Spokane voters will decide if their city follows Seattle’s path
August 24, 2023

Spokane voters will decide if their city follows Seattle’s path

The seven 2023 Seattle City Council races have received plenty of attention, as voters will decide this fall who will replace the four councilmembers who chose not to run for re-election, as well as the fate of three city councilmembers who must defend their support for the council’s anti-police budgets and failed homelessness policies during the last four years.

280 miles East on I-90, voters in Spokane are also facing a pivotal election this November, as they vote for mayor, city council president, and three (of six) city council races. Interestingly, as in Seattle, the top issues before the residents of the state’s second largest city revolve around homelessness, crimes, and drugs. 

The race for mayor is between first term incumbent Nadine Woodward and career politician and former Inslee cabinet member Lisa Brown. All indications are that this will be a very tight race decided by 1 or 2%.

Mayor Woodward is a former local news anchor who defeated controversial progressive Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart in 2019 by just 850 votes (out of nearly 70,000 ballots cast) to become the city’s chief executive. And just like four years ago, the moderate Woodward is strongly supported by all local law enforcement entities and leaders, as well as the city’s business community.

Former Washington State Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown represented a portion of Spokane for 20 years (1993 – 2013) in the Washington State Legislature. The last time Brown ran for office was in 2018 when she was defeated by 10% in her attempt to unseat U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers in Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District.

During her first term Mayor Woodward had many conflicts with the Inslee Administration, most notably over allowing local leaders to have more say on government COVID restrictions and on the state’s refusal to remove a large homeless encampment on state Department of Transportation property, which was inappropriately named “Camp Hope.”  

The 600+ person encampment resulted in multiple daily first responder calls due to crimes and drug overdoses. One resident told a KXLY reporter that it was like “Lord of the Flies on drugs” inside the encampment due to the physical and sexual violence which went unabated on the state property.

Mayor Woodward joined with law enforcement leaders to call on the Inslee Administration to remove the encampment which they labeled as a “public nuisance.”

Lisa Brown received criticism as the director of the agency assigned to oversee the state’s response to the homeless crisis. As city leaders were attempting to remove the violent encampment, Director Brown and other state officials kept imposing roadblocks and pushing the progressive “housing first” philosophy which has failed in Seattle and in multiple West Coast cities as homeless populations have grown. 

While people like former King County Regional Homeless Authority (KCRHA) CEO Marc Dones – who resigned after two years because of public frustration at KCRHA performance – continue to push the “housing first” philosophy, the facts show KCRHA was only successful in increasing the size of government but not in helping people obtain housing. Yet this is the philosophy Brown (and other progressive city candidates) want to bring to the City of Spokane.

According to Washington State Public Disclosure Commission reports, Mayor Woodward has outraised former Director Brown $443,000 to $313,000.  Yet, Spokane’s campaign history has shown that outside third parties will spend considerable funds (often violating PDC and ethics regulations) to influence the election.

The race for Spokane City Council President (the only city wide council position) is between a moderate, pro-business candidate Kim Piese and progressive City Councilmember Betsy Wilkerson. Piese is a former small business owner who believes the key to solving the homelessness problem is better care for the mentally ill and drug addicts. Wilkerson, like Lisa Brown, is committed to the progressive housing first philosophy. 

Outside money is also expected to play a significant role in the council president’s race. According to PDC filings, Piese has raised $184,000, and Councilmember Wilkerson has brought in $149,000 

Spokane has three city council districts, each with two councilmembers. Currently two districts (the 1st and 3rd) are represented by two progressive councilmembers and one district (in South Spokane) has two moderate councilmembers. With the current council president being progressive (Councilmember Lori Kinnear recently replaced Breann Beggs who was appointed to the Spokane Superior Court), there is a 5-2 advantage for the progressives.

In 2023, one council position from each of the three districts are up for election. While there may be some fireworks in these three council races, most believe the council’s political division will not be changed by these elections. Yet a Piese victory in the council president race could add a powerful moderate voice to the body and reduce the progressive majority to 4-3.

The remaining weeks of the elections in Spokane will be hard fought. Moderates believe there is much at stake as they hope to keep their community from joining other West Coast cities who are in the midst of a very expensive and never-ending homelessness crisis.

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