Morning Fizz

Retiring Lieutenant Governor Owen Blasts State Senator Seeking His Seat

In lengthy letter, Owen Accuses Habib of making exaggerated and partisan campaign promises for largely parliamentarian job.

By Josh Feit June 29, 2016

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 1. Veteran retiring Democratic lieutenant governor Brad Owen, famous for his dry wit at the dais, sent an angry letter to state senator Cyrus Habib (D-48, Kirkland) yesterday. Habib is running for lieutenant governor and according to Owen’s (at times mocking and condescending) letter, Owen believes Habib is running on a partisan agenda that is “not within the scope of the job.” The lieutenant governor presides over the state senate, acting largely as a parliamentarian and referee where they need both sides of the aisle to respect their objectivity. Owen even compares Habib’s apparent exaggerated campaign trail promises to “’Donald Trump’ type proposals to get elected to office.” (It is true that Habib hypes a partisan agenda on the stump, as he did at a recent 43rd Legislative District Democrats endorsement meeting where I watched him belittle the GOP's failure to meet the McCleary education funding mandate; the Trump analogy is confusing, though, given that Trump's proposals are ultra conservative. Habib, who's Iranian American, quips: "As one of the only Middle Eastern Americans in the elected office, I never expected to face that particular accusation.")

Owen wrote: "The first and most irresponsible and unconstitutional statement that you have made is that you will not sign a budget bill that does not fulfill what you believe is the direction given by the supreme court to the legislature in the McCleary decision. That is a great statement to make in order to get the endorsement of the Washington Education Association and it worked for you. However, the lieutenant governor does not have nor was ever expected to have veto power over the legislature. If you wish to veto legislation, perhaps you should run for governor."

The lieutenant governor heads up the powerful rules committee, casts tie-breaking votes in the senate, and runs the senate floor sessions enforcing the strict parliamentarian rules. The lieutenant governor does also settle key legal disputes, such whether it should, as the GOP once wanted, take a two-thirds majority vote to bring tax increases to the floor. No, Owen, a Democrat, ruled in 2015.

However, referring to Habib’s campaign trail statements—such as Habib’s pledge not to sign any bills that undermine the state supreme court’s K-12 funding McCleary mandate—Owen wrote: “With your very limited experience in the House and Senate, these declarations demonstrate your youthful inexperience and lack of familiarity with the duties of the office you are seeking.”

Owen says the lieutenant governor has no power to “veto” legislation. And the lieutenant governor’s role of signing bills is simply a “ministerial duty.”

Owen also takes issue with Habib’s supposed campaign pledge not to use the respective Democratic and Republican caucus attorneys to help rule on partisan legal disputes.

“I am also concerned about your statement that because you are a lawyer you will not need the two senate caucus attorneys that work with me when I am faced with making very difficult rulings. Despite your obvious high opinion of your lawyering skills, these advisors are invaluable assets to the job and again ensure the ability of the presiding officer to be thoughtful and fair. But, if you’d like to be a caucus attorney, you can feel free to speak with your leadership.”

Ouch! In general Owen believes Habib's vision of the office will throw the senate out of whack. He states:

You have also stated numerous times that you will use the lieutenant governor’s office as a tool for implementing your partisan agenda and your decisions would be based on your partisan views rather than on the facts. Perhaps you haven’t learned the difference between the House and the Senate in your short time in the Legislature. The presiding officer of the house, the speaker, is an elected partisan member of the majority party of the body, which is not the case in the Senate. If you want to be a partisan, I would encourage you to continue to serve the people of the 48th Legislative District in the job they elected you to. There are already 49 senators and the body does not need 50. Without question, your taking these actions would weaken your ability to maintain the respect of the Senators and your ability to preside effectively

For starters, Habib raised ethics questions about Owen's letter; public officials cannot use public offices on electoral matters. However, Owen's office points out that Owen simply sent an email from his personal email account to Habib's campaign email address. (There was some confusion because the email contained Habib's senate office address, but Owen's office says that was simply a perfunctory step in filling out an address field on the email and that no letter was sent to Habib's senate office.)

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As to the substance of Owen’s letter, Habib tells me:

"I have never said that I would veto a bill. Only the governor can do that. I have said that I would use every tool at the disposal of the lieutenant governor to oppose an unconstitutional budget that doesn't meet the court's order. If by the end of this next biennium the Legislature is still not willing to meet our state's paramount duty, The lieutenant governor should use his or her powers to keep the senate in compliance with the constitution. If I feel that the senate has passed a blatantly unconstitutional piece of legislation, I would leave it to the president pro tem to sign the bill, and would let the record show that, in my judgment, the bill had constitutional defects."

Habib denies that he’s said he doesn’t need the senate caucus attorneys. “I have said that, as the only attorney in the race and someone who teaches legislative procedure at Seattle University, I bring a useful expertise in constitutional law and parliamentary procedure.”

Habib,who is leading the crowded field in fundraising with $560,000, is blind. There’s a parade of candidates running for lieutenant governor, including two of Habib’s senate colleagues, state senator Karen Fraser (D-22, Thurston County) and Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens).

2. Friday, July 1 is the day that the medical marijuana industry is being subsumed by the legal recreational pot market. The state has licensed 48 recreational stores in Seattle including stores with names such as Ephemeral Toast, The Partakery, and Herbn Elements  (34 are up and running.) Twenty one of the 48 licensed stores have a “medical marijuana endorsement,” meaning they will be allowed to also serve medical marijuana patients with medical grade pot.

Additionally, there are another 20 stores across the city that will have to shut their doors on July 1 because they are not licensed. Four of those unlicensed stores are in Southeast Seattle. After Friday, there will be no pot stores south of I-90, though five of the licensed stores are currently looking for new spots.

State-approved medical patients will not have to pay the 37 percent sales tax on medical pot. Non-medical patrons can buy medical pot, which has different properties, but will still have to pay the tax, and they can't buy as much as legit medical patients. Recreational customers are limited to buying one ounce and medical patients are typically permitted to buy two ounces.

The medical industry worries, though, that with recreational stores taking over, the medical production market won't be as robust and prices will soar.

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