Those who were looking for the ultimate showdown in Spokane politics to take place between incumbent County Commissioner Phil Harris and current City Councilman Steve Eugster may be disappointed these days. Or puzzled. Louise Chadez was a complete newcomer to politics, but she beat Eugster resoundingly in the primary. Now Chadez, a Democrat, is facing Republican Harris in the general election.
It's hard to imagine two candidates more different from each other than these two. Harris has accumulated more than $90,000 in his campaign chest; Chadez has yet to hit the $10,000 mark. Where Chadez has a yard sign mounted on the yellow tandem bike she rides together with her husband, David McRae, "to demonstrate my willingness to reach out to the community," Harris is going about campaining the traditional way.
"I just sent out a mailing that cost me close to $35,000," says Harris, shaking his head over the cost. He's also got billboards up across town.
The difference in funding doesn't worry Chadez.
"I find that you make do with what you have," she says.
Harris is running for the fourth time -- including the first time when he lost -- but doesn't think he's grown stale or that seeking a third term is in any way too much.
"I don't believe in term limits, as such," says Harris. "I mean, the people already have term limits -- they can just vote me out if they don't like what I do."
Chadez has a master's in social work from the University of Washington and has worked in human services such as chemical dependency programs, mental health and geriatrics for 25 years. She lives in the West Central neighborhood. None of the current county commissioners live inside city limits.
Harris served in the Air Force for 20 years -- including 237 combat missions in Vietnam -- and it was his military career that brought him to Spokane in 1971. After retiring from the Air Force, he served 18 years as field director for the Boy Scouts of America. He lives in the Nine Mile area north of Spokane.
Such different paths obviously must lead to different viewpoints on some issues; one of them, not surprisingly, is human services.
"I was involved in the 1 percent initiative group, that got the
1 percent of the city's general fund allocated to human services," says Chadez. "I would like to see the county do the same thing." She says the initiative group already went to county commissioners this spring, but was told the commissioners were reluctant to make a commitment like that, because of a looming budget shortfall.
"That was the end of that," she says. "They didn't even take the time to really look at it."
Harris is strongly opposed to dedicating a certain dollar amount to human services -- he'd rather go on a case-by-case basis. While Chadez says the county spends around $4 million on human services, Harris says it's more like $35 million.
"We run the Regional Health District, people seem to forget that," he says. "Yes, some of that money is grants, but it still accounts for probably 5 percent of the general fund."
But Chadez says the county is only doing what's required by law.
"Certain services are mandated, such as the Health District or Veterans Services or indigent burials," says Chadez. "But 1 percent of the general fund would dedicate $1.16 million more to go to human services. Who'd get that money? We should just do it the same way the city does it, with a request for proposals, and then determine our priorities to find out who would get the money."
Would she be willing to raise taxes to make room in the budget for an extra human services allowance?
"I'm thinking more along the lines of a human services levy, like what they did in Seattle," says Chadez. "And I think it would pass. People around here tend to support initiatives that make it better for people who live here -- we always support the schools, for instance."
Harris maintains that he doesn't want to raise taxes, and that dedicating a certain percentage of the budget to human services is an inflexible solution.
"We need flexibility. We found the money for Care Cars when they were running low. I bet you we could pass the 1 percent initiative right away, but that's not what we want," he says. "I don't want to just put the money out there where we don't know about it. I want to put the money where it counts, when it's needed."
Last time he was running for office, one of Harris' biggest issues was to get rid of gangs in Spokane. This time around, he has his eyes set on the meth cooks.
"We just formed a half-a-million dollar prosecuting task force on meth, together with Steve Tucker [county prosecutor]," says Harris. "We are going to bring in prosecutors, attorneys and a judge to deal with this problem. There is going to be zero tolerance -- and no plea-bargaining -- and we are going to be working the backlogs [of meth cases]."
