The race for lieutenant governor features two stellar candidates, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen and former lawmaker Bill Finkbeiner.
We can only pick one, and we’ll stick with the incumbent. Owen has been an outstanding lieutenant governor over the last 16 years. Despite his recent tangle with the Public Disclosure Commission and what appears to be a limited misuse of state time by a staff member, he has earned another four-year term.
Finkbeiner, the Republican in the race, deserves more than a passing mention, though.
Those who follow state politics will remember him as a smart and capable legislator who spent 14 years in Olympia. His Republican colleagues respected him enough to choose him as Senate majority leader.
He would do a fine job as lieutenant governor; voters wouldn’t go wrong picking either man for this office.
The lieutenant governorship is a strange and minimalist office. It entails two important duties: filling in for the governor when he or she leaves Washington and presiding over the state Senate.
Owen has proved himself capable in both capacities. You would hear complaints from the Senate if he were flubbing parliamentary decisions and loud screaming if he were letting partisanship skew his referee work. The lack of yelling is a testament to the judgment and sense of fairness he brings to that chamber.
The Senate meets only a small part of the year, though, and governors tend to hang around Olympia most of the time. The lieutenant governorship would be a slacker’s paradise if the incumbent didn’t find something more to do.
No one can accuse Owen of idling. He’s carved out a big role for himself in international trade, promoting Washington products overseas and leading trade missions in parts of the world where the title “lieutenant governor” opens doors.
He’s also used the office as a platform for crusading against drugs and bullying in state schools – an outreach he had launched years before gaining his current position. A former rock musician, he has staged high-energy shows for student audiences in hundreds of schools through a nonprofit he created, Strategies for Youth.
Three accusations have stuck to him in recent weeks: filing late PDC reports in 2011 (a lapse he was fined for last week); using a truck provided Strategies for Youth, and failing to prevent a staff member for helping connect lobbyists with a fundraiser for the nonprofit in 2010.
Owen argues – persuasively – that miscommunications largely accounted for the PDC problems, that the staff fundraising was not part of a pattern and that there was no venality in his connections with the nonprofit.
These are stumbles, not capital offenses. They certainly don’t outweigh the energy, dedication and skill Owen has brought to his office.