OLYMPIA, Wash. - Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib, who announced earlier this year that he wouldn’t seek re-election as he started the process of becoming a priest, has been on an unpaid leave of absence and living in California since September.
His office on Tuesday confirmed that Habib, a Democrat who has served in the position since 2017, stopped drawing his $117,300 salary Sept. 1, but they said he is still serving as lieutenant governor. Spokeswoman Kristina Brown said that Habib continues to be in regular phone contact with the office and approves any documents that go out under his signature, but she said that he was not available for any interviews.
“While he is still serving as Lt. Governor and is in no way setting aside his statutory or constitutional responsibilities, he feels that foregoing his compensation during these months is the right thing to do because of the budgetary crisis that the state is in,” Brown wrote in an email. “The public has experienced and will continue to experience no interruption in the services of the office.”
The second highest position in the state, the lieutenant governor is best known as the president of the Senate and presides over that chamber during the legislative sessions, ensuring that protocol is followed and weighing in on parliamentary questions that arise during debate.
The lieutenant governor also steps in to serve as governor when the governor is out of state or incapacitated, and is the first in line of succession. Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman is second in line of succession if there is a vacancy in the both the governor and lieutenant governor’s office.
“That is not the hypothetical we would be dealing with were this Governor to become incapacitated now, as the Lt. Governor’s Office continues to be filled by Lt. Governor Habib,” Brown said in an email.
In a letter Gov. Jay Inslee’s office released to The Associated Press and Northwest News Network on Tuesday, Habib wrote to the governor on Aug. 14 that he was moving to California to begin his training as a Jesuit with the Society of Jesus and would stop drawing a paycheck starting on Sept. 1 through the end of his term.
“During that time, although I will be accessible to my staff and available to respond should an emergency situation arise, I will be taking an unpaid leave of absence,” he wrote.
No official announcement about his pay or departure to California was made to the media or the public. The first mention about Habib’s status was a Crosscut story on Monday that mentioned Habib declined an interview because of his new role with the Jesuits.
Habib, the state’s first blind lieutenant governor, previously served in the House and the Senate.
The open seat for lieutenant governor drew 11 candidates to the August primary, with two Democrats advancing to next month’s election: U.S. Rep. Denny Heck and state Sen. Marko Liias. Habib has endorsed Liias.