July 17, 2024 7:45 pm

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Democrats Liias and Heck clash in spirited Lt. Governor debate

By Lynnwood Times Staff

Congressman Denny Heck and State Senator Marko Liias met one-on-one in a debate Thursday night. The Washington Lt. Governor race is an already peculiar one since it features two Democrats. The state primary system advances the top two vote-getters to the general election regardless of party and the Republicans who ran did not advance.

The primary duties of a Lt. Governor are to as to act as governor when the governor is away or unable to fulfill their duties, preside over the state senate, work with legislative leaders, and serve on several boards and committees.

The candidates touched on why Republicans should vote for them, bipartisanship, taxes, COVID-19, and more. Joshua Freed, the Republican write-in candidate for Lt. Governor, was not allowed to participate in the debate.

Opening Statements    

In his opening statement, Sen. Liias emphasized the need for “bold, transformative change,” and how he was inspired by how current Lt. Governor Cyrus Habib’s has “broken down barriers” in his position. Liias was the son of a carpenter and was the first in his family to go to college. Liias hopes to be the state’s first openly gay executive and talked about his record in the state senate as majority floor leader on issues such as COVID-19 relief and expanding college financial aid.

Heck spoke about advocating for the vulnerable and ensuring more social, economic, and racial justice. He touted his eight years as a US Representative and identified the COVID pandemic, the economic recession, and the budget shortfall as the three main issues he would tackle as Lt. Governor.

Why Republicans should vote for them

The moderators noted that since there is not a Republican candidate in the race that Republican voters might not be inclined to vote for them and asked what the candidates’ key differences are. Heck said that it is “a sacred responsibility” to vote, regardless of partisan identity while Liias spoke about his work with senate Republicans to pass transportation and higher education bills.

Bipartisanship v Personal Agenda

Moderators identified Congressman Heck as a moderate Democrat to the right of most members of the Democratic caucus while Senator Liias as a progressive Democrat, in the left-leaning part of the caucus. Liias touted his ability to work with Senate Republicans and expressed that “working together to overcome differences and deliver” sets him apart. Heck said that bipartisanship is the goal, but they are not always possible and said that his congressional track record at compromise is how he would be as Lt. Governor.

In a rebuttal section, Liias honed in on Heck’s record saying that Heck has been away in Washington DC where the environment is different than in Olympia where Liias has been. Liaas purports that his own current experience in the state legislature gives him the edge. Heck pushed back and said that transformational change is not going to come from an insider and that he offers a fresher perspective coming from Washington D.C.

Setting the Tone 

The moderators then asked what kind of tone both candidates would set noting that the Lt. Governor must be pushy, sometimes combative, in pushing policy agendas. Liias extolled his record as a floor leader noting that he facilitated broad debates and that “we were listening to both sides.” Heck told of his “hundreds of hours” presiding over the state house of representatives when he was a member. He noted that the Lt. Governor should have a commitment to fairness and impartiality and that that’s not what is happening in D.C. and does not want it to “infect” Olympia.

Tribal Sovereignty v State Interests and Columbus Day

Moderators then asked about how they would balance issues of Washington tribal sovereignty versus state interests. Heck says that the key to approaching tribal matters is prior consultation.

“Before we take any action that affects them, they get a seat at the table,” Heck said. “They get to be listened to.”

Liias said that the state has not lived up to the promises that were made to indigenous people and that a “conversation needs to be had about how to repair that damage.” Liias also said that as Lt. Governor, he would expand healthcare, broadband internet, and to work in partnership for indigenous people.

Both candidates agreed that “Columbus Day” should be replaced by “Indigenous People’s Day” with Liias noting that it should be a state holiday.

Best qualified to serve as governor

If Joe Biden wins the presidency and Governor Inslee wins a third term as Governor, it is believed that Inslee would take a position in the Biden administration. In that situation, the Lt. Governor would serve as governor until the seat is filled by election in 2021. Moderators asked both candidates, if that should happen, why they would be best qualified to lead the state as governor and if they would run for that position in 2021.

Liaas said that he would not have run if he were not “eminently” qualified to step up, adding his work with Inslee and his leadership endorsed by his senate colleagues. He said that he would not run for governor in 2021. Heck was a chief of staff to Governor Booth Gardner and acted as chief operating officer which Heck says is as close to being governor without being governor and that he would not for governor in 2021.

In his rebuttal, Liias re-emphasized that he would draw from his senate experiences to be an effective Lt. Governor.

Coronavirus and schools

Moderators switched to COVID-19 and how both candidates would deal with it in the next legislative session.

