What Happened to TCAPP?

How the law can–and does–work (slowly)

As a retired physician—and as a staunch supporter of reproductive rights and reality-based sex education (and an opponent of right wing extremism masquerading as Christianity)—perhaps I paid more attention to the controversy around “The Church at Planned Parenthood” (TCAPP), than most. A homegrown extremist group originally led by “Pastor” Ken Peters, TCAPP harassed patients and caregivers at Planned Parenthood near the junction of Division and Indiana in Spokane for years, starting in 2018. A recent press release is a good summary:

For over two years, anti-abortion extremists had held rallies directly outside of the Spokane Planned Parenthood Health Care Center. Calling themselves “The Church at Planned Parenthood” (TCAPP), these extremists used amplified speakers to loudly denounce Planned Parenthood and interrupt the provision of the health care services they provide. In addition, TCAPP members blocked access to the clinic, intimidated patients, and often carried concealed weapons. These ‘services’ attracted a variety of local and national hate group representatives, including the founder of Patriot Prayer, a hate group associated with the Proud Boys.

TCAPP first appeared in a Spokesman article in April 2019. Click that Spokesman link to access the cast of right wing characters behind TCAPP’s activity. “The Church at Planned Parenthood” is the creation of self appointed “Pastor” Ken Peters (See P.S.) of what was then called the Covenant Church at at 3506 W. Princeton Ave. in Spokane. (The name was changed to the “Patriot Church” after the January 6, 2021, insurrection because “Our country is under attack by demonic principalities and powers…Their evil agenda is cloaked in phrases such as, ‘end racism,’ ‘redistribute wealth to the disadvantaged,’ and ‘open borders.’”, according to Peters.) 

The purpose of this post is to delve into the why and wherefore of the expensive and lengthy legal efforts required to limit the ongoing harassment that TCAPP disguised as “worship”. There was much learned by me in the efforts to understand the process—much that I hope to convey that you don’t find detailed in the newspaper.

In this country we pride ourselves in our First Amendment right to protest without being shot, killed, or thrown into prison for long periods. However, we also have laws that should limit the disruption caused by people exercising their right to free speech. In Washington State there is a whole chapter of the Criminal Code devoted to “Interference with health care facilities or providers” (Chapter 9A.50 RCW). Among the actions prohibited by the statute is “Making noise that unreasonably disturbs the peace within the facility”. It is this clause, a clause not necessarily present in the legal code of other states, upon which curbing TCAPP’s harassment of patients and caregivers ultimately depends. 

The penalty of the interference defined in RCW 9A.50.020 follows two possible paths—criminal and civil. 

Criminal Path

The criminal penalties that can be applied are detailed in RCW 9A.50.030The available criminal penalties are all misdemeanors (including “gross” misdemeanors), that is, if convicted, the absolute maximum sentence would be a year in jail (not a state prison—that’s where felons go) and $1000 fine. (A misdemeanor remains on your record, but, in Washington State, unlike a felony, it does not interrupt your right to vote.)

The path to enforcing criminal penalties, however, requires that the police to recognize that a crime is in progress and a Prosecutor’s Office willing to charge the crime. We in Spokane appear to have neither. As Shawn Vestal clearly demonstrated in his July 29, 2022 entitled “The laws are the laws, but they don’t enforce themselves”:

They [the TCAPP protesters] amplified their music, speeches and prayers obnoxiously with speakers that made their protests audible inside the examination rooms [of Planned Parenthood on Indiana Ave.] and out in the neighborhood.

I stood inside one of those rooms at a protest and could clearly hear the amplified words being spoken outside. I was later told by an officer that you could not hear the protests inside.

The ones I had just heard, I mean.

This is classical example of gaslighting demonstrated by members of the Spokane Police department. 

From the legal declaration in the case records from a Medical Assistant employed at Planned Parenthood Spokane:

It is frustrating to staff to hear the police say that they will monitor the protesters, only for the protests to grow larger and more disruptive thereafter. The police set up barricades to keep the protesters safe but seem less concerned with our needs.

In February 2020, the Spokane City Council essentially copied the Washington State law into a municipal ordinance (Section 10.60.070 under the local criminal code) in the hope engaging police cooperation in enforcement. (This also could have opened the way to using the City’s Municipal Court system instead of the Spokane County Superior Courts.) 

