discuss it. The governor and his wife, Mary, denied he has an alcohol problem, and that the meeting was held to allay fears among the staff. Higher taxes - During the 1992 campaign, Lowry said he would raise taxes only as a last resort. In 1993, he pushed through an increase in the state business and occupation tax. He vetoed a rollback of those taxes in 1995, but the Legislature overrode the veto this year. Health care - In 1993, Lowry led the drive to reform medical insurance, placing Washington at the front of a national issue. In 1995, the Legislature forced him to scale back that program, and the governor angered old allies by calling the new system better than the one they had fought for. Democrats defect - Senate Democrats, who have a one-seat majority, are ignoring much of Lowry’s legislative agenda and many endorse Sen. Nita Rinehart of Seattle for the job. - Jim Camden

2. A look back Mike Lowry has been a fixture in Washington politics for more than 20 years. Here’s a look at his political history: March 8, 1939 - Lowry born in St. John. He graduated from Endicott High School in 1957; Washington State University in 1962. 1969 - Staff assistant in the state Legislature. 1975 - Elected to King County Council, legislative body for state’s largest county. 1978 - Elected to U.S. House of Representatives from 7th District in Seattle. Re-elected four times. 1983 - Ran for U.S. Senate for the seat opened by Henry Jackson’s death. Lost to former Gov. Dan Evans. 1988 - Gave up House seat to run for U.S. Senate when Evans retired. Lost to Slade Gorton. 1989 - Became government and political science instructor at Seattle University. 1992 - Elected governor, beating GOP Attorney General Ken Eikenberry. 1993 - Approved increase in state business and occupation tax. Statewide poll shows 31 percent of voters rate his job performance excellent or good. 1995 - Denied allegations by former press aide that he fondled her, but agreed to a $97,000 settlement. 1996 - Legislature overrode Lowry veto and rolled back tax increase. Feb. 22 - Announced he will not seek re-election.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Lynda V. Mapes Staff writer Staff writer Tom Roeder contributed to this report.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. Lowry’s troubles Mike Lowry experienced three controversial years as governor, with personal scandals and political setbacks that could have plagued a re-election campaign. Here are some of the problems he faced: Sexual misconduct - Former press aide Susanne Albright said Lowry gave her uninvited pats and hugs while she worked for him. She never filed a formal complaint and a 1995 investigation said the behavior did not constitute sexual harassment. Women’s groups criticized his lack of sensitivity. He paid Albright $97,500 to avoid a lawsuit. Speeding - Lowry was stopped by state troopers three times for speeding but the governor was not given tickets. He said each was a situation in which other drivers normally would not be ticketed. Although he is their boss, Lowry said he never told the troopers not to give him a ticket. “I didn’t ask them to give me a ticket, either, but I doubt if too many people do that.” Alcohol allegations - Former campaign aides said Lowry appeared to have a drinking problem during the 1992 election, a problem so obvious the staff met to discuss it. The governor and his wife, Mary, denied he has an alcohol problem, and that the meeting was held to allay fears among the staff. Higher taxes - During the 1992 campaign, Lowry said he would raise taxes only as a last resort. In 1993, he pushed through an increase in the state business and occupation tax. He vetoed a rollback of those taxes in 1995, but the Legislature overrode the veto this year. Health care - In 1993, Lowry led the drive to reform medical insurance, placing Washington at the front of a national issue. In 1995, the Legislature forced him to scale back that program, and the governor angered old allies by calling the new system better than the one they had fought for. Democrats defect - Senate Democrats, who have a one-seat majority, are ignoring much of Lowry’s legislative agenda and many endorse Sen. Nita Rinehart of Seattle for the job. - Jim Camden

2. A look back Mike Lowry has been a fixture in Washington politics for more than 20 years. Here’s a look at his political history: March 8, 1939 - Lowry born in St. John. He graduated from Endicott High School in 1957; Washington State University in 1962. 1969 - Staff assistant in the state Legislature. 1975 - Elected to King County Council, legislative body for state’s largest county. 1978 - Elected to U.S. House of Representatives from 7th District in Seattle. Re-elected four times. 1983 - Ran for U.S. Senate for the seat opened by Henry Jackson’s death. Lost to former Gov. Dan Evans. 1988 - Gave up House seat to run for U.S. Senate when Evans retired. Lost to Slade Gorton. 1989 - Became government and political science instructor at Seattle University. 1992 - Elected governor, beating GOP Attorney General Ken Eikenberry. 1993 - Approved increase in state business and occupation tax. Statewide poll shows 31 percent of voters rate his job performance excellent or good. 1995 - Denied allegations by former press aide that he fondled her, but agreed to a $97,000 settlement. 1996 - Legislature overrode Lowry veto and rolled back tax increase. Feb. 22 - Announced he will not seek re-election.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Lynda V. Mapes Staff writer Staff writer Tom Roeder contributed to this report.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email