Two Democrats are running for the office of lieutenant governor


State Rep. Marko Liias

Jessica Perez, Staff Reporter

Current Lieutenant Governor Cyrus Habib will be stepping down when his term ends in December. Two candidates now remain in the race for the position. 

The first is Senator Marko Liias, and the second is U.S. Representative Denny Heck. Since both candidates identify as Democrats, they plan to focus on similar issues if elected.

The lieutenant governor holds responsibilities in both the executive and legislative branches of government. 

One of their key roles is being president of the state senate, where they determine what legislation makes it to the floor for debate. 

The lieutenant governor also becomes acting governor if the current governor leaves the state or is unable to perform their duties for another reason. This position comes with a lot of flexibility because it gives the lieutenant governor the ability to pursue their initiatives through policy. 

According to the Office of Lieutenant Governor, by law, they’re appointed the chair of the Legislative Committee on Economic Development and International Relations (LCEDIR). This means whoever is elected to this position meets with leaders in government, business, industry and education to talk about economic development issues. They also represent the state of Washington when visiting foreign officials. 

Additionally, the lieutenant governor is responsible for being an “ambassador of trade” for the state, meaning they are responsible for forming and strengthening trade ties.

The first candidate running for this position is State Senator Marko Liias. Liias has a Bachelors from Georgetown University and a Masters from the University of Washington. He was the first person in his family to attend college.

Liias currently serves as the state’s senate floor leader. He is responsible for being the main spokesperson for the Democratic Party.

“The most important job of lieutenant governor is serving as our senate president,” Liias said. “As the person who’s been on the ground making changes in the senate for the last couple of years and in the senate leadership, I think that really sets me apart.”

Liias is the state’s first openly gay statewide executive. He said because of this, it took him a while to prove himself to some colleagues.

“I think it took me a while to maybe build those relationships longer than I would’ve if I’d been, you know, a [heterosexual] person in the room,” Liias said.

One of Liias’ focuses is equity. He said as an LGBTQ man he knows how it feels to be discriminated against and marginalized. He also knows that as a white man he has opportunities other people don’t have. Liias wants to focus on social justice reform that takes down systemic barriers that affect certain communities. 

“When it comes to equity and social justice, I really believe in centering the voices of marginalized communities,” Liias said. “I want to work in allyship and ensure we’re elevating voices of color,” Liias said.

One of the accomplishments he said he’s most proud of is banning the use of conversion therapy on LGBTQ youth.

“Sending the message that every one of us is born perfect, was born the way we were meant to be, that there’s nothing about us that needs to be fixed or corrected in that way, is a really powerful message,” Liias said.

If elected, Liias also plans to address making healthcare available to all, transportation, education, women’s health and policing. He said the way he would approach fixing these issues depends on the issue itself.

“When it comes to women’s health, and women’s rights broadly, I want to make sure that we are centering women’s voices in that debate and in that discussion,” Liias said. “So there, I think my leadership style is more about listening and learning.”

Liias also said as a millennial, it is urgent to address the student debt crisis, the climate crisis, having affordable housing and access to childcare. He said these are issues his generation is facing right now.

Regarding higher education, Liias said he is very proud of the work done last year to expand the higher education grant, so that families making under $70,000 a year can send their children to college at no cost and those making $100,000 receive help, but that more needs to be done.

“We need to address food instability [and] housing instability on our campuses and we need to make sure they don’t just have their tuition handled, but other costs of attendance,” Liias said. 

Liias also said he wants to expand the grant money to benefit families making beyond $100,000, because many middle class families are struggling to send their children to college, especially with the pandemic.

“Maybe the money that had been set aside for college might be tapped right now to help with the family needs, so I want to make sure that cost isn’t an obstacle, and that we aren’t trapping students in debt,” Liias said. 

Liias also believes students should have multiple viable options and that not just one institution should be focused on, so everyone can get careers they want and training they need.

Liias also plans to address the COVID-19 pandemic by helping make Washington healthy. He said to accomplish anything else, the state must first beat COVID-19.

