If Washington’s governor is unable to serve for any reason, the next in line to lead the state is the lieutenant governor, followed by secretary of state. This might be good for bragging rights, but it won’t be the most pivotal part of the job description for either office when voters cast ballots in the weeks ahead.
The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate, breaks ties and settles disputes. For the rest of the year, he leads economic development and trade efforts and otherwise follows the beat of his own drummer (an apt metaphor for departing 20-year-incumbent Brad Owen, who played in a rock band and shared an anti-drug message at school assemblies).
The improvisational aspect of the job, which commands a $102,000 salary, often raises questions about whether a lieutenant governor is even necessary.
Of the two remaining candidates, neither of whom won our endorsement in a crowded primary field, Democratic Sen. Cyrus Habib makes a stronger case for relevance. We originally shied away from Habib because of worries, voiced by Owen and others, that the brilliant but headstrong lawyer would try to impose his will on the Senate.
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But it’s hard to bet against the upside presented by Habib, who was blinded at age 8, raised by Iranian immigrant parents, studied as a Rhodes Scholar and catapulted up the legislative ladder in just four years. The law professor from Bellevue has a keen constitutional grasp of crucial state issues, such as court-ordered K-12 school funding deadlines. He’s also begun to articulate his vision for an international ambassador role blending trade and tourism.
Habib’s qualifications surpass those of Republican Marty McClendon, a Gig Harbor real estate broker and conservative radio host. McClendon has lost two previous runs for office and lacks the experience, relationships and parliamentary knowledge that can help ensure a lieutenant governor is taken seriously in the upper chamber.
This is not to say a candidate must have been a senator to hold the gavel. John Cherberg, Washington’s longest-serving lieutenant governor, rode into office in 1957 on a football coach’s record. But McClendon is campaigning on bromides of “bringing people together” (his favorite saying) and a vague agenda appealing to property and gun rights and faith-based values.
Habib’s formidable primary showing suggests he will win this contest hands down, and he should.
Meanwhile, no Washington executive office this year seems destined for a tighter finish than the secretary of state race between the steady Republican incumbent and her scrappy Democratic challenger.
In the August primary, Secretary of State Kim Wyman eked out a lead of less than 2 percentage points over Tina Podlodowski. Since then, the fight over who would make the better caretaker of the state’s elections, archives and civic culture has only heated up.
One outcome is clear: Whether Wyman holds on or Podlodowski ends a five-decade Republican dynasty in that office, the results of this contest and the many others on the Nov. 8 ballot will be reliable.
Wyman, of Lacey, has continued the tradition of electoral integrity in the mold of Sam Reed and Ralph Munro, her GOP forerunners. And Wyman’s trustworthiness, earned during a dozen years as Thurston County auditor, are needed now more than ever. Public confidence could be shaken by real or perceived emerging threats to democracy, such as “rigged” elections and hackers compromising voter information.
Podlodowski, of Seattle, is a former Microsoft manager with an eye for such threats. Credit her campaign for discovering an online glitch that left voters’ phone numbers and email addresses exposed this year. But there was no evidence of a breach, and election manipulation is unlikely in Washington because none of the 39 counties’ tabulation systems ever connect to the internet.
The only hack job to hit the secretary of state’s office is the one Podlodowski did on Wyman. Using cherrypicked data, she ran campaign ads falsely claiming voter turnout has tanked during Wyman’s first term. It’s not surprising that a challenger would resort to aggressive tactics against a well-regarded incumbent, nor that Podlodowski — a former Seattle City Council member and aide to Mayor Ed Murray — would play political hardball. But it’s conduct unbecoming an office that historically has been managed in a nonpartisan manner.
Both candidates share priorities such as automated voter registration; early registration for future voters as young as 16 (Wyman doesn’t want to lower the age below 17); and earlier primary elections, including our afterthought of a presidential primary. But Wyman’s incremental approach, bolstered by respect she’s built among county auditors and state lawmakers from both parties, is the surer path for a secretary of state to accomplish her agenda.
And if she had to stand in as a third-string governor? There’s no reason to believe she couldn’t do that, too.