It didn’t work.

City of Spokane’s Police Chief Meidl offered excuses to the Spokesman:

“Passing a local ordinance already codified in (state law) does not change the necessity to prioritize calls based on call load, nor does it change the elements needed to prove a violation of law occurred, nor change the resources available to respond to a call,” Meidl said.

The article goes on:

Even after adopting the city law to curtail the noise of protests at Planned Parenthood [in February; this article was from November], [City Councilwoman Lori] Kinnear feels it’s not being enforced. The city [that means Mayor Woodward’s executive branch in this context—not the City Council] and police officials have disagreed, remaining adamant that code enforcement officers have been at the site and monitoring noise levels.

The bottom line is that to use the criminal legal protection offered both by state law and the City of Spokane municipal code requires the participation of the local police force—and neither the Mayor’s Office or the City of Spokane Police Department was participating. 

Civil Penalties

Before laying out the civil lawsuit pathway it is worth to point out that criminallaw is meant to be enforced by the government at government (taxpayer) expense. The aggrieved complainant may appear in court, but, in a criminalcase, the complainant’s participation in the proceedings is not necessarily required. The case goes forward with the government (which would have been represented here by the County Prosecutor’s Office) as the Plaintiff, the group arguing for the guilt of the accused. Generally there is no cost to the aggrieved party, in this case the Planned Parenthood Clinic. 

In contrast, it takes money and considerable effort to mount a civil case, more money and effort than a lot of plaintiffs are able to muster. 

Even so, fortunately the civil suit path to justice for interference with a health care facility is available in Washington State and usable when representatives of government fail to enforce the law. The groundwork for a civil suit is spelled out in RCW 9A.50.040 along with a basis for injunctive relief (i.e. a formal judicial warning). The next Section, RCW 9A.50.050specifies damages of “up to five thousand dollars for each day that the actions [interference] occurred.”

On June 23, 2020, after two years of harassment and law enforcement gaslighting, Planned Parenthood of Greater Spokane and North Idaho filed a complaint with Spokane County Clerk Tim Fitzgerald for “Injunctive Relief and Damages” against Covenant Church and Covenant Christian School; Ken Peters; Representative Matt Shea; Clay Roy; Gabriel Blomgren; and Seth Haberman.

According to the Spokesman on September 21, 2020:

Spokane Superior Court Judge Raymond Clary issued a preliminary injunction [read it at that link—it’s plenty interesting—use the Next and Prev buttons to turn the pages] that requires The Church at Planned Parenthood, or TCAPP, to gather across the street from the Indiana Avenue clinic, or anywhere at least 35 feet from the building, instead of directly adjacent to the property.

The order also requires TCAPP – which has held regular anti-abortion events outside the clinic since 2018 that sometimes draw hundreds of attendees – start its gatherings at least one hour after Planned Parenthood stops accepting new patients at 6 p.m.

A whole year later, on September 22, 2021, Spokane County Superior Court Judge Timothy B. Fennessy granted a permanent injunction against TCAPP, et al “from demonstrating immediately outside the facility, and while the facility is open to patients.” “Pastor” Peters debated appealing the ruling. It wasn’t covered in the media, but I am told that Peters and his lawyers spent money and effort on an appeal of the permanent injunction to the Washington State Court of Appeals—and almost immediately lost. 

The damages part of the civil suit took much longer and was much less publicized. Finally, KXLY reported on December 16, 2022, that “The Church at Planned Parenthood’ ordered to pay $110k in civil damages” two days previouslyThe judgement against TCAPP was the result of twenty-two documented instances of “making noise that unreasonably disturbs the peace within the facility.” On February 3, 2023, the Spokesman, in its digital-only Saturday version, reported “Anti-abortion group must pay $850,000 of Planned Parenthood’s legal fees after being fined $110k over noise violations”. The $850,000 amount of the award was startling, but RCW 9A.50.040 specifies that “The prevailing party is entitled to recover costs and attorneys’ fees.”

From the first filing of the complaint against TCAPP in June 2020 to the final resolution on February 1, 2023, this case produced one hundred and ten legal documents, one hearing before Spokane County Superior Court Judge Raymond Clary and six hearings before Superior Court Judge Timothy Fennessy (click here and enter case number 20-2-01703-32). Despite all this legal maneuvering, the case was settled by Judge Fennessy without a jury trial (which would have been even more expensive). There was no jury trial because the claim for damages was based on law and facts that were beyond dispute (and TCAPP had already lost the appeal of the permanent injunction—an ominous sign, no doubt). 

