County commissioner candidates O’Quinn and Biviano differ on what they see as “political divisiveness”

Shelly O'Quinn thought Spokane Valley Rep. Matt Shea would be her opponent for Spokane County Commissioner. Until filing week, Shea told O'Quinn that he was considering challenging her current seat on the commission, which she has held for four years. 
click to enlarge County commissioner candidates O’Quinn and Biviano differ on what they see as “political divisiveness”
Shelly O'Quinn's picture on her campaign website says she is a "reasonable voice for Spokane County"

"I told him I didn't intend to lose," O'Quinn said. 

Her campaign flyers printed then said she was a "reasonable voice for Spokane County."

But Shea never threw in his name for the seat. Instead, O'Quinn, a Republican, is facing Andrew Biviano, a Democrat and local attorney who focuses on civil rights. And today, O'Quinn's flyers have a slightly different message. They say she is a "collaborative leader focused on fiscally sound principles and a common sense approach to government." 

O'Quinn says the campaign slogans had nothing to do with her opponent. But this week, O'Quinn and Biviano have expressed differences in what it means to be a leader when it comes to what they see as "political divisiveness" in the county. For O'Quinn, the divisiveness has to do with the (failed) effort to recall Spokane Mayor David Condon, something she said created turmoil that deters businesses from coming to the region. Biviano, on the other hand, said O'Quinn is failing to lead by not speaking out against the person creating even more of a division within the county — the same person O'Quinn thought would be her opponent: Matt Shea. 

The exchange between the candidates started on Monday, during a debate that aired on KSPS. Asked about what's impacting the region when it comes to economic growth, O'Quinn said it's that the region is a "border community" competing with North Idaho and the west side of Washington to attract businesses. She suggested that companies don't want to move to the region when they see headlines in the paper. 

"I have to tell you, when they read the newspaper, and what they see is divisiveness all over the paper, it doesn't help us when we're trying to get [companies] to come here," she said, adding that a large company in Spokane told her it would not have located here if the headlines today were the same ones as when it moved here five years ago. "We have to do everything we can as a community to make sure that we are creating the business climate that is attractive to businesses coming to this community, and make sure that we are working collaboratively together versus always fighting over issues." 

When she said "political divisiveness," she later said she was referring to the controversy surrounding the effort to recall Mayor David Condon. The Spokesman-Review interpreted it as O'Quinn blaming the newspaper for its coverage of that issue. Asked for clarification during the debate, O'Quinn continued: 

"I think it's one thing for there to be newspaper articles printed about the recall, absolutely. It's another when there are divisive — when leaders in this community are using that as a political platform for their own political gain versus trying to just come to a resolution on the issue," she said. 

Here's how the Spokesman summarized her comments in their article
[O'Quinn] noted that the county competes economically with North Idaho. She also said The Spokesman-Review is partly to blame for economic woes, claiming "divisive" coverage has deterred employers from the region. 

Asked for clarification, O'Quinn faulted the newspaper for reporting local politicians' statements about the effort to recall Mayor David Condon.
It should be noted that O'Quinn never actually said "the Spokesman-Review." O'Quinn, after the article was published, told the Spokesman and the Inlander that she was not attacking or blaming newspapers for their coverage of the recall effort.  The Spokesman published a blog clarifying what she meant and providing a transcript of the comments, but did not issue a correction to the original story. (In the Inlander's morning news Tuesday, based on the Spokesman's coverage, I linked to the story and wrote that O'Quinn partly blamed the Spokesman-Review for deterring employers.)

County commissioner candidates O’Quinn and Biviano differ on what they see as “political divisiveness”
Andrew Biviano
Regardless, Biviano saw this as an opportunity to challenge what she meant by "political divisiveness." 

"As far as the divisiveness goes, it doesn't help things when there's a clear issue of right and wrong out there in the public, of Matt Shea accusing a county employee of being complicit in a homicide, and the leaders in the county say, 'No comment.' That's not leadership that helps us get a better reputation around the country," he said. 

Biviano was referring to Shea's baseless accusation that Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and a sheriff's deputy were linked to a triple homicide north of Spokane. Knezovich blamed party leaders for being unwilling to call out Shea for spreading the false rumor, and Shelly O'Quinn was among other Republican leaders who declined comment on the issue to the Spokesman. 

Biviano criticized O'Quinn and other Republican leaders for not coming to the sheriff's defense regarding Shea's accusations, even when the sheriff asked for help. 

"The only possible justification for this is her own political well-being and trying to avoid any negative stuff from Shea herself," Biviano said. 

O'Quinn explained that she did not comment on the issue when the Spokesman asked because she wanted to talk to Shea and Knezovich before talking to the media. Knezovich, asked if O'Quinn talked to him about Shea's accusations, tells the Inlander, "We talked after the story came out in which she said no comment." 

On Wednesday, O'Quinn explained that she spoke to both of them and "told Matt that he needed to be careful with the comments about our deputy and that there was no evidence indicating he was involved in any way." She said the sheriff has a right to be upset, and the Spokesman did "a great job correcting the misinformation." She says she didn't feel the need to talk about it any more to the media because she didn't want to perpetuate the story.

When pressed during the debate, O'Quinn said that Shea went too far.

"I personally believe that Rep. Shea, he is an attorney and he understands the issues around libel and slander, he crossed the line. In this situation, he crossed the line when he accused a deputy of wrongdoing that he was not involved in," O'Quinn said. 

Biviano, whose wife, Amy Biviano, campaigned against Shea in 2012, said Wednesday it was encouraging to hear O'Quinn say that, but he was disappointed that it took so long. In his response, he said if he takes office as county commissioner, he will not "shirk or shy away from protecting the people I'm supposed to protect."

"If you don't stand up to a bully, the bully gets stronger," he said. "It can't just be private, behind the scenes, talking behind his back. It needs to be public, it needs to be strong. It needs to show true conviction, that you're not worried about the consequences for yourself."

When the Inlander asked this week if the strife between Shea and Knezovich similarly harms the region when it comes to attracting employers, O'Quinn said, "I think that's more divisiveness within the party." She said the role of a county commissioner is mostly nonpartisan, and that there's a responsibility to take party politics out of the job. 

"There's nothing partisan about solid waste, emergency communications, our jail, the fair. All the work that we do, 99 percent of it is nonpartisan. And so we need to figure out how to work together regardless of party politics and partisan feelings, because that's what's best for the community," O'Quinn said.

Biviano, however, said it's still a partisan position and it's the responsibility of the highest-elected official in the county to stand up when something is unacceptable. 

"Are we going to seek unity by submitting, by surrendering to the nastiest voices because we're afraid for our own political, personal livelihood?" Biviano said. "Or are we going to stand up for something that sets an example?"