Far-right conservatives, normal conservatives and a few moderates vie for seats on the Spokane Valley City Council

click to enlarge Rod Higgins (left) and James "JJ" Johnson
Rod Higgins (left) and James "JJ" Johnson

POSITION 1
ROD HIGGINS VS. JAMES "JJ" JOHNSON

Since he was elected in 2013, incumbent ROD HIGGINS has been one of the more conservative voices on the Spokane Valley City Council. He's being challenged by the more moderate JAMES "JJ" JOHNSON, who sits on the Spokane County Human Rights Task Force's board of directors and works for Spokane Public Schools.

Higgins caused controversy in 2019 when he pushed back against a racial equity proposal from Councilmember Linda Thompson. He has also been a strong critic of mask mandates and called for "civil disobedience" in response to Gov. Jay Inslee's orders. During a Northwest Passages candidate forum, Johnson dismissed his opponent's hesitation.

"It's not a big deal to wear a mask, I do it a lot," Johnson said.

Higgins and Johnson are the only two candidates who filed to run, so both advanced to the general election without a primary.

click to enlarge Brandon Fenton (left) and Ben Wick
Brandon Fenton (left) and Ben Wick

POSITION 4
BRANDON FENTON VS. BEN WICK

BRANDON FENTON is a self-described Trump Republican who shares a last name and campaign website with his father, Wayne Fenton, who is running for Spokane Valley City Council Position 5. The Fentons are running on similar "Make Spokane Valley Great Again" platforms that involve minimal government interference, strong law enforcement and defiance in the face of what they see as draconian COVID-19 restrictions.

Brandon's opponent is Spokane Valley Mayor BEN WICK. (Councilmembers in Spokane Valley choose a mayor from the Spokane Valley City Council.) Wick is conservative, but not quite on the Fenton family's level. Wick is not a fan of big government and doesn't like talking about his vaccination status, but the Progressive Voters Guide still recommended him as the lesser of two conservatives. (Brandon refers to him as a RINO — conservative slang for "Republican in name only.") Wick bested Fenton by 30 percent in the primary.

click to enlarge Wayne Fenton (left) and Pam Haley
Wayne Fenton (left) and Pam Haley

POSITION 5
WAYNE FENTON VS. PAM HALEY

WAYNE FENTON is challenging council incumbent PAM HALEY, who leans farther right than his son's competitor. Haley was endorsed by prominent Eastern Washington Republicans like State Sen. Mike Padden and State Rep. Bob McCaslin.

During a candidate forum (that Wayne didn't attend), Haley said she's not sure how she feels about vaccine and mask mandates. She owns Rainbow Connection Daycare and said the mandates have made it hard to find and maintain employees. Wayne hasn't been subtle about his thoughts on mandates. In 2020, he famously defied Gov. Jay Inslee's lockdown orders and refused to close The Black Diamond, a bar he owns with his son.

Haley lists public safety, smooth roads and better jobs as priorities. She told Spokane Talks that she aims to keep Spokane Valley conservative and avoid going into debt. On his website, Wayne says he wants to decrease regulations, "wherever and whenever."

click to enlarge Linda Thompson (left) and Laura Padden
Linda Thompson (left) and Laura Padden

POSITION 7
LINDA THOMPSON VS. LAURA PADDEN

Incumbent LINDA THOMPSON is going to have to fight to keep her City Council seat. She's up against LAURA PADDEN, who is married to state Sen. Mike Padden and came in 5 percent ahead of Thompson in the August primary.

Thompson was elected in 2017. She is more progressive than many of the other Spokane Valley candidates. Thompson has advocated for mental health professionals to accompany officers on duty and frequently brings up equity and inclusion as important factors in developing public policy.

Padden lists public safety as a top priority. During a September candidate forum hosted by Northwest Passages, she spoke ominously of "storm clouds" gathering over Spokane Valley in the form of gang activity.

Both Padden and Thompson agree there's an urgent need to find creative solutions to manage Spokane Valley's rapid growth. ♦

[CORRECTION: The print version of this story inaccurately stated the primary results of the Thompson-Padden race.]

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