Snapshots of Election 2019: Hopes, dreams, heartbreak and fist pumps

Election 2019

click to enlarge Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns, left, celebrates with City Council candidate Michael Cathcart at an election night party at Barrister Winery. - ERICK DOXEY PHOTO
Erick Doxey photo
Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns, left, celebrates with City Council candidate Michael Cathcart at an election night party at Barrister Winery.

THEY DID IT

The projection screen switches away from the KHQ broadcast to the Spokane County Election results page. For a moment, the buzz in the room at Barrister Winery softens to a whisper.

The crowd can't quite see the screen. Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns takes out his phone, trying to refresh the results page, but the connection is slow. Moments before the vote, he's feeling optimistic, anticipating a good night for mayoral candidate Nadine Woodward and other local Republicans.

A few feet away, in the center of the room, is another Spokane County commissioner, Al French, a conservative and a powerhouse in local politics. Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner and City Council candidate Michael Cathcart are here, too. As the projection screen scrolls down to the results, showing a win for Woodward and a tight race for council president, the room is filled with exuberance.

Everyone around French cheers. But French's reaction is measured. He slowly looks to his right, nods his head and, with the energy of Tiger Woods sinking a putt, pumps his fist with a thumbs-up. (WILSON CRISCIONE)

DULLED HOPES

Before the first vote tallies come in on election night, the back room of O'Doherty's Irish Grille is a lively who's who of liberal Spokanites and politicos who came out to support two progressive candidates: Councilman Breean Beggs, running for council president, and Lori Kinnear, running for re-election in District 2, which covers South Hill. State Rep. Marcus Riccelli, community organizer Naghmana Sherazi and lefty attorney Rick Eichstaedt make appearances, while young volunteers with Beggs' campaign boast about their election day get-out-the-vote sprint.

Attendees are cautiously optimistic about progressive candidates' prospects across the races. Riccelli, for instance, says that the mayoral and council president races will be "close."

Beggs, meanwhile, makes a prediction for his race: "I'm thinking 53 percent or higher," he says while drinking a beer. "I feel great."

He downplays the impact of unprecedented outside spending from the Realtors PAC in his race — they threw their weight behind his opponent, Cindy Windle — and other contests.

"I think it's going to have much less of an impact in the general than it did in the primary," Beggs says

Later, Paul Dillon, a local liberal activist, reads out the election results from his phone to the crowd: While Kinnear is winning with more than 60 percent in her race, Beggs is 800 votes behind and Ben Stuckart is trailing Nadine Woodward by roughly 2,000 votes. The room lets out an audible sigh of disappointment.

Beggs reassures the room that the late ballots will trend liberal: "We fully expect that we'll have a 6-1 majority and we'll have Mayor Ben Stuckart."

Then, someone tells him that Stuckart has just conceded. Beggs responds: "I saw that. But I don't believe him!"

A week after the election, Beggs' race against Cindy Wendle was still too close to call and, as of press time, appeared to be headed for an automatic recount. But with the latest tallies released yesterday (Nov. 13), Beggs actually surged ahead of Wendle by more than 300 votes, with an estimated 5,600 still to count. (JOSH KELETY)

DIGNITY IN THE END

City Council President Ben Stuckart puts on his reading glasses. He sets down his whiskey. He'd been running for Spokane mayor off and on since April of 2016. And this was it. This was the night. His ally, Councilman Breean Beggs, may have been confident, but Stuckart wasn't. He's anxious. He thought it was going to be close — a coin flip either way.

But now the coin had flipped.

He holds his printed-out concession speech in one hand and begins to read.

"Nadine Woodward has won the election to be the mayor of Spokane," Stuckart says.

He tells the crowd he'll work with Woodward during the transition. He thanks his supporters. He condemns money in politics. He says that he'd thought that "this election would be about how we want to grow as a city, but it turned into a referendum on homelessness."

And then shares a story he's never shared before, about a homeless man he knew for decades named John Hummel — a guy who donated to Stuckart's first race. John was charismatic and intelligent, but he was also an alcoholic. He refused to go to rehab. The money he got was squandered.

But this isn't one of those stories about how one program or another got him out of homelessness and now he's a successful New York businessman. It's a story that ends with John dying in 2018 at the House of Charity. It's the sort of sad story that politicians might use to say that shelters like House of Charity have failed, that they only enable people, that we needed to do more to force people into treatment.

But to Stuckart, the lesson was the opposite. Catholic Charities couldn't save John — but they could give him the dignity that we all deserve as a human being.

"I want to say that while I am sad I couldn't fix John's situation, I am forever grateful that Catholic Charities exists with no judgment," Stuckart says, "and he was able to stay at their facility on and off throughout and at the end of his life."

Then Stuckart's voice begins to raise, as if to reclaim his own battered idealism, to deliver what might be the summation — and the epitaph — to his political career.

"We cannot fix everyone but we can damn well better try," Stuckart said, "and at the very least we damn well better provide for every member of our community's basic needs." (DANIEL WALTERS)

ONE LAST THING

The emotions had overcome Nadine Woodward, who fights tears of joy as she steps off the stage where she delivered her speech. But she still has one more obligation: The media.

