We endorse: Denny Heck has experience, gravitas to be Washington lieutenant governor

The stakes are high in the 2020 race for Washington’s next lieutenant governor. If you thought the office was only ceremonial, think again.

For the Aug. 4 primary election, 11 hopefuls vie for the spot being vacated by Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib; he’s leaving after one term to champion the cause of the disenfranchised by becoming a Jesuit priest. This story is a subscriber exclusive

We don’t spend much time in the land of “What If?”, but what if Gov. Jay Inslee is elected for a rare third term, then tapped for a position in a Joe Biden administration? It means Habib’s replacement would become governor, leading the state in unprecedented times.

By that measure, there’s only one candidate who wouldn’t have to grow into the job: Democratic U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, 68, who announced a short-lived retirement in December.

The Olympia resident’s public-service resume speaks for itself: five terms as a state legislator, chief of staff for former Gov. Booth Gardner, co-founder of the state’s public affairs channel TVW and four terms as a congressman.

Whether Heck is two steps ahead in a game of political calculus is not for us to decide. At a time when the state budget is taking on water fast, Washingtonians need someone who knows how to bail.

As Heck told our Editorial Board: “Our primary task will be rebuilding this economy in a way that most broadly shares the prosperity.” In him we get someone with inside knowledge on procuring federal funds for education, health care, small business and industry.

The other prominent Democrat in the race is Sen. Marko Liias, 39, of Lynwood, who’s endorsed by Habib and many fellow senators. As Democratic majority floor leader the past four years, Liias has an intimate and up-to-date knowledge of state policy and procedures. He’s a thoughtful legislator focused on poverty, education and the environment.

When not legislating, Liias teaches American government at Everett Community College. There’s no question he could handle lieutenant governor duties such as presiding over the Senate, appointing committee chairs and helping oversee economic development and trade. But he’s outmatched by Heck’s gravitas and readiness to replace Inslee in a pinch.

On the Republican side, there’s no discernible frontrunner. All four candidates we interviewed share common conservative concerns regarding Seattle-centric policies, but all were short on ideas and echoed a familiar GOP refrain: Things need to change.

We know Dick Muri, 66, to work across the aisle effectively. The Steilacoom resident lost his 2018 reelection bid for the House seat he’d held since 2013. The former Pierce County councilmember with a long record of civic engagement is perhaps best known for championing electric vehicles.

Marty McClendon, 53, of Fox Island has run for office many times. We admire his tenacity and willingness to talk about Eastern Washington issues like nobody else in this race. But the anesthesia technician/real estate broker/radio host/pastor still hasn’t held an elected post.

Joseph Brumbles, 37, a former drug store manager from the Yelm/Roy area, has a fire in his belly to “liberate Washington state for all.” The constitutionalist ran against Heck for Congress in 2018. We suspect this race will have a similar outcome.

Ann Davison Sattler, 51, is an attorney seeking “balance” in state government. A recent Republican convert, she says Democratic ideology moved away from her, not the other way around. She ran unsuccessfully for Seattle City Council last year.

The other five candidates on the primary ballot have filed no fundraising reports with the state — a key measure of a serious campaign — so we didn’t interview them.

Even if the “What if?” scenario never occurs, we expect Heck will partner well with Inslee. In praising the governor’s handling of the multifaceted COVID-19 crisis, Heck essentially painted a picture of Inslee having to build an airplane while simultaneously flying it.

Should voters give Heck their trust, Inslee will surely welcome the retired congressman on board.


The News Tribune Editorial Board interviewed candidates and did other research before making our picks in the Aug. 4 primary election. For races with only two candidates, we will wait until general election season. Endorsements are intended to promote civic discourse and encourage voters to dig deeper. Board members include: Stephanie Pedersen, TNT president and publisher; Matt Misterek, editorial page editor; Karen Irwin, editorial writer; Matt Driscoll, local news columnist; and Pamela Transue, community representative and former president of Tacoma Community College.