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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Cyrus Habib retiring as Washington lieutenant governor to become a Jesuit

Lt. Governor Cyrus Habib bangs the gavel as he presides over the Senate on Feb. 19. Habib announced today he’s not running for re-election this year. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

OLYMPIA – Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib, who presided over the Senate for the past three years as part of his duties as the state’s No. 2 elected official, will not seek re-election, his office announced this morning.

Habib said he will be joining the Jesuits.

“This decision follows two years of careful and prayerful discernment,” Habib said in a news release. “But since that process has been almost entirely private, I realize this will come as a major surprise to my constituents and supporters.”

In an article he wrote for “America, The Jesuit Review,” Habib said some people might wonder about his choice to trade a life of authority for one of obedience.

“I have felt a calling to dedicate my life in a more direct and personal way to serving the marginalized, empowering the vulnerable and healing those who suffer from spiritual wounds,” he wrote.

Habib, who has been blind since age 8 because of cancer, managed his duties as president of the Senate with the help of a special system that identified members who wanted to speak by Braille, and he followed the debate with a keen sense of hearing. He also had a deep knowledge of parliamentary procedure and rules of the Senate to rule on the many maneuvers of the sometimes fractious senators.

Last year, during a particularly heated debate over a bill to remove the personal exemption for children to not be vaccinated against measles, Habib squared off with Sen. Tim Sheldon, one of the most senior lawmakers, on Sheldon’s motion for a rare “call of the Senate” to bring all members to the floor. Republicans argued Sheldon had been promised a vote on that motion, but Habib said it was out of order.

“The only person who hadn’t voted was the very present – even I can see he’s present – Sen. Sheldon, who made the motion. That’s why his motion was out of order,” Habib said, and banged the gavel to end debate.

Another part of his duties is to fill in as governor when Gov. Jay Inslee was gone. It’s a task Habib had more frequently than most lieutenant governors last year as Inslee campaigned unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 presidential election.

Habib served in the House and Senate before being elected lieutenant governor in 2016. A three-time cancer survivor, he is a graduate of Columbia University, Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and Yale Law School.

Inslee said the decision was unexpected, but called Habib’s life an inspiration to many: “I have no doubt his future in the Jesuit priesthood will bring much good to a world that needs it right now.”