Cameramen scramble to set up their equipment in the back of the room, where reporters were told there would be a press conference. But between supporters hugging her and a Spokesman-Review and Inlander reporter separately intercepting her to fire off some questions, it takes Woodward at least five minutes to get into position for the TV cameras.

She wipes any lingering tears from her face, and the lights turned on. Reporters squeeze between tables to get their recorders as close as they can. She's asked what any politician is asked after a win: What will you do on your first day? "Maybe test out the view." What do you have to say to Ben Stuckart? "I thank him for his service. ... He ran an incredible campaign." Some people say you didn't have experience... "I didn't! That didn't matter! The fact of the matter was that they trusted me."

Her campaign manager stops the press conference after less than four minutes. The camera lights are shut off. The TV reporters gather their equipment.

"Finally!" Woodward says, reaching toward a bottle of wine. "We can celebrate!" (WILSON CRISCIONE)


click to enlarge Knezovich: Hoping to attract new recruits for the Spokane County Sheriff's department via reality TV.
Knezovich: Hoping to attract new recruits for the Spokane County Sheriff's department via reality TV.

VALLEY KINGMAKERS

In the contests for seats on the Spokane Valley City Council, there were endorsements from two regional political players that really mattered: Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and state Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley), who has been heavily criticized for his involvement in fringe right-wing extremist groups groups and is currently under investigation for promoting political violence.

And after four days of vote tallies, it looks like Knezovich will come out on top, with two wins to Shea's one.

Knezovich, who has long raised the alarm about the dangers of right-wing extremism and Shea in particular, lined up behind the incumbent Councilwoman Brandi Peetz, Lance Gurel, a 70-year-old accountant, and Tim Hattenburg, a former high school teacher. Shea, meanwhile, threw his support behind Michelle Rassmussen, a former city manager's assistant, longtime Councilman Arne Woodard, and Bo Tucker, a chiropractor, in a blog post on his personal website. (All of the candidates Shea backed told the Inlander that they didn't seek out his support.)

As of press time, Woodard was the only Shea-backed candidate to win, with a strong showing against Gurel. Peetz, meanwhile, had a 256-vote lead over Rasmussen while Hattenburg had a comfortable lead over Tucker. (JOSH KELETY)

GROWTH ON THE BALLOT

Housing costs, growth and development were top of mind for candidates in three races for the Coeur d'Alene City Council. But the election results suggest that city residents weren't single-issue voters. Two incumbents with very different stances on growth sailed back into office: Dan Gookin, who vehemently opposes large new developments that are out of character with existing neighborhoods, and Dan English, who is more open to densifying the city.

Meanwhile, anti-development neighborhood activist Elaine Price was bested by pro-growth candidate and former police officer Christie Wood, who garnered a whopping 62 percent of the vote. "I am not someone that will say 'restrict growth completely' like my opponent has," Wood told the Inlander before the election. "I'd rather see [the city] focus on bringing diversity in options of what's available." (JOSH KELETY)

EYMAN DOES IT AGAIN

Well, Tim Eyman did it: For the third time since 1999, he got voters to agree they want to lower their car tabs with approval of INITIATIVE 976.

Previously, Eyman's initiatives to the people to drop car tab fees to $30 per year haven't actually had that effect. In one case, that was because courts said an initiative couldn't retroactively interfere with fees already on the books, in the other because initiatives need to focus on a single issue. As KIRO radio in Seattle reports, a similar argument could be used to challenge this year's car tabs measure, with Seattle and King County already preparing lawsuits. Initiative 976 not only lowers car tabs to $30 across the board, it also removes the ability for local jurisdictions to implement a Transportation Benefit District fee (in Spokane, that fee has been $20 per year), and removes a variety of other potential fees that can be levied regionally to pay for things like Sound Transit in the Puget Sound.

It's expected that Washington could lose more than $4 billion for state and local transportation projects over the next six years if the measure is allowed to take effect. Already, Gov. Jay Inslee has told the Washington State Department of Transportation not to start any new projects that aren't already under construction.

For its part, Spokane will lose $3 million per year used to repair residential roads. Some City Council members have said that they would be open to asking Spokane voters to approve the Transportation Benefit District fee (the required structure under I-976), but it remains to be seen how the court process could change things. (SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL) 

click to enlarge Gov. Jay Inslee during a visit to Spokane.
Gov. Jay Inslee during a visit to Spokane.

NOT AFFIRMED YET

If there's one thing we know about affirmative action in Washington state, it's that public opinion is divided. Referendum 88 — in which voters were choosing whether or not to restore affirmative action in public programs — was rejected, but the results were nearly split 50/50. Supporters had argued that bringing back affirmative action would help women and minorities have more opportunities in education and employment, but opponents said the system should be merit-based instead. While the statewide results are about 50/50, Spokane County voters have proven to be against affirmative action. Nearly 60 percent of county voters rejected the referendum. (WILSON CRISCIONE) 

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