One might vindictively wish that losing a million dollar lawsuit would bankrupt TCAPP, Peters, Covenant (now “Patriot”) Church, and company—but the fact is that they have the backing of monied donors, some insurance coverage, and a well funded right wing legal group, the “Pacifica Justice Institute” that may have worked pro bono. PJI is characterized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center

After two and a half years of Planned Parenthood’s of efforts around the civil suit, I asked Paul Dillon, speaking for Planned Parenthood, if all the time and effort was worth it:

I think it is important to not just focus on the monetary perspective but also the permanent injunction which forced TCAPP away from the health center and after hours. That again has been a major relief for staff and patients. In addition, the Judge affirming what we had repeatedly said – that these protests did in fact interfere with health center operations.

It was worth it. All the late nights, the documentation. We were building a case and every detail mattered. Here’s some of the video we submitted to the court. Fortunately for us? They post everything on social media. [click to see some of it]

The Judge’s rulings affirmed what we had been saying since these protests started in 2018: They seek to harass and intimidate patients and staff. They were clearly in violation of RCW 9A.50.020 – interference with a health care facility – despite what Chief Meidl and city legal repeatedly claimed for years

My hope is that this victory will send a message. We were the first affiliate in the country to successfully sue TCAPP and collect damages so hopefully this opens the door to others taking action, especially as we look further this legislative session on ways to safeguard abortion access that include strengthening staff and patient protections.

Of course, the frustrating thing is that it took all this effort—and two years—to achieve a result that could have been solved if the Mayor’s Office and the City Police had enforced existing law against sometimes-armed right wing extremists. Let us remember this struggle when we submit our ballots this fall in municipal elections.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. Background on TCAPP and the “Pastors”:

The tactics of groups like “Moms For Liberty”, the folks harassing local school boards over bogus issues like “CRT”, were developed elsewhere and transplanted to our local scene. In contrast, it appears that The Church at Planned Parenthood originated right here in Spokane in one extreme corner of our politico-religious environment. The idea for TCAPP is widely credited to the political activist and nondenominational, self-appointed, Spokane-based “Pastor” Ken Peters, a man with multiple points of intersection with “Pastors” Matt Shea and Gabe Blomgren. (A “nondenominational” pastor is free to espouse whatever interpretation of the Bible he or she finds useful in gathering followers. No formal training or oversight is required, only charisma and enough glibness with scripture to pull the broad cloak of Christianity over what you preach. If this also sounds to you like the recipe for forming a cult, it should.)

“Pastor” Peters got his start gathering followers to the “Covenant Church” that he began to form in a Spokane Valley Super 8 Motel in 1998. His charisma and his backing were sufficient to acquire a church building at 3506 W. Princeton Ave., Spokane, and to establish the Covenant Christian School and another Covenant Church outpost in Moses Lake. In June of 2020, Peters left the leadership of the Spokane Covenant Church to “Pastor” Matt Shea, the former Washington State Representative from Spokane valley disgraced over his tract “The Biblical Basis for War”. A House-commission report accused him of engaging in domestic terrorism in part due to his involvement with the Ammon Bundy led terrorist armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Peters left Spokane in order to found another church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Things did not go well with Shea, who decamped to his own church and school, On Fire Ministries & Kingdom Christian Academy, at 115E Pacific downtown in May of 2021. 

When Peters returned he changed the name of the Covenant Church to the “Patriot” Church. Perhaps that had something to do with his presence in Washington, D.C. Peters said he “traveled to the Jan. 6 rallies on Lindell’s private plane and stayed at a Trump hotel on Lindell’s dime.” (Peters claims he did not enter the Capitol.) 

TCAPP, Peters brainchild has now metastasized to many other cities—at least that is the impression given by multiple flashy websites that turn up on a google search—usually with an image our one of the largest gatherings TCAPP put together next to to the Spokane Planned Parenthood. (Perhaps it is worth noting, though, that TCAPP has yet to get its own wikipedia article, unlike the astroturf organization “Mom’s for Liberty”.)

