The two candidates running for lieutenant governor in Washington have more in common than not — they’re both Democrats, both seasoned politicians, and both looking forward to working with Gov. Jay Inslee should he win his reelection campaign.
But in their conversation with The Columbian’s Editorial Board ahead of the Nov. 3 general election, U.S. Rep. Denny Heck and state Sen. Marko Liias painted their differences along a generational divide.
Heck, 68, is an old-school, amiable bipartisan deal-maker, who told the editorial board he believes in “principled compromise.”
“I see little green shoots of Olympia starting to look too much like Washington, D.C.,” said Heck, who currently represents Washington’s 10th Congressional District (south Puget Sound) in the nation’s capital, though he hails from Vancouver. “You don’t demonize people just because you disagree with them, and you don’t personalize things.”
Liias, the 39-year-old Senate floor leader from Snohomish County’s 21st Legislative District, is a progressive up-and-comer in the party. He said his election to lieutenant governor would amount to the old guard of Washington Democrats passing the torch to the next generation.
“I think there is a moment for change, and there is a moment to pivot toward the future,” Liias said. He wants to push a stronger climate policy, take steps toward statewide single-payer health care and reform Washington’s notoriously regressive tax code, he added.
“I think there’s also a measure of urgency that I bring. I think it’s time to push harder and push farther.”
As second in command, the lieutenant governor steps in if the governor is injured, out of the state or unable to perform the office’s duties. The lieutenant governor also presides over the state Senate, similar to the vice president’s role at the federal level.
The current lieutenant governor is Democrat Cyrus Habib, who announced in March that he’s retiring from politics to become a priest.
On COVID-19 recovery
Heck and Liias agreed that the Legislature needs to respond to COVID-19 with an emergency session, a lever that Inslee has so far been reluctant to pull.
Liias said that while the economic and health crisis is urgent, the rainy-day fund built into the state’s budget allows for a longer runway. He’s eyeing an October session, with a hybrid model of remote and in-person meetings between lawmakers.
“We also, candidly, need to make sure it’s safe for the Legislature to meet,” Liias said. “It does take work to get prepared for that.”
Heck expressed frustration that an emergency session hadn’t already been called. The longer Inslee waits, he said, the more extreme measures legislators will have to enact to pull Washington out of its projected $8.8 billion hole over the next three years — whether that comes in the form of program cuts or tax increases.
“The reality is, in terms of being able to solve this problem and reduce pain later, earlier would have been better,” Heck said.
Both agree that the state’s lawmakers need to focus first and foremost on the COVID-19 budget crisis. But outside of that, Liias said, he’d prioritize legislation that focuses on policing and social justice.
“Focusing on, what are those steps we could take right now to create a more just and equitable state for everybody?” Liias asked.
Heck said that if elected he’d prioritize infrastructure, looking to the current recession “as something that does contain, within its seeds, opportunities.” He pointed to Washington’s dismal infrastructure ratings from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The governor’s office can “rebuild the economy in a fair way and establish a foundation for stronger growth in the future,” Heck said.
On the I-5 Bridge
Heck was a full-throated supporter of the Columbia River Crossing, the ill-fated Interstate 5 bridge to Portland that fell through in its final planning stages.
He would fight to replace the I-5 Bridge, Heck said, although there’s lessons to be learned from the CRC — we need better bistate coordination between Oregon and Washington, and we need to get the residents of Clark County on the same page, he said.
“If you have a large transportation package come before you and you’re trying to figure out how to get the votes … and the community’s not together on it? It is absolutely a perfect excuse not to produce,” Heck said.
Liias also said he’d support replacing the I-5 Bridge, though added it’s unrealistic to expect a full agreement from constituents before a major infrastructure project can move forward. At a certain point, being a leader means carrying projects over the finish line, he said, and that’s what the state needs.
“If we’re going to keep Boeing, if we’re going to keep these global companies here, we need world-class infrastructure,” Liias said. “Let the naysayers be the naysayers — they’re always going to be there.”
Heck and Liias will appear statewide on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.