October 13, 2012 in Opinion

Editorial: Finkbeiner right choice for lieutenant governor


The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

Races for lieutenant governor seldom make voter radar screens. That should not be the case this year.

Bill Finkbeiner is running a lively campaign against Brad Owen, who has held the office for 16 years. Owen, a Democrat, gets high marks for fulfilling his primary job – managing affairs on the Senate floor when the Legislature is in session – but his off-hours activities are troubling.

We endorse Finkbeiner based on his knowledge of the Senate and a more circumspect approach to the job when legislators have gone home.

Finkbeiner was elected to the state House of Representatives – as a Democrat – in 1992 at age 23. He was elected to the Senate in 1994, and spent the next 12 years there as a Republican, becoming the youngest-ever majority leader in 2003. His legislative star faded after he broke with the party to support a gay civil rights bill in 2006.

He left the Senate to become executive director of an online high school, manage a real estate business, and earn a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Washington. He wants to return to Olympia to reduce the partisanship by removing the aisle between Democratic and Republican seats, for example, or reopening the Senate Dining Room so members eat together, even if it’s just sandwiches.

Getting buy-in from party leaders, however, will take a political magic trick.

As chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, he would try to clear away frivolous or pet bills so more substantial legislation would get the thorough debate it deserves. Owen, who has been there, is dubious.

Finkbeiner would give Eastern Washington residents the opportunity to present online testimony on legislation.

Owen added to his credibility as referee of Senate affairs last spring, when three Democrats bolted the party caucus to support a budget plan that subsequently went to Gov. Chris Gregoire for signing. Despite his party affiliation, both sides had good words for his even-handedness during the coup.

That performance has since been overshadowed by a Public Disclosure Commission finding that he was late – unintentionally – filing financial disclosure reports, and imposed a minimum $1,000 fine, with $500 suspended.

Of greater concern is the relationship between a nonprofit charity and his office. At least one staff member solicited lobbyist contributions to Strategies for Youth, which took an anti-bullying, anti-drug message into state schools, often in the form of a rock band fronted by Owen.

Owen’s wife was the lone Strategies employee, and she was paid about $25,000 over four years. The charity folded last year, but its own forms show that less than one-half the money was used to deliver programs. Not good.

Owen says Finkbeiner is misrepresenting Strategies and its ties to his office.

Maybe, but we think the availability of a very qualified alternative like Finkbeiner presents voters with a good opportunity to change horses after a long run.

We think they should do so.

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