Heck emphasized relying on science and data and listening to health professionals. Heck mentioned public schooling and when in-person teaching becomes available, to ensure that the legislature provides resources to get kids “back up to speed.”

Liias noted that he helped pass $200 million in COVID-19 relief in the senate, targeting such relief to hospitals, nursing homes and towards PPE. Liias advocated using the state’s rainy-day fund to help small businesses and provide rent relief for families and small landlords.

In the rebuttal section, Heck hit Liias saying that Liias thinks that “he can just be put into a room with Donald Trump and have him bent to his will and do a better job negotiating than Speaker Pelosi.” Liias shot back saying that he would not support a $500 million “slush fund” Congress approved that provided relief to companies of which Heck is a part owner.

“We need to use our resources to help the people who need it most right now,” Liias said. “Not those who are well-connected or who have lobbyists.”

On the issue of schools, Heck said that the state must ensure that students must receive their resources and that teachers get the training that they need. Heck then shot back at Liias saying that Liias was impugning his motives.

“In no fashion did I support any legislation to self-serve in any way, shape or form, and I resent the implication that he makes with that,” Heck said.

Liias returned fire claiming that Heck is part owner of movie theaters that received bailout loans from relief approved by Congress arguing that Heck had a personal stake in the bailout vote. He reiterated that assistance should go to those who need it most.

Taxes, I-976, and Budget Cuts

Heck and Liias both advocated to not cutting taxes and instead to support other avenues.

Liias supports looking at anything in the budget through an “equity lens” such as with mass incarceration and closing big business tax loopholes for international investment companies.

Heck supports the transformation of the Washington tax system from a regressive to a progressive one with an emphasis on protecting the vulnerable.

Liias wants to ensure that big banks pay more mentioning that the courts threw out a tax the legislature imposed on big banks. Heck argued that the state does not “ask enough of those who have the ability to pay.”

In a later follow-up section, both expressed their disfavor of budget cuts. Liias was firm on the idea of applying an “equity lens” to any cuts that might be made, particularly mass incarceration. Heck noted that “the idea that we should economize is not one that we should consider during the recession.”

Farms and worker safety

Moderators then pivoted to asking how the candidates would represent the interests of Washington farmers on the international stage while also ensuring worker safety.

Heck responded saying that the two goals are not mutually exclusive. He talked about his experience on the House Intelligence Committee where he visited foreign capitals with high-ranking diplomats. Regarding worker safety, Heck concedes that workers were under “abysmal” conditions but that “we’ve made progress and we need to make it more.”

Liias hit Heck saying that his priority “would not be to take foreign trips and travel,” instead working in Washington to rebuild its economy. Liias says that the state needs to ensure that workers are being treated fairly and mentioned that he brought bipartisan legislation to the senate floor to ensure that agricultural interests do not exploit workers.  

Indigenous Peoples and Dams  

Moderators asked the candidates where they stood on the issue of native tribes wanting to alter or remove dams to protect salmon but doing so would interrupt the flow of commerce on the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

Heck says that the state does a better job of collaborating with native tribes and listen to them. Liias also leans on a collaborative effort including bringing wheat farmers to the table “to ensure everyone’s perspective is heard.


When the question of Boeing came up, both candidates expressed disappointment with the company’s decision to move 787 production to South Carolina. Moderators asked what the candidates’ strategy to keep Boeing’s workforce in Washington and ensure that the next line is built here.

Liias asserted that Boeing “turned its back” on Washington and said that before anything tax-related is done that there needs to be “a reckoning” for their decision. Liias advocates for investments in the worker training system, more trade school opportunities, apprenticeships, and more community college slots so “people can get retrained for the jobs of the future.”

Heck said that no one was surprised by Boeing’s decision to leave. He says that the state must focus on the workers who will be dislocated by the move. For instance, for these workers to receive support and training to get future employment.

In the rebuttal section, Liias said that the move adds urgency to diversify the state economy, especially to add more manufacturing jobs. Heck emphasized the importance of the state’s community and technical colleges and ensure that they do not lose funding.

Closing Statements

In their closing statements, candidates struck different tones and emphasized different themes.

Liias spoke about his 12 years in the state legislature including his bipartisanship, healthcare expansion, basic services, and higher education. He hit on Heck’s 40 years in politics and contends that he is too close to special interests and that that Heck’s last eight years in Congress reflects his “allegiance” to those interests.

Heck emphasized the amount of endorsements he has from organizations, newspapers, and former and current officials, particularly from Liias’ hometown paper the Mukilteo Beacon and former Governors Locke and Grable. He also emphasized the importance of voting in this election. 

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