Who becomes governor if Jay Inslee accepts a White House cabinet position?
Washington’s race for a new lieutenant governor might seem like a less important down-ballot race, featuring a pair of Democrats — Denny Heck and Marko Liias — facing off in the General Election. But with some suggesting that Governor Jay Inslee should seek a cabinet post if Joe Biden wins the presidency, that race becomes much more important.
If Inslee wins reelection as governor in 2020, joining a hypothetical Biden cabinet would leave the governor’s seat in Washington state vacant. In that case, the state’s Constitution says that the lieutenant governor — in this case either Heck or Liias — would temporarily step in as governor, with the secretary of state operating as the next in line. After that, Washingtonians would have to elect a new governor in November of 2021, who would then serve out the remainder of what would have been Inslee’s term.
In July, a memo from Data for Progress — a progressive think tank — posited that Inslee “makes perfect sense” to head the U.S. Department of the Interior, which would put him in charge of conserving and managing federal land and natural resources across the U.S. That would also be consistent with “an unspoken tradition” followed by both parties to have governors of western states lead either the Department of the Interior and/or the Department of Agriculture.
Inslee has publicly been less enthusiastic about accepting a potential cabinet position, telling Axios in September that “there is more work to do in my state, and I’m intent on getting that done.” When pressed on whether he would accept a post to head up the Environmental Protection Agency — especially given his record on conservation and climate change — he rebuffed the idea.
“No, I’m running for governor,” he answered. “I love the state of Washington.”
Current Lt. Governor Cyrus Habib announced in March that he wouldn’t run again for the office as he’s joining the Jesuits. Habib has been at seminary school in California since September on an unpaid leave of absence.
His vacated seat prompted 11 candidates to run, before Heck and Liias advanced out of the August primaries as the final two candidates. Heck served in Congress beginning in 2013, before announcing his retirement in December of 2019. Prior to that, he served for a decade in the Washington State House of Representatives. Liias also served in the state House between 2008 and 2013, before assuming a role in the state Senate in 2014.
You can learn about Liias and Heck from a Monday debate hosted by the League of Women Voters here.