Another Day Off

A Grandparent recovery day

It was delightful—and exhausting—even with two of us trying to keep up with a two and a half and an almost six year old. I have renewed respect for people trying to successfully raise young children and hold down a job, even a part time job, at the same time. 

I’ll be back on Wednesday. In the meantime…

Keep to the high ground,


Substack and Pledges

Some History and Explanation

NOTE: By accident of digital clumsiness (and a bit of temporal cluelessness) I sent out on Tuesday (yesterday) the email post intended for today. It is entitled “Cathy’s Climate Change Coming Out”. If you missed it click on the underlined title (underlines like this are always a link).

Substack and Pledges

In the last month I was flattered (and mystified) by emails I received with the Subject line “A reader just pledged X dollars to subscribe to Indivisible–The High Ground”. It wasn’t until a reader Replied to one of my posts that I saw this:

I discovered that this pledge button started to appear, unbidden, attached to emails in January. I intend to disable this feature. I want my writing to be free to read and share. These are pebbles thrown in the pond. I hope the ripples travel far. 

While I appreciate the acknowledgement of the work I put into researching and writing these email posts it was never my intent to ask people to pay for a subscription. I am not writing to support myself. I was already retired in early 2017 when I started to write. It was an exercise to make myself overcome my ignorance of local civics and politics, a response to the dismay I felt over the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. Presidency. The focus on eastern Washington civics and politics grew out of the reminder from the Indivisible Group that all politics are local. There is much less written about how things work at a local and state level than about national politics—and each locale has its own nuances.

I started writing to twenty friends—who recommended it to others. The High Ground’s direct recipient list is now over a thousand. With readers sharing posts on electronic media the average post is opened on about 1500 smartphones and computers. 

Substack is an “online platform that provides publishing, payment, analytics, and design infrastructure to support subscription newsletters” that was founded in 2017, the same year I got started. I migrated Indivisible—The High Ground to Substack almost two years ago. I highly recommend it. Sending straight emails quickly runs into spam filters. MailChimp, where I previously published, is primarily a marketing platform. Substack is easy to use. The medium supports itself by taking a percentage (I believe it is 10% of the fees paid by subscribers.) I feel a twinge of guilt that Indivisible—The High Ground is a freeloader, so allow me to bolster Substack a bit by recommending the writing of several Substack-based authors whose opinions and perspective I highly value—well beyond the perspective and background offered by most traditional news media:

Professor of History, Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters From an American.

Former United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama Joyce Vance’s Civil Discourse is invaluable in keeping up with events in the national (and some state’s) legal systems. 

Robert Hubbell’s Today’s Edition Newsletter. Hubbell is another excellent legal mind with the habit of injecting at least a small dose of optimism in each post. 

Yale University Professor of History Timothy Snyder’s Thinking About for perspective on eastern Europe and Russia.

Dan Rather’s Steady, for the historical perspective that only a man still sharp as a tack and in his nineties can bring.

Thom Hartmann’s The Hartmann Report.

For national orientation and understanding, I subscribe to and read the posts of these Substack authors daily or whenever they appear. I encourage you to check them out and subscribe. These Substack writers offer depth and background I do not find elsewhere. Recommending them is my way of supporting Substack.

Keep to the high ground,


Cathy’s Climate Change Coming Out

From “Save the Dams” to “Drill, Baby, Drill”

For at least a decade U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ (CD5, eastern Washington) stock pivot from any question relating to the science of global warming was, “I’m for saving the dams! They make clean, renewable energy!” In a similar vein, whenever the northwest is blanketed with choking smoke from widespread forest fires, Cathy’s stock pivot solution to any question that might link forest fires to climate change is “Reduce forest fuels!” The consummate smiling, baby-cooing politician, McMorris Rodgers has studiously avoided making any public statement suggestive of her full-on denial of climate science. 

Now, after more than a decade of pivots, buzzwords, and obfuscation, thanks to the new slim Republican majority in the House, McMorris Rodgers, having risen in the U.S. House Republican hierarchy by seniority, has become the leader of the powerful United States House Committee on Energy and Commerce. She is finally in a position to actually help move the country to produce more of that “clean, renewable” energy like the energy produced by the Snake River dams she disingenuously touts. Instead, she is more clearly showing her colors.