He believes he holds a good track record of working well with others, especially members of the Republican Party.

“I try and find common ground where I can, particularly with my Republican colleagues,” Liias said. “We don’t see eye-to-eye on every issue, but I think we have developed some strong partnerships where we have been able to make big steps forward on issues like transportation, infrastructure, paid family leave, tackling the climate crisis and other things.”

Denny Heck

Rep. Denny Heck

U.S. Representative Denny Heck is also running for lieutenant governor. 

Heck has a Bachelor’s from Evergreen State College. He is a founding member of the Olympia School District Education Foundation’s Principals’ Emergency Checkbook Fund. This group provides low-income kids with school supplies. He is also a lifelong Washington resident.

Heck also co-founded TVW, the state’s public affairs network in 1993 with a friend.

“I did it, because of my strong belief in the need for transparency in our state government,” Heck said. “This gives citizens an opportunity to watch the state legislature deliberate without having to get in their car and drive to Olympia.”

Heck said he chose to run for lieutenant governor specifically, because that’s where he felt he could make the biggest difference.

“I think the only reason to run for any office is because you want to make a difference, because  you have a passion for public service,” Heck said. “It’s responsibilities lie absolutely at the intersection of other experiences I have had.”

The experience Heck was referring to was being elected to five terms in the state house, serving as Chief of Staff to Gov. Booth Gardner, co-founding TVW and his experiences with starting a business.

Heck’s focus areas include addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, the environment, police reform, the tax system and providing affordable housing and healthcare.

Heck said he plans to address the pandemic by listening to scientists and supporting Gov. Jay Inslee’s efforts.

“The best way to crush the virus is by following the science, the best way to recover the economy, is to crush the virus,” Heck said.

According to Heck, members of Washington state’s congressional delegation have been on weekly conference calls with Inslee for about seven months to make sure the state is able to distribute vaccines, when they become available.

According to Heck’s campaign website, he wants to “promote values of a more just and fair economic system.” Heck said when it comes to addressing this, he clumps three issues together; social, economic and racial justice.

“I happen to feel particularly strongly about the need for us to seize the moment and move the needle on issues related to racial justice, which I think there’s a crying need for,” Heck said. “The evidence is everywhere. The average black family has a net worth that’s barley one-eighth of the average white family. Hispanic kids are eight times more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID than a white child.”

Heck added that the country needs to focus on giving people within all communities the opportunity to succeed.

“The issue of racial discrimination has been an issue that’s centuries old in this country, but I genuinely believe we have a chance to move the needle on this in the wake of the tragic murder of George Floyd,” Heck said.

If elected, Heck also wants to work on reforming the police by banning choke holds, providing additional funding to hire mental health crisis response teams, limiting funding for military grade equipment, banning the use of tear gas and requiring independent investigations into officer-involved deaths.

“I think we have a chance to get this done, change some practices that need changing,” Heck said.

Heck said this also includes criminal justice reform, particularly incarcerations, because a large number of those incarcerated are people of color.

“We have a lot of work to do in this regard, but politics is the art of the possible,” Heck said. “Racism is systemic and we all know that, so criminal justice and police reform, that’s a part of it, but there’s a lot of other parts. It’s access to healthcare, access to jobs, access to education and another one which I feel very very strongly is access to housing.”

Heck said he thinks the issue that would be most attention grabbing to college students or millennials would be his focus on the environment.

“Not just talking about it but actually doing something about it,” Heck said. “Six weeks ago we burned twice as many acres as we did in all of 2019… so the planet is burning up and I don’t mean figuratively.”

Regarding higher education, Heck said funding would most likely be affected due to the state’s budget deficit, which may result in tuition increases. 

“It needs to be a priority of the legislature to not do what higher education [has] done in past recessions,” Heck said.

According to Ballotpedia, in the Washington primary, Denny Heck got 25% of the votes and Marko Liias got 18.5%. 

A new poll released by the Northwest Progressive institute released last Thursday showed that 32% of the participants planned to vote for Heck, 16% said they’d vote for Liias and 25% said they weren’t sure.