Cowles and Candidates

This Friday, May 15 at 4PM is the deadline for candidate filing with Spokane County Elections. There likely won’t be much news. One could have foreseen most state and county candidates by visiting the WA Public Disclosure Commission website ( Potential candidates are required to file with the PDC soon after they start raising campaign funds.   

The Spokesman weighed in recently on the topic of candidates. Most of my readers understand that the Editorial Board of the Spokesman Review now consists of one writer, Stacey Cowles, the publisher. That makes the publication of the following Editorial last Sunday, May 10, the more remarkable. I challenge my readers to find the misstatement contained in this originally published version copied and pasted below. Mr. Cowles’ title point in his article is no doubt true–and most of my readers likely share Mr. Cowles’ antipathy for Matt Shea (R, LD4, Spokane Valley north to Mt. Spokane)

Editorial: Don’t let incumbents run without challenge

Candidate filing week for this year’s local and state elections is here. So far it looks like too many incumbents will get a free pass to re-election. At least disgraced Rep. Matt Shea isn’t one of them.

Democracy works best if people step up and challenge the status quo. During a campaign, candidates vigorously debate issues, policies and priorities. Then, on Election Day, voters choose between competing visions. At least, they do if there’s a choice.

Sure, running as a challenger is hard. Incumbents typically enjoy greater name recognition and can run on their experience. They have more money, and districts often have a partisan lean. This election will be especially tough. Door-to-door canvassing, rallies and house parties are on hold for social distancing.

Yet, sometimes the person who thinks “I can do better” wins. It all starts with putting one’s name on the ballot this week.

File to run against so-far unopposed Spokane County Commission incumbents Josh Kerns and Mary Kuney. Challenge Republican Sen. Mike Padden, Democratic Rep. Timm Ormsby or anyone else with no general election opponent, let alone a primary one.

We’re not saying throw all the bums out. Kerns, Kuney, Padden, Ormsby and every other incumbent can make a good case for remaining in office for another term. But they should have to make that case to the voters, and they won’t if no one runs against them.

Candidates have until Friday to file with the county.

Rep. Matt Shea
Three challengers are running against our region’s most embarrassing and now least-effective lawmaker: Republican and former Rep. Leonard Christian will oppose Matt Shea in the Republican Primary, The winner would face Democrat Lori Feagan in November–though she, too, shouldn’t get a free pass in that party primary–and independent Ann Marie Danimus.

Shea lost his ability to represent the 4th District last year when Republicans threw him out of their House caucus and removed him from all committee assignments. He occupies a chair in Olympia and nothing more. He cannot advocate for his constituents’ needs because no one will listen to him. Leaders across the political spectrum have called for his resignation.

The GOP had good reason to disavow Shea. When he wasn’t deploying intimidation tactics and proposing violence against his political opponents, he was busy advocating secession, holy war and armed conflict against the federal government. An independent report documented it all and branded him a domestic terrorist.

Shea denies it all, of course. “They hate me, like they hate President Trump,” he wrote in a recent letter to supporters. “It is political assassination, plain and simple … followed by a label lynching.”

That someone who associates with white supremacists has the audacity to liken his deserved travails to the racist horrors of lynching disqualifies him from not just election but also civil company. In recent weeks, Shea has protested COVID-19 policies. There are plenty of legitimate questions to ask about how Gov. Jay Inslee has managed the crisis, but Shea doesn’t question, he spins shadowy plots against Washingtonians’ liberty.

Residents of Eastern Washington prize their independence. Pioneers came here to live free. That never meant living alone, though. In the public square, we exercise our inalienable rights, but we also share responsibility for each other. Living close together requires rules so that one person’s pursuit of happiness doesn’t impinge on another’s. Speed limits, zoning, growth management and social distancing are all part of that compact. They are solutions that keep a level playing field so everyone enjoys a physically safer, cost-effective environment. Closing businesses temporarily isn’t a nefarious plot; it’s a measure of respect for those who are vulnerable and for their families.

People who have lived here for decades will remember weeks spent wearing masks outdoors after Mount St. Helens erupted. This time it’s months and time indoors, too. That’s not invalidation of liberty. It’s preservation of lives and society.

The 4th District leans conservative. Voters can elect a conservative who can accomplish something in the Capitol. Or they can go another direction if they choose. They’re fortunate to have a choice.

Washington State has had a “top two” primary since March of 2008, after six years of initiatives and court decisions finally put to rest by a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court. I have some sympathy for Mr. Cowles’ confusion. Each state setting its own voting rules (a role assigned by the U.S. Constitution) makes keeping track of those rules the province of seasoned party operatives scrapping for advantage in varied and arcane systems, a contest in which Republicans have recently had the upper hand. (See P.P.S below)

That Mr. Cowles, a man of considerable political involvement, is confused over such an important point as the mechanism of the Washington State Primary, that should give us pause. What chance does the average citizen have of keeping it all straight?

Next, let us look at the Matt Shea, Leonard Christian, Lori Feagan “top two” primary election contest for the LD4 Representative position Shea now holds and Mr. Cowles showcased. To me, this three-way primary race is an argument for Ranked Choice Voting. For all the reasons Mr. Cowles details, a vote either for Leonard Christian or Lori Feagan may, in part, be cast as a vote of no confidence in Matt Shea. That is, of the usual rather low turnout in a primary election there may well be, say, 60% of voters who will not cast a vote for Mr. Shea under any circumstance, but if Shea garners the other 40% of the primary vote and the other two split their joint 60%, Shea advances to the General anyway. In an RCV election the second preference voting of the 60% might well propel Christian and Feagan to November general election as the most palatable of the candidates for a majority of the electorate. Food for thought.

One other minor note. Mr. Cowles cites Leonard Christian (R) as a “former Rep.” Mr. Christian did serve as the State Representative from LD4–for less than a year. He was appointed by the Spokane County Commissioners in January of 2014 to fill the seat from which Larry Crouse retired. In the following August’s top two primary he was bested by two primary challengers, both Republicans. A decent, establishment Republican, Mr. Christian has never been elected to public office (unless you count an uncontested election as a precinct officer).

To come full circle, Friday is the deadline to sign in as a candidate for this year’s Washington state and county elections. I agree with Mr. Cowles in wishing for more candidates.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. Here”s the correction note posted below the current, corrected online version of the Editorial after several readers caught the error: An earlier online version of this editorial incorrectly stated that political parties hold primary elections in Washington state. Washington state primary elections are ‘top two,’ in which the top two vote-getters advance to the general election regardless of their political party.

P.P.S. The reason we tend to think of elections as federally controlled probably stems from the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That Act reined in abuses in some (mostly southern) state voting regulations that were seen by the Court as contrary to constitutionally granted civil rights.  More recently, in 2013, with a conservative majority, the Supreme Court removed federal oversight of voting laws in nine states, returning greater discretion to those states to discriminatory regulations.