While she lulls her constituents back home in Washington State with platitudes about renewable energy, her first action as the new leader of the Energy and Commerce Committee is an important re-naming. You won’t learn of this in the Spokesman Review, but her action was headlined “House Republicans announce major shakeup for key committee that oversees energy, health, technology policy” on Fox News (the bold is mine):

“…We are reorienting our subcommittees to ensure our work tackles the greatest challenges and most important priorities of the day, including lowering energy costs, beating China, and building a more secure future,” she [McMorris Rodgers] continued.

Under the changes, the Energy Subcommittee will change to the Energy, Climate, and Grid Security Subcommittee; the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee will switch to the Environment, Manufacturing, and Critical Minerals Subcommittee; and the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee will now be the Innovation, Data, and Commerce Subcommittee.

Changing a name might seem like a small thing, but you can bet that changing the name of a powerful Congressional subcommittee—and, with it, that over which it has jurisdiction—is not done on a whim. It speaks volumes. In 2012-22 McMorris Rodgers was the top recipient of PAC money among all House members, the winner both of the most PAC money overall, but also the leader among recipients of Business PAC money—precisely because she was in line to lead Energy and Commerce and because she is committed to fossil fuel energy as the ascendent driver of the economy and, therefore, of national wealth and power. 

She can be counted on by the fossil fuel companies to drive their agenda on account of her steadfast Fundamentalist upbringing and faith, a faith that acts like a shield to prevent her from understanding, or even hearing, the scientific consensus on global warming. (If you subscribe, as she proudly proclaims, to the literal interpretation of Genesis as the origin story of the earth and all of life, then an ice core from the Greenland ice sheet demonstrating the history of climate over the last 100,000 years must be dismissed as a least misinterpreted—or even as the work of the devil trying to deceive mankind from the one true Word.)

Danny Westneat, in a November 19, 2022 article in the Seattle Times, puts McMorris Rodgers’ commitment to the fossil fuel agenda in perspective:

One of her largest categories is oil and gas, with donations from Koch Industries, Marathon Petroleum, Chevron, Southwest Gas, Occidental Petroleum and so on. McMorris Rodgers scored $270,000 in oil and gas contributions — more than the rest of Washington state’s 12-member congressional delegation combined, federal finance reports show.

She has been open about using her new position to push for drill, baby, drill. She calls it “flip the switch.”

“We need to Flip the Switch on American energy now to bring down costs,” she said in a recent Energy and Commerce news release, meaning ramping up “coal, oil, natural gas, hydropower, and nuclear power.”

Notice that coal and oil get first billing, while solar and wind are not mentioned at all. McMorris Rodgers has been one of Congress’ top skeptics of a green energy transition, as well as a booster for coal mining, restarting the Keystone oil pipeline, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and selling more oil-drilling leases on federal lands and offshore waters.

Now, three months after Westneat’s article, McMorris Rodgers is in charge of Energy and Commerce—and she is all about “flipping the switch”, starting with renaming subcommittees to bury any commitment to climate and renewable energy and in favor of drilling, digging, and burning more fossil fuel. Remember that next summer as we choke on wildfire smoke, the Southwest goes dry, and “100 year storms” occur many times each year. McMorris Rodgers, the doctrinally committed devotee of the fossil fuel companies, will be working hard to make things worse.

Keep to the high ground,

Jail Misconceptions

Why “Supported Release” makes a lot of sense–and how Republicans exploit the misconceptions about how it works

Allow me to get right to the point. As a society we claim to believe that people are “innocent until proven guilty”, but we fail to internalize what that means. As citizens who try hard to avoid involvement with what we refer to as the “criminal justice system” I’m afraid we assume that anyone who gets arrested and put in jail is highly likely to be guilty of a serious crime, that they are part of that “other” that is not us, automatically unworthy of being considered “innocent until proven guilty”. 

Until I looked at the local justice system much more closely, my bias was to think of everyone under detention in any facility, including those detained by Spokane County Detention Services, as likely felons. That bias incorrectly colored my understanding of every article I read in local news that touched on our local jail system. 

A better civic understanding of our local criminal justice system is key. On the way to this year’s elections we are likely to be pummeled with political ads telling us we in Spokane County should authorize a highly regressive 0.2% increase in the county sales tax to fund a new jail. It behooves us to understand what we are talking about.

