In Our View: Habib for Lieutenant Governor

Democrat’s legislative experience gives him a decided edge over McClendon

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With Washington electing a new lieutenant governor for the first time in 20 years, Democrat Cyrus Habib appears to be eminently qualified for the role and has earned a recommendation from The Columbian’s Editorial Board in his race against Republican Marty McClendon.

As always, this is merely a recommendation. The Columbian has faith that voters will study the candidates and the issues before casting an informed selection to replace Brad Owen, who is retiring after five terms in the office.

The first topic of study, for many voters, will be to examine exactly what is required of a lieutenant governor. As explained on the Web site for the office: “The position of lieutenant governor is unlike any other in Washington state government because its duties fall both within the executive and legislative branches. While elected independently from the governor, the lieutenant governor becomes the acting governor whenever the governor leaves the state or is otherwise unable to serve. The lieutenant governor also functions as president of the state Senate and, as such, is the lead parliamentarian of that body and helps determine which legislation advances to the Senate floor for debate.”

Starting with the legislative duties, Habib is immensely qualified for the position. He has served in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and teaches law classes at Seattle University that focus upon technology and public policy. “I am that rare species of legislative nerd that enjoys parliamentary procedure,” he said during a meeting with the Editorial Board, and that expertise will serve him well while presiding over the Senate. He is intimately familiar with the inner workings of the Legislature and the order that is required to ensure a functioning lawmaking body.

When it comes to filling in for the governor or representing the state of Washington, Habib notes the benefits of trade missions to foreign countries, but says that he would not accept money from private organizations for such trips. “There is a huge value to the dignitary presence of an official on these trips,” he said.

Despite that, Habib is not above criticism. Notably, Owen has said that Habib is too partisan for a position that is largely parliamentary. Part of the genesis of that was Habib saying he would not sign bills he deemed unconstitutional — a ceremonial protest because the bills still would move on to the House of Representatives or the governor.

In this regard, however, McClendon fails to have an advantage. As a conservative radio talk-show host — “Social and political commentary from a Christian perspective,” is how he bills it — McClendon is unable to suggest that he is less partisan than Habib.

Among the differences is their approach to guns in the Senate chamber. Habib has proposed the banning of all firearms from the public gallery in the Capitol. McClendon said, “Removing or eliminating someone’s rights doesn’t make sense to me. We have to balance safety and people’s rights.”

Both candidates are articulate and thoughtful, but Habib’s legislative experience gives him a decided edge. McClendon has run for office twice before, losing a state Senate race in 2010 and a congressional contest in 2014. And while Habib’s experience in the Legislature in limited — single terms in both the House and the Senate — it is enough to stamp him as the superior candidate.

The Columbian recommends a vote for Cyrus Habib for lieutenant governor.