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11 candidates compete to be next Washington’s lieutenant governor

UPDATED: Mon., July 20, 2020

Gov. Jay Inslee, left, smiles as he is introduced by Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib for Inslee’s annual state of the state address before a joint legislative session Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Olympia. With Habib is not running for re-election in 2020, 11 candidates jumped in the race to replace him.  (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)
Gov. Jay Inslee, left, smiles as he is introduced by Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib for Inslee’s annual state of the state address before a joint legislative session Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Olympia. With Habib is not running for re-election in 2020, 11 candidates jumped in the race to replace him. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

For the second election cycle in a row, the race for Washington’s lieutenant governor post has drawn a large and diverse field of candidates for a job that straddles the executive and legislative branches of state government.

Eleven candidates – five Republicans, four Democrats and two Libertarians – want the $115,000-a-year position which functions most of the time as backup for the state’s chief executive but includes the responsibility of presiding over the state Senate when the part-time Legislature is in session. The lieutenant governor can cast a vote to break a tie, although with an odd-number of senators that doesn’t happen when everyone is present and voting.

Even within the partisan splits it’s a diverse field, with a mixture of experienced office holders and novice candidates, some well-funded and others campaigning on a shoe string.

Two of the better-known candidates are Democrats who also have the largest campaign funds: U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, who represents a district that includes Olympia as well as Thurston and some adjoining counties, and state Sen. Marko Liias, a 14-year-veteran of the Legislature who represents a district in Snohomish County.

Liias notes he’s the only person in the field to have served in the Senate – he’s currently majority floor leader, a job that involves managing bills and resolutions as they come up – and has the most familiarity with a lieutenant governor’s primary job, presiding over debates and other floor activity in the 49-member body. That gives him familiarity with Senate rules and relationships with leadership of both parties.

The lieutenant governor also serves as chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development, Tourism and Trade, and he’d like to find more help for small and medium-sized business and sustainable agriculture.

“It’s a statewide platform,” Liias said of his decision to try making the move to the statewide office. His Senate seat isn’t up for election this year.

Heck, who is finishing a long career in public service that includes 10 years in the state House, chief of staff to Gov. Booth Gardner, co-founder of TVW and eight years in Congress, was planning to retire before he heard current Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib would not seek re-election.

He looked at the office as “the culmination of my lifetime of experience that is right in the intersection of so much I care about.” The state is facing a triple threat with a COVID-19 crisis, an economic crisis and a budget crisis, he said.

As the second-highest state office, it provides a bully pulpit and a chance to “move the needle on social, racial and economic justice,” he said. One way to make a difference on all three, boost the economy and reduce unemployment would be with more housing, he added.

While Liias characterizes the race as between a new generation of the Democratic Party and the “old guard,” Heck views it as one where depth of experience is an asset.

Also vying for the Democratic vote is Michelle Jasmer, 56, of Puyallup, who describes herself as a grassroots entrepreneur urged by others to make her first run at political office. She’s a former Trump supporter who now finds herself more aligned with Democrats and thinks state officials need a statewide research project to get accurate data to decide how to address pressing issues.

James Rafferty, a union machinist from Milton, also filed for the office. He did not return calls for a comment, but in a statement for the state Voter’s Pamphlet he promises to treat everyone fairly.

Among the five Republicans, a three-way race for campaign contributions and endorsements is developing among Ann Davison Sattler, Marty McClendon and Dick Muri.

Sattler, an attorney who ran for Seattle City Council last year as a Democrat, said her switch to the GOP makes her “uniquely positioned” to work with both parties when presiding over the Senate. Being from Seattle makes her better able to work with senators from the overwhelmingly Democratic districts in those states, she added, while having backing from Republican legislators around the state, as well as from former statewide elected officials in the more moderate mainstream wing of the party.

“I’m something different,” Sattler said. She sees the job as asking hard questions about how money is spent in the budget and whether programs are delivering what the Legislature intended. Although the lieutenant governor does not sit on the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee or participate in negotiations among the two chambers and the governor’s office, she thinks it could provide “a statewide voice” about the budget.

“We need to be able to get our economy back and get our kids back in school,” she added.

McClendon may have the best statewide name recognition as the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor in the 2016 general election. A real estate agent who co-hosts “Doug and Marty versus the World,” a weekly radio program on American Christian Network stations, he believes Washington is in a different place than four years ago when he lost to Habib in the general election.

“Things are worse. I’m a better candidate,” McClendon said. “The solutions are the same.”

The state needs to revamp its public education system to provide more paths to jobs that require training other than a college degree, he said. Government needs to be more accountable and work together to advocate for families. He’d use what he sees as the office’s “bully pulpit” to bring awareness to issues that may have be viewed differently in Eastern Washington than Seattle, such as the growing wolf populations in rural areas or the value of the Snake River dams.

One thing he learned from his 2016 race: “In many cases, people have no clue about what the lieutenant governor does.”

Muri, a former state representative, former Pierce County councilman and former Steilacoom school board member, is presenting himself as the most experienced option and the only Republican who has held elected office.

He represented a swing legislative district, and he says he got along so well with his Democratic seatmate they introduced some 30 bills, sharing the job of sponsor or co-sponsor.

“I’m a conservative who gets along well with everybody. I’m not the type of guy who plays games,” he said. It’s an important consideration, Muri added, because most experts on both sides believe the Senate will be in Democratic hands.

A latecomer to the race, Muri is behind in campaign contributions with just $1,800 compared to $67,000 for Sattler and $15,000 for McClendon.

A fourth Republican, Joseph Brumbles, has outraised Muri in the most recent Public Disclosure Commission reports, with about $7,000 in contributions. An electrical engineering technician from Roy, he regards most of his GOP competition as Republicans in Name Only. In his role as president of the Senate he would gavel down any legislation he views as unconstitutional, which would include anything that supports Gov. Jay Inslee’s restrictions on business to fight the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s about liberty versus tyranny,” he said. Although not an attorney, Brumbles said he’s knowledgeable enough about the Constitution to pass a test of the Grassroots Constitutional Movement and receive that group’s endorsement.

A fifth Republican, Bill Penor, ran for the office in 2016 and received 4% of the vote. He hasn’t raised any money for this campaign yet and couldn’t be reached for this story.

The state’s top-two primary system doesn’t guarantee any party a spot in the general election, so it would be possible for the votes to split in such a way that two Democrats or two Republicans could advance to the general. It’s rare, but two Republicans survived the 2016 primary for state treasurer. It theoretically could split the vote so many ways to allow a lane for a third-party candidate.

Libertarian Jared Frerichs, of Spokane, hopes to put together a coalition of Libertarians, Social Democrats and anarchists to pull in the votes needed to survive the primary. The two major parties are “stuck in a false dichotomy” and can’t solve the major problems like poverty, said Frerichs, a disabled Coast Guard veteran who is currently homeless and “couch surfing” among friends.

Solving poverty will be a long process, but the first step would be to decriminalize sex work, then move on to a new tax system that replaces all current state taxes with a tax on land owners for the unimproved value of their property.

Frerichs was able to file without gathering signatures in lieu of the filing fee under a special COVID-19 regulation. He’s collected no contributions and says his campaign will cost “as little as possible.”

Another Libertarian, Matt Seymour, is also seeking the post. He’s raised no money according to PDC filings and did not return calls seeking information for this report.

The League of Women Voters of Tacoma Pierce County is hosting a forum with the candidates Thursday. It will be shown on the TVW’s website at 5:30 p.m. and aired at a later date.

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