Pin It

Wide Open 

Can Democrats live up to Sen. Lisa Brown’s legacy?

click to enlarge Lisa Brown views Spokane’s Riverpoint Campus as one of her chief accomplishments. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • Lisa Brown views Spokane’s Riverpoint Campus as one of her chief accomplishments.

In the past seven months, Eastern Washington’s two high-profile Democrats have given up their seats. One, Spokane Mayor Mary Verner, was voted out in November. The other, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, decided to retire while taking a walk near a friend’s cabin.

“The last few years have been difficult because of the recession, and definitely cutting the budget again and again has been hard,” says Brown, who has led Senate Democrats since 2002. “Hard decisions to make but also hard to see the consequences.”

Brown counts among her accomplishments shepherding Spokane’s burgeoning Riverpoint Campus and securing a film and video tax credit. Smaller victories also ring in her ears, like helping to save funding for nonprofits like Crosswalk Teen Shelter and the Spokane Guilds School.

As candidates scramble to fill the void created by her departure, it remains to be seen whether anyone can fill her shoes. Or how much her retirement would affect the Democratic Party’s toehold in Eastern Washington.

Brown’s retirement set off a scramble behind the scenes. The same day she announced, 3rd District Rep. Andy Billig declared his campaign for her Senate seat. That same day, Marcus Riccelli, a political operative serving as an aide for Brown, announced his intention to run for Billig’s seat.

Spokane City Councilman Jon Snyder, local businessman John Waite and child daycare reform advocate Tim Benn have also declared their intentions to fun for Billig’s seat.

Billig, co-owner of the Spokane Indians, was first elected to the House in 2010. Riccelli had been talked about as a candidate for the Legislature in the 6th District, but redistricting put his house in the 3rd District earlier this year.

Those behind-the-scenes orchestrations were necessary, says Kevin Pirch, a professor of government with Eastern Washington University.

“If she wouldn’t have let some other people know to fill that gap, she would have left her party in the lurch,” he says.

Pirch believes Brown will remain a powerful force in the party, but it’s unclear whether that will extend to Billig’s prospects against Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, who’s announced her campaign for seat.

“I think the 3rd District, after redistricting, is going to be a little bit more competitive than in the past,” Pirch says. “[McLaughlin’s] got name recognition, she’s got a political history as well. … I think it’s going to be relatively close.”

Republicans, meanwhile, like McLaughlin’s chances to take Brown’s seat. Kirby Wilbur, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, says McLaughlin began the race expecting a fight. Now that Brown is retiring, McLaughlin won’t have to face an incumbent.

“She’s faced the general electorate, and she’s very popular,” Wilbur says, referring to McLaughlin.

Wilbur says the retirement caught him off guard.

“I was surprised by Lisa stepping down,” he says, adding that the defection of three Democrats during this year’s special-session budget negotiations may have dampened Brown’s enthusiasm for the job.

“She may very well just be tired of it all,” Wilbur says.

As to whether any Republican can take Billig’s seat, Wilbur is less sure.

“I don’t know if we have anybody in that district who has the credibility,” he says. “I think that would be tougher.”

Brown says the defection of the “roadkill Democrats” didn’t influence her decision.

“I’ve been around when the [voting] margin was slim,” she says, adding that GOP senators crossed party lines to vote with her on past budgets. “That’s not unusual, but probably people haven’t seen it for a while.”

And she says the battle for the state Senate is an uphill one for Republicans.

“I think the odds are good for us,” she says. “You never take any election for granted. Every one just has its own dynamics.”

“I think President Obama will do well” in Washington state, she adds. “And Andy, who is going to run for my seat, has really been a rising star.”

Brown isn’t disappearing. She’ll continue teaching part-time at Gonzaga University. And she says she’s waiting to see what kind of opportunities pop up, though she’s in no rush.

“I feel like I will take a little time,” she says, adding that she hasn’t had any job offers yet. “And I think that I probably can have another chapter of service of public-policy work.”

Billig, the representative running for Brown’s seat, says he admires how she handled two different jobs: herding senators as majority leader while simultaneously giving Spokane a voice in Olympia.

“I’m not sure there are many people who could do both of those jobs so well,” Billig says.

“I feel confident that we’re going to be able to continue to deliver for Spokane just as we have in the past,” he adds.

That is, if he can win.

  • Pin It

Speaking of...

  • Ugly Breakup
  • Ugly Breakup

    The long-running rift between the mayor and the city council president just got worse
    • Jun 9, 2016
  • Beggs for a Solution
  • Beggs for a Solution

    In the three months Breean Beggs has been on the council, he's pitched out-of-the-box ideas for some of the city's stickiest problems
    • Jun 2, 2016
  • Rush To Judgment
  • Rush To Judgment

    A complaint against council assistant Richard Rush tests the council's ability to handle HR concerns — but was Rush's firing fair?
    • May 12, 2016
  • More »

Latest in News

  • Crash > Click > Cash
  • Crash > Click > Cash

    Lawyers and chiropractors already have your name, your address and the police report from your car accident — and they want you to hire them
    • Jul 21, 2016
  • Starting Small
  • Starting Small

    A village of tiny houses in Spokane Valley could serve as a model for fighting homelessness in the region
    • Jul 21, 2016
  • Drastic Action
  • Drastic Action

    Spokane among seven school districts sued by State Superintendent of Public Instruction; plus, trio of police-chief finalists are in town
    • Jul 21, 2016
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri

Julyamsh @ Kootenai County Fairgrounds

Through July 24

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Joe O'Sullivan

  • R.I.P. Spokane
  • R.I.P. Spokane

    Exploring the Spokane of South Dakota — left for dead long ago
    • Jun 11, 2013
  • Beating On
  • Beating On

    Ska and new wave legends the English Beat land in Spokane
    • Mar 26, 2013
  • Green Water
  • Green Water

    Will Congress say yes to more hydropower?
    • Feb 27, 2013
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Lane Ends Ahead

    Spokane wants to improve a mile-long section of Monroe — but that means taking away two lanes
    • Jul 7, 2016
  • Too Smart for School

    What happens when a 12-year-old prodigy tries to go to college in Spokane?
    • Jun 30, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

green zone



election 2016

trail mix

Readers also liked…

  • A Senseless Death
  • A Senseless Death

    Family and friends search for answers in the wake of an unsolved South Hill killing
    • Dec 3, 2014
  • Where School Bonds Go to Die
  • Where School Bonds Go to Die

    Central Valley School District's bond and levy package wouldn't increase property taxes a dime — but don't tell that to Duane Alton
    • Feb 5, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation