Washington’s incumbent Democratic Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen recently filed paperwork with the Public Disclosure Commission to start up a reelection campaign for 2016, PDC documents show, joining several other statewide Democratic incumbents who have active 2016 campaigns, including Governor Jay Inslee, Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, and Treasurer James McIntire.
Owen, sixty-five, has been Washington’s lieutenant governor since January 15th, 1997. He is currently the longest-serving lieutenant governor in the United States. As lieutenant governor, he presides over the Washington State Senate and fills in for Governor Jay Inslee when Inslee is out of state or unable to fulfill his duties.
Owen previously served alongside Governors Chris Gregoire and Gary Locke.
Though Owen is widely considered to be a fair, even-handed President of the Senate, it is an open secret in Olympia that top Senate Republicans don’t care for him. Owen has regularly used his authority as Lieutenant Governor to uphold the decorum of the Senate as well as the Washington State Constitution.
For instance, back in March, Owen ruled that a new rule imposed by Senate Republicans requiring a two-thirds vote to raise revenue was unenforceable because it violated the Washington State Constitution, citing the Supreme Court’s February 2013 League of Education Voters decision.
A few weeks earlier, Owen sent a letter of reprimand to Republican Senator Pam Roach after Roach embarrassed herself, her caucus, and the Senate by turning a public hearing on initiative reform legislation into The Pam Roach Show.
“People appear before your committee to provide information and answer questions; they do not appear in order to hear you talk,” Owen wrote in the letter. “Our goal is to hear from the people, not ourselves.”
He referred to Roach’s interaction with representatives from NPI’s NO on I‑517 coalition partners The Washington Food Industry Association and the Northwest Grocery Association as “stunningly inappropriate”, and warned Roach that if she continued her bad behavior, there would be consequences.
And a few weeks prior to that, Owen angered militant Republicans when he prohibited firearms from being openly carried into the Senate’s public gallery.
“I don’t want the people who are on the floor being fearful of doing their job,” Owen said at the time, in remarks that were reported by the Associated Press. “I don’t want parents concerned about the safety of their kids as pages.”
Owen has also been willing to assist Senate Democratic leadership when they have needed his help. For instance, during the Gregoire years, the Senate deadlocked on a key bill. Owen broke a 24–24 tie by casting the decisive vote in favor, as permitted by the Washington State Constitution, allowing the bill to pass the Senate.
Owen also supported Lisa Brown’s challenge to Tim Eyman’s I‑601 clones, which unconstitutionally required a two-thirds vote to raise revenue during the late 2000s and early 2010s. Brown’s lawsuit, which became the case Brown v. Owen, was planned with Owen’s knowledge and support.
After the Supreme Court dismissed the case, denying Brown the writ of mandamus she sought, The Olympian’s Brad Shannon talked to Owen about the outcome.
“I didn’t agree with them [the justices],” Owen told Shannon. “I think it was an issue they should have ruled on… I felt it was something that needed to have a finer interpretation, rather than punting. I thought Brown made a good point. That’s why we needed an interpretation.”
Although Brown v. Owen was unsuccessful, the Supreme Court ultimately did strike down the supermajority vote requirement at the heart of I‑601 and its clones I‑960, I‑1053, and I‑1185 (all sponsored by Tim Eyman) in League of Education Voters v. State of Washington, referenced above. As mentioned, Owen relied on that ruling when he declared Republicans’ ill-conceived change to the Senate’s rules to require a two-thirds vote to advance a revenue bill unenforceable.
Owen already has two Republican opponents for 2016, according to the PDC, but if history is any indication, he will easily cruise to reelection.
In 2012, Owen faced a strong challenge by Republican Bill Finkbeiner, who once represented the 45th District and served as Senate Majority Leader, but was nevertheless reelected handily with 53% of the vote.