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Monday, September 4, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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4 try to oust lieutenant governor

Seattle Times staff reporter

It may not be the most-competitive election of his career, but Lt. Gov. Brad Owen isn't taking any chances.

Owen, a Democrat who was elected as the state's second in command in 1996, has raised about $45,000 in campaign funds, hired a political consultant and is shaking hands with anyone willing.

"A person would be careless and somewhat foolish to ever take an election for granted," said Owen, 50.

He will need to beat Mountlake City Councilman Lonnie Williams Sr. in the Democratic primary.

Republicans will choose between William "Mike" Elliott, mayor of Rainier, a town of about 1,500 in Thurston County, and Joe Mitschelen, an Army reservist and engineer for Okanogan County.

Ruth Bennett, who works in Seattle as a travel agent, is running as a Libertarian.

The state constitution provides that the lieutenant governor preside over the state Senate when it is in session and take over as the state's top executive when the governor is unable to serve.

On Sept. 1, the position's annual salary will increase by $2,000, to $71,070. The budget for Owen's office is $300,000 a year. There are five full-time employees, including him.

The last two lieutenant governors, Joel Pritchard and John Cherberg, served eight and 32 years respectively. Vic Meyers was lieutenant governor from 1932 to 1952.

Bennett, formerly the state chairwoman of the Libertarian Party in both Colorado and Washington, thinks the job is cushy and said if elected, she would work to get rid of it.

"I want to abolish the office," Bennett said. "The sooner the better."

She thinks it once made sense to have a stand-by governor who could help represent the state but said that modern-day technology has made the job unnecessary.

"In the day and age of jet planes and cell phones and computers, I don't think it matters anymore," she said.

To that, Owen said, "She obviously has no concept as to the magnitude of the job." Aside from presiding over the Senate, he serves on seven committees and is an ambassador of the state.

Owen, a former legislator from Mason County, said he has filled in for Gov. Gary Locke about 100 times since 1997. He has visited China, Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, Spain, Hungary and Puerto Rico for trade missions, cultural events or conferences.

If re-elected, Owen said, he would continue to promote healthy behavior for Washington state children. He said he has visited more than 240 schools talking about the danger of drugs and since 1989 has entertained children with a multimedia rock show.

His anti-drug zeal landed him in a state investigation. In 1997, Owen settled for $7,000 with the state Executive Ethics Board, which looked into whether he illegally used a state employee and official stationery to distribute letters opposing I-685.

I-685, among other things, would have allowed a physician to prescribe marijuana. It failed to pass.

Owen maintains he did nothing illegal and said he settled the case because he didn't have the money to fight it.

Williams, Owen's Democratic opponent in the Sept. 19 primary, calls himself a member of "the greatest generation" - coming of age during World War II.

"I bring to this job a lot of experience," said Williams, 75. "I don't bring a lot of political projects that I need to get done."

He said he has raised about $200 in campaign funds.

Since being elected to the Mountlake Terrace City Council in 1997, Williams has worked for low-income housing and consolidation of Snohomish County fire departments.

Court records show his ex-wife has a restraining order against him. The order was issued after the couple's 1998 divorce, when Thelma Williams said her husband had returned to their house to retrieve belongings without alerting her.

Lonnie Williams admits he was abusive but insists that took place more than 20 years ago, when he was an alcoholic.

"I don't have a quarrel with anybody," he said.

Mitschelen, 37, a Republican candidate from Okanogan County, said he would make a good lieutenant governor because of his ability to put his personal opinions aside - even if Locke, a Democrat, is re-elected.

"My issues are my issues. I have the tact and ability to work within our system," he said.

Don Benton, state Republican Party chairman, called Mitschelen "a intelligent, quick-witted, and a very fair-minded individual."

Benton said he had not talked with the other Republican candidate, William "Mike" Elliott, mayor of Rainier. As is traditional, Benton said the state party would not endorse either candidate in the primary.

Neither GOP candidate has raised much money. Elliott has raised $2,010 and Mitschelen has collected $2,350.

Elliott criticized the way legislators interact with constituents and said he would use the lieutenant governor's job to try to improve communication between residents and lawmakers.

"It seems like the state government holds town meetings and tells the citizens what the government is doing for them," he said. "We should be out listening to the citizens."

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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