By Carolyn Bick
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Even though Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is on the presidential campaign trail, Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib says his schedule as acting governor isn’t all that different. But this doesn’t mean the role doesn’t dictate where he may or may not set foot.
The Iranian American said that, as lieutenant governor, he wears three hats: the president of the state Senate, number two in state government, and a close partner with international trade partners. While the latter two roles remain unaffected, when Habib is acting governor, he is barred from presiding over the Senate.
So how do he and his staff make sure he isn’t in violation of the rules? That takes some rather carefully-timed strategy, Habib said.
“Anytime that the governor is going to be out of state, we have a whole, elaborate process to make sure we have the paperwork to sign on to be acting governor, so we know, down to the minute, when he will be landing back in the state, when he takes off — all that stuff,” Habib said.
But what about when Inslee is technically in Washington state airspace?
“Even though … he’s in Washington state airspace, he’s still technically kind of debilitated from doing his job fully in that moment — that’s been the interpretation,” Habib said. “I’ve never explored that question. … It’s a hard thing to know on a commercial jet, when he would actually cross the line into the state and then when he’s officially still in the air. … As a practical matter, we’ve always pegged it to departure time and arrival time.”
Much of Habib’s day is taken up with scheduling, and figuring out who wants him to speak where, when, and on what topic. His speaking appearances are diverse, and can reach up to four or five engagements per day. Not too long ago, he said, he was at the University of Washington to speak at the opening of the new Retina Center in the university’s Department of Ophthalmology.
But Habib’s appearances aren’t just confined to Washington state lines.
Throughout the year, he travels internationally, to places like Seattle’s sister city of Kobe, Japan, and to Mexico, where he filled in for Inslee at the inauguration of the new Mexican president.
He also gets to do work that is “near and dear” to his heart: education around college readiness.
“We created a college readiness program for young people to go study abroad and get credit, called the Washington World Fellows, and then give them college prep resources, and so on,” Habib said. “And, so, we operate these things out of my office, and so it’s my job to oversee the operations of these programs.”
When the Northwest Asian Weekly caught up with him, Habib was in the midst of his busiest time of year, the end of the state’s Legislative session. He’ll have back-to-back meetings, jammed right up against speaking engagements, but still tries to make time to sit down with new House members to check in on how the session is going for them. Because Inslee is on the campaign trail so often, he also meets and works more often with Inslee’s staff — “not because the governor is not aware of what’s going on, because he is, but just because in the event of an emergency, or … when there are fast-moving dynamics, we want to be aware and knowledgeable, so we can address things.”
Amidst all this, Habib and his staff are trying to be healthier in and out of the office. Habib said he has recently taken to drinking a smoothie in the morning for breakfast, and eating lighter lunches.
“Governor Inslee — he probably gets more exercise than I do,” Habib said with a laugh.
Even though Habib puts on his acting governor hat more often these days, he’s been far busier.
“My life right now, even with the height of session, and managing all these multiple things, is not anywhere near as crazy as it was when I was at the height of my statewide campaign, plus working at Perkins Coie as a lawyer, plus teaching at Seattle University. I mean, I was doing all of those, plus being there for my father in his final days in his battle with cancer in 2016,” Habib recalled. “I’ve had crazier days.”
Carolyn can be reached at email@example.com.