Let’s go back to some basic wording. My electronic dictionary points out a usage distinction between the terms jail and prison:

In North America, prison specifically denotes a facility run by the state (in Canada provincial) or federal government for those who have been convicted of serious crimes, whereas jail denotes a locally run facility for those awaiting trial or convicted of minor offenses.

Spokane County Detention Services runs two jails, the Spokane County Jail just south of the County Courthouse and Geiger Corrections Center out near the airport. These are both jails, not prisons. People convicted of a felony are transferred (usually with some lag) into the Washington State prison systemrun by the Washington State Department of Corrections. (The nearest such prison facility is Airway Heights Corrections Center [AHCC] in, yes, Airway Heights.) 

Prisons and convicted felons (for the most part) are NOT what is being talked about in local news articles that discuss the Spokane County jail. Instead, the local jail system (Spokane County Detention Services) mostly houses people awaiting the workings of the local judicial system. I hesitate to use the wording “awaiting trial”, since only about ten percent of criminal cases ever come to a jury trial. The rest are mostly settled in a process designated “plea bargaining” in which the defendant is presented by the prosecutor’s office with a list of threatened charges and the defendant agrees to plead guilty to one or several of the lesser ones rather than risk losing a jury trial. 

A majority of those detained in the Spokane County jail system are detained in the system while they await judicial proceedings simply because they cannot “make bail”. For example, as of December 31, 2022, the jail data “snapshot” showed that of the 764 people in detention 507, two-thirds, were “Pre Trial – No Hold”, that is, they were eligible to be immediately released on bond—if they or friends or family could come up with the money to post bond. In contrast, only 59 were “Pre Trial – Hold”, that is, they were held with circumstances that prevented an immediate release on bail. (In the U.S., bond and bail are synonymous.) Only 56 detainees held in the local jail system were already sentenced, most, one presumes, to a term less than a year (the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor) that does not require transfer into the state prison system. (See P.S.)

Bottom line: The majority of the detainees held in the “Spokane County Jail” await the processes of the local judicial system, that is, they are people who are supposed to be “innocent until proven guilty.” Two thirds of them could be out on bail to continue with their lives—if they had the money and a support system.

On January 23, the Spokesman carried an article by Colin Tiernan entitled “Spokane County is about to try a criminal justice reform effort that once seemed doomed.” The article is well worth your attention, but it is inadequate in its depth of explanation (due to space constrains of a paper paper or overly generous assumptions about readers’ familiarity with the system?). 

The “criminal justice reform” referred to in the article is the supported release proposal that Maggie Yates, the county’s former regional law and justice administrator, presented “to the [at the time, three] county commissioners [French, Kerns, and Kuney] in the fall of 2021. Her efforts to launch the program stalled, however, following resistance from the prosecutor’s office [read that ‘County Prosecutor Haskell’].” In early 2022 Maggie Yates resigned. Last fall she narrowly lost a bid to unseat long time Spokane County Commissioner Al French. 

On the campaign trail last year, French criticized Yates and ran a TV ad that accused her of wanting to give criminals a “get out of jail free card.”

I suppose it is no surprise that French would twist the public’s limited understanding of jail facts to tar his opponent—and then, this January vote in favor of the program she had championed. 

Tiernan’s Spokesman article also notes that the proposed supported relief program will be applied (at least initially) only to the “district court” detainees—without explaining what that means. In Washington State district courts (county level) are courts of limited jurisdiction. One of those limitations is that district courts process up to misdemeanor criminal cases, not felonies. (Felony cases are tried in the county’s superior courts.) In the State of Washington misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors are legally defined as crimes carrying a penalty of no more than incarceration for a one year in “the county jail” (and/or a fine), that is, no one convicted in district court winds up in the state prison system. (For more detail see P.P.S. below.)

Mr. Tiernan’s Spokesman article notes that the new supported relief program will apply only to detainees charged with nonviolent crimes, detainees screened by the judge in charge of their case. This is anything but a “get out of jail free card”. Al French’s vile and dishonest attack ad against Maggie Yates in the 2022 election plays on the public’s fear of crime and ignorance of the details of our judicial system. French’s attack ad is as much a part of the Republican playbook as George H.W. Bush’s vile and misleading “Willie Horton” ads deployed, successfully, against Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis in 1988. 

