Lt. Gov. Brad Owen announced in an emotional speech before the Senate on Tuesday that he will leave his position of nearly 20 years at the end of his term in January.
“I will leave it for the next lieutenant governor to build upon, to make it even better,” he said. “Of course I sincerely hope that the voters choose a person that cares as much about the dignity of this place, about this institution as I do.”
Owen, a Democrat, was first elected to lieutenant governor in 1997. Prior to that, he served six years in the state House and 14 years in the state Senate.
“When my term ends, I will have walked the halls of this magnificent building for 40 years,” he said.
As lieutenant governor, Owen presides over the state Senate and acts as an international ambassador promoting trade for Washington state. The lieutenant governor becomes acting governor when the governor leaves the state and serves as chair of the Senate Rules Committee, voting on which legislation heads to the Senate floor.
“My career has put me before kings and queens and princes, presidents and ambassadors, actors musicians and the giants of the industry,” Owen said. But he said his greatest and most important accomplishment while in office was the “glorious satisfaction of helping a fellow citizen of this amazing state.”
He urged lawmakers to put aside “partisan peer pressure” and to work for the people of Washington.
“But my friends, you rarely get a do-over in this business. Each decision, each vote, each cave-in stays with you forever, but then so does each courageous act of statesmanship,” he said. “And I can tell you the courageous act of statesmanship feels a hell of a lot better than the sinking feeling of caving in to partisan peer pressure.”
Both Republicans and Democrats spoke in praise of Owen’s decades of public service.
“I want to say thank your friendship, for your support, for the order and quorum in this chamber,” Sen. Sharon Nelson, D- Maury Island said. “You do not always rule with us, sometimes you rule against us, but we know you are fair and you are a statesman and Mr. President I don’t know that we can replace you.”
Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, acknowledged Owen’s work on drug and alcohol awareness with youth “because it didn’t just go to the easy places, it went to places in Lincoln and Adams county where not everybody wants to go.”
In a statement, Gov. Jay Inslee also praised Owen for his leadership and “steady hand” in maintaining “order and civility in a sea of change.”
“From his work mentoring youth and leading the fight against substance abuse, to promoting economic development to grow our economy, Brad’s dedication and work for the people of his community and all Washingtonians has been paramount,” Inslee said.
Eight candidates have filed to replace Owen, including four Democratic state lawmakers: Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Bellevue, Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, and Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens.
Three Republicans are also vying for the position, including Phillip Yin, Martin McClendon and Javier Figueroa. Libertarian Paul Addis has also declared his candidacy.
Owen left his future plans vague. He said he may do international work, but hasn’t made any commitments.
“Other than that, I don’t know probably nothing,” he said.”Probably just sit around watch soaps, game shows and Dr. Phil. Maybe I’ll mow the lawn and maybe not. I suspect I will find something to do.”