Editorials

Another Democratic leader skips an Inslee State of the State speech. Please burn that playbook

Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib presides over the Senate at the Washington state Capitol in Olympia in 2017, his first year in the post. Habib declined to preside at Gov. Jay Inslee’s State of the State speech this week because of concern about the House’s concealed weapons policy.
Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib presides over the Senate at the Washington state Capitol in Olympia in 2017, his first year in the post. Habib declined to preside at Gov. Jay Inslee’s State of the State speech this week because of concern about the House’s concealed weapons policy. AP file photo, 2017

Cyrus Habib doesn’t fill the most essential of statewide elected offices. So it’s ironic that Habib, Washington’s first-term lieutenant governor, drew attention to himself by playing hooky from one of the few occasions he’s expected to be visible: while presiding over the governor’s annual State of the State address Tuesday.

Habib wanted so badly to make a point about gun safety, he chose a manner that was pretentious, clumsy and ill-timed. He created a political distraction at a moment set aside for bipartisan symbolism, putting a blemish on the opening ceremonies of what will surely be another combative legislative session.

Sitting out the speech that lays out a Democratic governor’s aspirations for the 105-day session is not a good look for a Democratic lieutenant governor.

Habib says he didn’t attend the event in the House of Representatives because spectators there are not banned from carrying concealed weapons. As presiding officer of the Senate, he’s instituted a total firearms ban in the public gallery of that chamber.

Never mind that there was no specific threat to anyone present, which Habib acknowledged. Never mind that every other statewide elected official including the nine state Supreme Court justices felt secure enough to attend.

“Safety protocol could not be agreed upon between the House and Senate for the State of State ceremony,” the lieutenant governor’s office said in a statement the morning of Inslee’s speech. “Given that the ceremony takes place in the House chamber, deference goes to House leadership to follow their protocol.”

Not showing up seems like an odd way of showing deference.

We rarely agree with state Sen. Phil Fortunato, but the firebrand Auburn Republican correctly noted that concealed-carry gun owners are law-abiding citizens who go to the trouble of obtaining permits. Why should they be blocked from watching their government in action in Olympia?

“The lieutenant governor’s concerns are unfounded and irrational,” Fortunato said in a press release.

We don’t believe Habib is a coward who shirks public duties for fear of being taken down by a rogue gunman. It’s reasonable to assume, then, that the former state senator from Bellevue is grandstanding to score points with Washington’s strong base of gun-control voters. But there will be numerous opportunities to be heard on gun policy this session. More than a dozen firearms-related bills have been filed, including at least one pertaining to concealed carry.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee delivered his annual State of the State address to the Legislature on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. Inslee, who is mulling a 2020 presidential bid, highlighted fostering clean energy and mental health reform as his top issues.

This wasn’t the first time the theatrics of a statewide office holder have distracted from a State of the State address. Habib stole a page from the playbook of fellow Democrat and former state school superintendent Randy Dorn, who walked out of the 2016 speech to protest Inslee’s school-funding proposal.

Can somebody please burn that playbook now?

To his credit, Habib struck an admirable tone in his opening remarks to the Senate this week: “Every one of you, irrespective of party, has my deep, deep respect for stepping up and being willing to serve your constituents.”

Too bad he skipped out on a chance to share a similar message with the joint House and Senate audience assembled Tuesday. It was a poor decision worthy of an apology.

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