Civic education around the basics of our legal system is the antidote to this Republican fear mongering ad tactic—as is knowledgeably calling out their bullshit. I know this because, sadly, my own basic grasp of how the local judicial system works and who is detained in the Spokane County jail system was very rudimentary. Reading news articles and hearing TV news clips without further explanation left me little the wiser. 

Since Spokane County Commissioners Al French and Josh Kerns took it upon themselves (last December when they still had the power between them to do such a thing) to vote in a jail funding referendum for the fall 2023 ballot, Republicans will inevitably fear monger to the public this year about how our jail system works. Let’s work ahead to counter that tactic.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. If you’re doing the math you noticed that on December 31, 2022, snapshot I didn’t account for 142 detainees. Click here to see the details if you’re curious. Eighty-nine were federal detainees. 

P.P.S. For a sample of what crimes in Washington State constitute a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor (the charges that may be eligible for supported release) read this explanation pasted from a west side attorney’s website:

Misdemeanors are further classified as gross misdemeanors and simple misdemeanors.

Simple: You can be charged with a misdemeanor for crimes like petty theft, disorderly conduct, trespassing, vandalism, and possessing more than an one ounce (but less than 40 grams) of marijuana. These crimes carry a maximum of 90 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

Gross: Driving Under the Influence (DUI) can be charged as a gross misdemeanor rather than a felony if it is a first offence. Other charges of this magnitude include reckless driving and domestic assault. Gross misdemeanor crimes carry a maximum of 364 days in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.

However, these maximums are set as a limit for sentencing rather than a guaranteed punishment. Your specific penalties will depend on the seriousness of the offense and your previous criminal history.

Spokane GOP Takes a Hard Right Turn–Again

There is a lesson in this

A month ago, on Saturday, December 12, at the Valley Assembly of God church in Spokane Valley, Steve Bannon scored a notable victory. Bannon wasn’t present in person, but the success of the “precinct strategy” that Bannon promoted was on display as the Spokane County Republican Party (aka SpokaneGOP) chose new leaders in a series of votes. We should all be paying attention. 

Background—Nuts and Bolts

Like it or not, the two biggest political parties in this country are still the main organizations through which people seeking election to public office establish their candidacy. As a result, it matters in our small-d democratic lives how these parties are organized and run. 

Bannon recognized that the way to control a major political party is to quietly take over its governing structure. In Washington State in even numbered years you might have noticed a contest on your ballot for a Democratic and/or Republican “Precinct Committee Officer (PCO)”. You also might not have noted such a contest because 1) they only appear on the August primary ballot (a voting opportunity that many ignore) and, 2) unlike uncontested races for judges, for instance, PCO contests don’t appear on the ballot at all unless there are two people for the same seat (something that rarely occurs these days for PCOs). 

To one degree or another, our lives can be indirectly shaped by these people, so it behooves us to pay attention. In a sense, Precinct Committee Officers represent the basic building blocks of our political system and, as a result, our governance. By force of law in Washington State (See RCW 29A.80.030) PCOs comprise the “central committee” of each “major party” in each county. Every two years this “central committee” elects a party chair and vice-chair “of opposite sexes” to run the party in that county. 

The strategy for party takeover should be coming into focus for you: Find one like-minded person in every voting precinct that you can, convince them of the strategy, and help them through the process of becoming a PCO (it’s not very challenging). With a bit of diligence, by December of any even-numbered election, voila!, your faction might gain majority voting power in your Party’s county governing structure. (If you want a chilling example of how this is done check out this article and/or this phone conversation recording of a far right Republican operative in Kootenai County [next door in Idaho] attempting a PCO strategy to take over and destroy the Kootenai County Democratic Party.)

Fact: In recent years citizens have drifted away from participation in party politics—partly because many of us are completely unaware of how it all works. According to Colin Teirnan in an excellent article in the Spokesman:

Two years ago, the Spokane County Republican Party had about 190 PCOs following the primary election. This year, the number soared to about 250. For comparison, the Democratic Party’s PCO count went from about 150 in 2020 to 110 after the August primary.

For reference, Spokane County is now divided into (following the redistricting process) 439 voting precincts every one of which should have a PCO from each “major” party to send to county party meetings and vote. 

