In commissioner debate, Ted Cummings slams Josh Kerns for having declined to call for Rep. Shea's resignation

click to enlarge County Commissioner Josh Kerns and his challenger, Ted Cummings, go toe-to-toe. - DANIEL WALTERS PHOTO
Daniel Walters photo
County Commissioner Josh Kerns and his challenger, Ted Cummings, go toe-to-toe.
Four years ago, when Josh Kerns first ran for the Spokane Board of the County Commissioners, his opponent, City Councilwoman Candace Mumm, was offered one question to ask Kerns during a debate.

She chose to ask Kerns about his apparent ties to Rep. Matt Shea, who was already controversial in 2016 for, among many other things, having visited armed militants at an eastern Oregon wildlife refuge. Kerns had appeared on Shea's podcast that year and had obtained Shea's endorsement.

Kerns countered that just because one of his supporters believes something that doesn't mean that he does, and he said that he, personally, wouldn't have gone down to the wildlife refuge.

Four years later, however, Shea has, if anything, become more controversial. An independent investigation revealed that his involvement with the wildlife refuge standoff was far deeper than had been originally reported, and accused him of having effectively "participated in an act of domestic terrorism against the United States."

Unlike some Republicans, Kerns didn't leap to defend Shea — but he also didn't join the chorus of calls for Shea's resignation, which had included House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox, Sen. Michael Baumgartner, then-Mayor David Condon, Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl, and longtime Shea critic Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.

“Matt can do what Matt wants to do,” Kerns told the Spokesman-Review last year, saying Shea's comments were concerning but that it was up to the voters to make the decision. “I think at any level of elected office, you need to do the best job for your constituents.”

Which brings us to this year. Shea declined to run again. But Ted Cummings, who had accused Shea of "sedition and fascism" while running against him two years ago, is competing head-to-head with Kerns in the county commissioner race. At a KSPS debate taped Thursday afternoon, the Inlander and the Spokesman-Review had a chance to ask the two candidates about the difference in their approaches to Shea.

When was it right to call out another elected official for their statements or behavior?

It sparked the following passionate exchange:

TED CUMMINGS: It's what an elected official needs to do. When you see a wrong, you have a moral and — I don't want to say a legal — but just a righteous obligation to confront it, wherever you find it. I am so proud of my race in 2018.

And the fact that people haven't come out and condemned that? And we have this Proud Boy issue now, that needs to be condemned. I wrote a letter to the editor about armed militias, which were a big proponent of Matt Shea's, that he wants to have armed [militias].

When we have armed people on our street, that endangers the public health. That sends the wrong message about our community. And I'm totally going do everything I can to see that that stops.

Armed people in our parks, while our kids are playing soccer, is abhorrent and should never happen. Not in this county. Not if I can do anything about it. So I think you have an obligation to confront hate, and anything that's wrong wherever you encounter it.

JOSH KERNS: Do I agree with everything that Matt Shea has done and the things that he was accused of? No, I don't. I was not a part of those things. If you read through those reports, my name was nowhere near them. I was not a part of that.

As far as asking another elected official to resign from office? I don't think that's my place to do.

You've never seen me attack another elected official in my time as a county commissioner.
You can go through and look at quotes. You can look at my Facebook.

Many of these elected officials at the state level, I need to go to them and ask for their support on legislation that benefits the county. I need to ask for their support for capital budget requests. If I cannot keep a working relationship with these elected officials, that's a direct disadvantage to the people that I represent in this county. I do not support hate groups, as well. I do not support violence in our streets. I have worked hard to make this a welcoming community and the best place for everyone to live, work and raise a family.

CUMMINGS: I think that rings hollow.

If you won't come out and confront someone that's so egregious, that reflects on our community.

I think you have an obligation to engage that person. Whether you're effective or not, that's the road that we've gone down that led to ruin. We have to have principle. We have to have integrity, regardless of the cost, or we end up where we are today.

Where words mean nothing. There's a time and a place to draw a line and this is one of them. When we have people in our community that feel threatened by our representatives? That's outrageous, and it needs to stop.

Whether you agree with what Representative Shea is accused of doing or not — he was elected by the people of the 4th Legislative District.

I did not call for his resignation. I did not hear my opponent calling for Representative Tim Ormsby's resignation when he was accused of drunk driving, when he flipped his car into somebody's front yard in Olympia while texting. It is about values. It is about standing up for what you believe in. But I'm sorry, when you sit there and say that it doesn't matter how effective you are for your constituents? That's just false.

CUMMINGS: You don't see a difference between a drunk driver — someone that made a mistake that could happen to me or anyone else — and someone actively fomenting sedition? Planning to bash a woman's head into a Jersey barrier?!* You're OK with that?! I'm shocked by that, Josh. That's completely outrageous! There is no place for that! And that's what you're elected to do to lead! And if it means calling out another person, you have a duty to do that, if you really want to serve your people.

* The comment about slamming a local activist's head into a Jersey barrier, the Inlander noted on air in the debate, was not made by Shea. It was made by a Shea ally who broadcasts a far-right radio show by the name of “John Jacob Schmidt" in a secretive messaging group that included Shea.
KERNS: Not once did I say I support what [Shea] was accused of doing. I believe I specifically said, I do not support the things that Representative Shea was accused of. I do not support terrorism. I do not support domestic terrorism. I do not support hate. I do not support violence in our streets.

I have stood strong at being a unifying voice within our community. And I have represented our community quite well for the last four years. And I've never been accused of any of the things that you are trying to tie me to.

Another particularly heated exchange in the debate came over the discussion about a Board of County Commissioner resolution to require Spokane County labor negotiations to take place in public, instead of being closed doors.

Cummings, a Kaiser Aluminum employee, argued it was an attack on unions — and the reason why he jumped into the race — while Kerns argued that it was necessary for transparency.

I'm a huge proponent of transparency in government.

That resolution that we passed is is something that allows for the taxpayers to see how their tax dollars are being used and being bargained with. It's also proven to be wildly popular in our community.

About a year after we adopted it, the city of Spokane adopted into their city charter, an amendment that was almost identical to what we passed.

It passed with voters by over 76 percent. It's wildly popular because it allows the public to see how their tax dollars are being bargained with. It allows the media to see it as well and report on it. It also allows rank-and-file union members to be in there to see how their union is bargaining on their behalf.

My opponent supports a sort the strategy where these sorts of things should be done in dark back rooms, with no eyes on them. And, quite frankly, that's just wrong.

CUMMINGS: Everything Mr. Kerns said is part of the [Washington state-based anti-union] Freedom Foundation propaganda.

And this is the reason why I jumped into this race when no one else had filed... It's one thing that he's not going to stand up and protect segments of his community against a domestic terrorist.

But this is, again, another attack on a segment of his community — the people that have union jobs. This is the bulk of our middle class. And to say that, that we sit in dark rooms and negotiate contracts, is patently false.

It's a way to get things done efficiently. What comes out of those rooms is in a contract, and that's available for everyone to see — members, the community, everyone. But if you have a football arena around you while you're trying to have discussions, you're not going to explore things thoroughly, you're not going to bring up suggestions, you're not going to talk. This is an ongoing attack against working people destroying the middle class. And I'm totally opposed to it. The unions have done so much good in this country. And this is a false narrative.

The debate airs Thursday, Oct. 1, at 7 pm on KSPS and can also be viewed on or in the embedded video below:

Center of the Universe Re-Dedication & Raffle @ Wallace

Sat., Sept. 18, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, staff writer Daniel Walters is the Inlander's City Hall reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...