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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Democrat Denny Heck will be Washington’s next lieutenant governor

Nov. 3, 2020 Updated Tue., Nov. 3, 2020 at 10:31 p.m.

Heck, left, and Liias  (handout photos)
Heck, left, and Liias (handout photos)
By Jim Camden and Laurel Demkovich The Spokesman-Review

U.S. Rep. Denny Heck will be Washington’s next lieutenant governor.

The race pitted two Democrats against each other, and Heck finished about 14 percentage points ahead of state Sen. Marko Liias in the first vote count Tuesday night.

As a result of the state’s primary system, which sends the top two vote-getters to the general election regardless of party, Heck and Liias faced off.

Heck and Liias are both long-time office-holders, although each claimed his experience is better for the job. The winner will replace Democrat Cyrus Habib, who declined to run for re-election after serving one term and plans to join the Jesuit religious order.

Without a candidate in the race, the state Republican Party looked for someone to run a write-in campaign, and settled on former Bothell Mayor Joshua Freed, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in the primary. Write-in votes made up about 19% of the total votes cast as of Tuesday, although it is unclear whether those were all for Freed.

Liias is currently in the Senate, but isn’t up for re-election until 2022, so he didn’t have to give up his seat to run for lieutenant governor. He is the floor leader for the majority Democrats, which means he handles the flow of legislation and debate his party wants whenever senators are on the floor. First elected to the House in 2010 at 29, he moved to the Senate in 2016 and rose through the leadership ranks.

Heck was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1976, and over the next 10 years rose to the rank of House majority leader. He left the House to serve as chief of staff in Gov. Booth Gardner’s second term, helped start TVW and operated businesses before being elected to Congress in Washington’s new House district in 2013.

Within the party, Heck was viewed more as the moderate candidate, Liias the more progressive. Both promised to be fair in presiding over the Senate, which is the office’s main job when the Legislature is in session, and help expand business and foreign trade from one of the committees on which the lieutenant governor serves.

As second in line to Gov. Jay Inslee, both faced questions about what they would do if Inslee was re-elected, then agreed to serve in Joe Biden’s cabinet, should Biden win. Heck said he absolutely would not run to fill the full term, contending he would be too busy trying to manage the pandemic, its economic fallout and budget problems. Liias dismissed the hypothetical as unrealistic and didn’t answer the question directly, saying Inslee promised to serve a third term.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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