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Government and Politics
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

What Is The Proper Role Of Washington's Lt. Governor? Candidates Disagree

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TVW
Lleutenant governor candidates Democrat Cyrus Habib, left, and Republican Marty McClendon speak with host Austin Jenkins on the set of TVW's ''Inside Olympia'' program.

After five terms in office, Washington Lt. Gov. Brad Owen is retiring. The two candidates running to replace him don’t see eye-to-eye over the proper role of the lieutenant governor.

You might say the job is a hodgepodge. It’s part emcee-in-chief as Owen has demonstrated by presiding over the state of the state address by the governor. But the lieutenant governor also serves as president of the state Senate, chairs a Legislative Committee on Economic Development and is a sort of unofficial international trade ambassador for the state.

And, of course, the lieutenant governor steps in as governor when the actual governor is out of state.

“I think this is the most interesting statewide office and the reason for that is that you serve in both the legislative branch and in the executive branch,” said Democratic state Sen. Cyrus Habib, who’s running for the office.

Habib is a lawyer by training who lost his eyesight to a childhood cancer.

Also running is Republican Marty McClendon, a radio talk show host and self-described conservative who’s never held elected office.

“I see it as a job where you can actually bring the state together, be the advocate the ambassador to and for,” McClendon said. “And it’s one of those unique roles.”

   » Watch the candidates discuss their positions on TVW's "Inside Olympia" program

So unique that over the years some have suggested the entire office could be abolished. Earlier this year, Habib got crossways with current Lt. Gov. Owen over the proper role of the lieutenant governor.

Habib said he would use the power to make parliamentary rulings to try to block any budget that doesn’t fully fund schools.

“I will make it absolutely clear that that budget is unconstitutional,” Habib said. “If the Senate would like to overrule that ruling and proceed, they’re able to do that. But I’m going to be on record as somebody who has sworn an oath to uphold the constitution that we’re violating the rights of kids and the state continues to be out of constitutional compliance.”

The Washington Supreme Court has set a 2018 deadline for Washington to fully fund schools in the McCleary case. McClendon said he would be less swayed by Supreme Court rulings.

“One branch of power, the courts, does not have the authority to tell the legislature how to do their job,” he said.

McClendon said addressing McCleary is important, but it’s for lawmakers, not the Lt. Governor or the courts to dictate.

“The legislature’s responsible for this,” McClendon said. “And part of that is they are elected officials from every part of the state and they have to come up with the solution.”

Another contrast in the candidates is that McClendon touts his support of the Second Amendment and his NRA membership while Habib said he would work to ban guns from the Senate chamber and gallery.

Correspondent Austin Jenkins spoke with the candidates on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program.