Washington voters have a clear and easy choice in the lieutenant governor’s race on Nov. 8. Democrat Cyrus Habib is a liberal state senator, son of Iranian immigrants and a Seattle University law professor, and without question best qualified for the job.
Despite losing his eyesight at age 8 due to cancer, Habib is a skilled attorney with a background in business law and intellectual property rights who would quickly adapt to the role of presiding officer in the Senate.
The other candidate, Republican Marty McClendon, is a former anesthesia technician who went into real estate in 1999, became a pastor in Gig Harbor in 2002 and now also hosts a conservative radio show.
Though McClendon is personable, the leader of a Christian church and describes himself as calm during hectic situations, he has no experience in elected politics — let alone acquaintance with the Senate’s operation. This is a large piece of the lieutenant governor’s job as Senate president and chair of the Rules Committee, which decides if bills can move to the floor for a vote.
Habib and McClendon emerged from a crowded and diverse field of 11 candidates in the August primary. Sen. Karen Fraser, an Olympia-area Democrat, was among the strong candidates eliminated.
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, a conservative Democrat, retires in January after five terms; Owen previously served in the state House and Senate. Before Owen, former state legislator and U.S. House member Joel Pritchard served two terms as a moderate Republican, and former University of Washington football coach John Cherberg served 32 years as a Democrat.
Habib drew a rebuke from Owen after saying he would not sign school funding bills he deemed unconstitutional. Owen is neutral in the race, but Habib has won the endorsement of many Democrats as well as Owen’s 2012 challenger, Republican Bill Finkbeiner of Kirkland.
Already the highest ranking elected official in the U.S. of Iranian-American descent, Habib is progressive politically, a Roman Catholic and would become the second person of color elected to statewide office in Washington after former two-term Gov. Gary Locke.
Cancer robbed Habib of his eyesight at the age of 8, but Habib earned a law degree from Yale and attended Columbia University and Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. Habib credits technology, public schools and state services with helping him to adapt to his disability.
As a young man in 2001 Habib began an internship with then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton in New York City, just three days after the 9/11 terrorist attack. Habib came away impressed by the value of public service and respect for people. We can easily imagine him extending that welcome hand to individuals with disabilities.
Another element of the lieutenant governor job is trade and economic development. Owen has led trade and goodwill missions overseas, and he chairs a legislative committee that works on economic development. Habib brings a background with high-tech startups and the intellectual property rights important to our region’s trade; he would stop letting businesses pay the lieutenant governor’s way on trade trips and direct Owen’s committee to focus on how the state’s numerous port districts can work together.
McClendon’s suggestion to operate by the Golden Rule — treating others with the respect one would like to receive — is a good one.
On balance, Cyrus Habib is the best choice for lieutenant governor.