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Lt. Gov. Brad Owen makes it official: He won’t seek re-election

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen is comforted by his wife, Linda, during an emotional part of his announcement in Olympia on Tuesday that he’s retiring from the position after 20 years. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen is comforted by his wife, Linda, during an emotional part of his announcement in Olympia on Tuesday that he’s retiring from the position after 20 years. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – As he officially announced his retirement, Washington Lt. Gov. Brad Owen had some advice Tuesday for members of the Senate, where he’s presided for 20 years: Don’t be afraid to buck your party to do what you think is right.

Also, Owen said, avoid the “my way or the highway” politics that has snarled Washington, D.C. You’re in a position to help people, so do it. And you don’t get many chances for a do-over, so when facing a choice between politics and statesmanship, choose the latter – you’ll have fewer regrets and sleep better.

In a sometimes emotional, sometimes humorous address, Owen said his position of lieutenant governor has taken him to many countries as an ambassador for the state, allowed him to help people entangled by government red tape and preserve the traditions of the Senate and Capitol Building.

The job also means he presides over the Senate when the Legislature is in session, keeping order during debates and ruling on parliamentary challenges.

Three senators are among the eight potential replacements who have filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission.

Owen said he hopes his successor “cares as much about the dignity of this place as I do.”

Owen has presided over some contentious times, including the takeover of the Senate by minority Republicans and a handful of Democrats unhappy with the majority, and spirited debates on everything from taxes to same-sex marriage.

Senators shouldn’t be afraid to listen to each other’s views, no matter how different, he said.

“Isn’t the ability to have a radically different opinion and express it the very foundation of the United States of America?” he asked.

Owen said he was proud of using his office to urge youth to avoid drugs and alcohol, and defended a nonprofit he and his wife, Linda, once operated, Strategies for Youth. In 2014, he settled a complaint with the state’s Executive Ethics Board over allegations that he improperly mixed his official work with the nonprofit.

On Tuesday, he said he was never allowed to present his case that there was never any personal gain from the nonprofit.

He asked for the chance but was refused, he said, adding “that’s just politics.”

Many senators made short speeches to honor Owen, including Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, who engaged in the ongoing banter about Owen’s height and Hargrove’s weight.

“I hope we get a lieutenant governor who doesn’t need to stand on a box up there,” Hargrove said.

Owen replied: “As I’ve said before, I can look down and see my shoes.”

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