Steve Bannon, for all that he is the embodiment of conniving evil, is not dumb. The playbook for taking over the leadership of a major political party in this country, the “precinct strategy” was written and popularized by Dan Schultz, a man you’ve probably never heard of, an Arizonan without even so much as a wikipedia entry. In February 2021, Bannon invited Schultz on his podcast, a podcast avidly followed by Trump Republicans. Based on subsequent events it is a fair bet that a group on the far right wing of the local Spokane County Republicans listened to that podcast and read Schultz’s material. Then, sensing opportunity, they worked diligently over the next year and a half recruiting far right individuals to run for mostly uncontested PCO positions that, because they were uncontested, wouldn’t even appear on the August 2022 primary ballot. The members of this group who took up the Bannon/Schultz banner and spearheaded this PCO takeover are not speaking up. 

When there is a competitive race for a PCO position that, therefore, doesappear on the ballot, the contest is often so sleepy that all it takes is a wee bit of quiet diligence in knocking on doors and using the telephone to win the seat—combined with an incumbent who doesn’t quite perceive the threat. Thus, Beva Miles, a stalwart Republican who has served as chairwoman for the Republicans of Spokane County, a relatively moderate wing of the county Republicans, lost her PCO seat (and her voting rights as a PCO in the larger party structure) in just such a contest. 

The new lineup of local Republican Party officials is revealing. I refer you to another excellent article by Colin Tiernan in the Spokesman for much more detail. Pastor Brian Noble of the Valley Assembly of God church is the new chairman of the SpokaneGOP, winning the chairmanship with 128 PCO votes against the 62 votes garnered by the former vice-chair of the SpokaneGOP, Susan Schuler. (A total of only 195 votes were cast, suggesting that 55 Republican PCOs did not show up to vote. Did they not sense that something was up?) Just three months ago in the November 2022 general election, Pastor Noble, the new chairperson, lost to incumbent County Commissioner Mary Kuney 42.5% to 55%, respectively. In that race Pastor Noble’s strongest monetary and rhetorical supporters included Caleb Collier and Matt Shea, local far right wing political activists formerly associated with Pastor Ken Peters Covenant Church, The Church at Planned Parenthood (TCAPP), and still associated with the Liberty State movement—which would carve Washington State in two. Matt Shea, forced out of his Washington State House seat after exposure of his document, “The Biblical Basis for War”, now is the self-appointed pastor of the politically active “On Fire Ministries” in Spokane. Such are the new Spokane County Republican chairman’s allies…

MJ Bolt became vice-chair. She was the only nominee. She ran last August in the primary for the LD4 (Spokane valley to Mt. Spokane) State House seat that election-denier Bob McCaslin was about to vacate. She ran with his expressed endorsement—and lost out in the August primary, coming in third with only 27% of the vote.

Matt Hawkins, a strong ally of Bob McCaslin and a fervent devotee of election denial conspiracy theories, will remain the county party’s state committeeman. He retained his seat by a voting margin almost exactly the same as Pastor Noble’s—suggesting a PCO voting block. Hawkins is the same man who, last August, received a vote of no confidence from the folks who at the time made up the Spokane County Republican Party’s executive board—many of whom have now been replaced. 

This takeover did not happen by accident. The local Republicans claim a “big tent”, but their leadership has, once again, shifted to the flapping fringes of the right, a place similar to where they found themselves under the chairmanship of Cecily Wright. You may recall that Wright had to resign from her position after her Northwest Grassroots organization welcomed avowed white supremacist James Allsup to speak.

Meanwhile, as a matter of slight encouragement, local Republican and independent voters are hinting at movement in the opposite direction: Mary Kuney bested Brian Noble for a place on the Spokane County Commission; Leonard Christian knocked off incumbent election denier state Representative Rob Chase in LD4 (Spokane Valley to Mt. Spokane); and enough independents and Republicans supported incumbent Democrat Vicky Dalton for Spokane County Auditor to send former State Rep. Bob McCaslin, election denier and Matt Shea ally, back to teaching elementary school.

Those glimmers of hope aside, this post should be a wake up call for people who fully or generally support the Spokane County Democratic Party. There are roughly 330 open Democratic PCO seats at this moment (439 total minus 110 filled). Every one of those seats could have a say and a vote in how the county party is led and run. We need, as citizens, to get informed, pay attention, and get involved before we wake up and find ourselves essentially stripped of our small-d democracy. 

Keep to the high ground,