Harris says this is the only way to deal with the still rapidly escalating meth problem and the so-called revolving door syndrome, in which repeat offenders serve little or no jail time, are set free and then immediately re-offend.
"We are going to bust them and put them in prison," he says.
Where Chadez says she has no problem putting meth manufacturers in jail, she says first-time offenders deserve a chance.
"We need to provide options such as drug court for those offenders," says Chadez. "I mean, drug court is hugely successful. Other dependency programs have a success rate of maybe 30 percent at the most -- drug court is at 80 percent. We should also look into increasing home detention."
Chadez is not a big fan of three-strikes-you're-out, either.
"We are putting people in for little things, then letting the sex offenders go," she explains. "I'd do the opposite. Sex offenders often don't respond to treatment -- they are the ones who should stay in prison."
One of the biggest changes in the county next year is the incorporation of the Spokane Valley. Approved by voters this spring, a new city council will be elected on Nov. 5, and the city will be officially incorporating in March 2003.
Both Chadez and Harris support the incorporation efforts.
"I just hope they do things slowly and thoughtfully," says Chadez. "Sometimes people get into a flurry, and then their decisions aren't so good. I like to study the issues before I make up my mind, and I hope they do the same."
Harris says he'd be happy to share his experience with the new city once it's formed.
"I'm trying to stay out of it right now, until they have elected their people. Then I'll be open, but they are the ones who have to ask me," he says. "What it will do for us as a county government is it will bring us closer to what we were intended to be: a rural, regional government. We were never intended to be urban in the first place."
Harris isn't worried that having yet another municipality to deal with will make local politics even more muddled.
"This way we'll just have more voices to bring to Olympia when we go - I think we'll be stronger," he says.
Chadez is a proponent of a regional government, though she says she realizes that since the Valley vote, it's never going to happen. As far as the incorporation goes, she's optimistic.
"I guess if you are a county commissioner, it would make your job easier that you are not responsible for 81,000 people any longer," she says. "They now have their own project to run."
Is she worried that the city will successfully annex another part of the county and take away more land and more tax base?
"The annexation on the West Plains, for instance, doesn't worry me," says Chadez. "I have yet to meet a voter who wants that to happen -- and the people who live there are the ones who have to approve it."
Harris says the city's biggest obstacle when it comes to annexation doesn't seem to be the county.
"On the West Plains, the city needed to do some due diligence on that one. They have to work on getting the people who live there to vote for it," he says.
Planning and growth management have always been hot-button issues in the county, but Harris says the last couple of years have been better.
"The planners should go by the law -- some didn't, but they are gone now," he says. Large-scale real estate owners and developers such as Raymond Hanson -- who built the Valley Mall -- have clashed with the commissioners and planners over how close to the river they should be allowed to build, but Harris says he feels as if things are going more smoothly now.
"Hanson's big argument was always with [commissioner] John Roskelley," he says.
Chadez is a big supporter of the growth management act and the comprehensive plan.
"The comp plan should be the guide for growth," says Chadez, although she questions if it's tough enough. "It can change once a year, and it can change in an emergency -- but emergency isn't clearly defined, so it could mean that it's wide open for changes all the time."
Come Nov. 5, voters will be the ones making the choice between keeping things the way they are -- or making a change.
"I've always said that the people have good representation between John [Roskelley], Kate [McCaslin] and I," says Harris. "We span all the way from the tree-huggers to the liberal to the more conservative."
Chadez says she will do more to get citizens involved in the commissioners' meetings by taking the meetings on the road to smaller towns or to urban community centers.
"I could bring some new energy into the county, some new ideas," she says. "I guess if people want change they'll pick me -- if they are happy, they'll stay with what they already have."
Harris wants voters to keep in mind who has experience running a county that, when he was elected, was pretty much broke and about as dysfunctional as the city council currently is.
"When things are going well, everyone wants your job," he says. "Think about it this way: If you owned a business and had to go away for a couple of weeks, who would you leave your business with? That's how you have to look at it."