Spokane's more suburban and conservative neighbor, Spokane Valley, has three of its seven council seats up for grabs this election cycle. Similar issues such as homelessness and rising housing costs dominate headlines in both cities. But in Spokane Valley, it's a battle between moderates and conservatives over the future council.
Spokane Valley Councilman Sam Wood is stepping down after being elected in 2015. Jockeying to fill his seat are two self-professed conservatives: Bo Tucker, 50, a local chiropractor, and Tim Hattenburg, 66, a retired Central Valley School District teacher and former library board member.
While they've both garnered around $15,000 in donations, their donor bases are very different, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission. Hattenburg has received sizeable contributions from a number of lefty heavyweights, including the Spokane County Democratic Central Committee and the Spokane Regional Labor Council. Tucker, meanwhile, has brought in donations from the Spokane Home Builders Association and a number of other conservative candidates running for council seats, such as incumbent Arne Woodard and newcomer Michelle Rasmussen.
Tucker isn't shy about wrapping his council bid in conservative themes, describing himself as "fiscally conservative" and Spokane Valley as having a "conservative nature."
"I realized, as I was looking at the candidates, that there was not a conservative candidate. So that's why I decided to run," he says. "We need to maintain a conservative approach in Spokane Valley."
Hattenburg, he says, isn't a real conservative.
In response, Hattenburg frames himself as a lifelong "fiscal conservative" and a "moderate on social issues." He points to his endorsement from Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who is Republican, as evidence of his bipartisan appeal.
Hattenburg notes that Tucker has received support from controversial state Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley), who has been widely derided for his involvement in fringe right-wing groups and is currently under investigation to determine if he's promoted political violence. On his website, Shea describes Tucker as a "dedicated family man" with a "rock solid" worldview.
Tucker says by email that he did not "seek out" Shea's support, but he did not respond to follow-up questions about whether he rejects Shea's support.
As far as the city's role in caring for the homeless, Tucker says that the broader community and the private sector should bear the burden of providing services.
"Getting people involved to take care of their fellow man is the answer," Tucker says. "There's a sliding scale that happens once the government begins to provide for services."
Hattenburg says that he supports low-barrier shelters and housing for "emergency situations" that are a matter of life or death. However, for long-term housing, he thinks some sort of commitment to behavioral health treatment should be required.
On whether Spokane Valley needs its own emergency shelter — currently, the city lacks one — Hattenburg says that though the city currently doesn't have the budget for it, he would like city staff to study it in the future.
The incumbent in this race, Councilman Arne Woodard, 66, has been in office for almost a decade at this point. The former real estate broker was first appointed in 2011 and has been in the role ever since, serving as a reliable conservative vote on the council.
"I've done a very good job of doing what I said I would do," Woodard says. "I was available to [constituents] to cut regulation, continue to listen and stay conservative and true to those types of values. I don't think my work is done."
But his opponent, Lance Gurel, a 70-year-old accountant, is looking to topple him, arguing that he's better positioned to represent all constituents in Spokane Valley rather than just conservative voters and stakeholders. He describes himself as an "independent" and has been endorsed by Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.
"I disagree with statements my opponent's made that Spokane Valley wants to stay a conservative, mostly right-leaning community," Gurel says. "I think we're a community with a lot of diversity and people who share a lot of diverse interests, and I want to be on the City Council to represent everybody."
The two candidates campaign war chests also illustrate their ideological leanings. Gurel has amassed around $12,000 with donations coming from organizations like the Spokane County Democrats and the Spokane Regional Labor Council. Woodard, in contrast, has roughly $20,000, with big contributions coming from the Washington Association of Realtors and the Spokane Home Builders Association.
Woodard points to the council's role in moving along the Barker Road grade separation project and leveraging limited funds to repave or plan to repave "every major arterial" as some of his accomplishments.
On homelessness, Woodard says that he'd like to see the city "do more on the prevention side of it" by keeping people from becoming homeless to begin with. He isn't vehemently opposed to adding a shelter in Spokane Valley, but argues that it would have to be regionally funded.
Gurel, in contrast, supports "Housing First." However, while he said that Spokane Valley does need to have shelters "within the city" in the future — "I think we can do more," he says — the people who are "best suited" to do it now are providers in Spokane.
Woodard came under fire for comments he made at a council meeting regarding a proposed racial equity policy for Spokane Valley. He said that the city doesn't need one given that it already passed an anti-discrimination resolution in 2017 and that he's never heard complaints from people of color that he's talked to.
When asked by the Inlander if he stands by his comments, Woodard says "absolutely."
"You create a problem if you repeat it enough," he adds. "The citizens out here don't see that they have a problem. I've talked to a lot of racially diverse people."
Gurel says that he was "shocked" by Woodard's reaction, and that he didn't understand why he was so unwilling to revisit city policies concerning racial equity.
"Systemic racism exists everywhere. Throughout our society. It exists in our state, it exists in the city of Spokane Valley," he says.
Spokane Valley Councilwoman Brandi Peetz, 33, was first elected in 2017. Now, the former 911 dispatcher is fighting off a challenge from 62-year-old Michelle Rasmussen, a former assistant to the city manager and current planning commissioner.
Peetz points to her constituent engagement — such as "coffee chats" — and an effort to bring localized training to new officers who are slated to patrol Spokane Valley as some of her accomplishments. She also cites her role in getting road maintenance funded using roughly $7 million in surplus funds.
"That speaks volumes about what we've done as a council in the last two years," she says. "I think we're moving in the right direction and I want to keep moving forward," she adds.
Rasmussen, meanwhile, argues that Peetz hasn't been financially responsible by voting for using one-time surplus money to fund basic infrastructure. She frames herself as a budget-savvy, true fiscal conservative.
"To think that we could continue to always have surpluses is really not good thinking and planning," Rasmussen says. "Her statement is just 'use the surpluses now, and if and when the economy turns we'll have to take a look at it.'"
On homelessness, Rasmussen wants to see the Ninth Circuit Court ruling on the Boise camping ordinance overturned so that local cops can enforce bans on public camping.
"We do need to have the Supreme Court look at the Ninth Circuit decision so our police officers and first responders can get people out of our parks," she says.
One of the primary roadblocks to addressing homelessness, she says, is a lack of connectivity between emergency responders and available regional services: "It isn't always about the beds."
On whether Spokane Valley should have its own emergency shelter, she says a regional facility may be needed: "I believe in starting small, perhaps one regional facility, to help with the immediate need."
Peetz, meanwhile, says that the city should aggressively pursue a new shelter alongside regional partners.
"There's no reason why we shouldn't be doing something now," she says. "Sitting back and letting it get worse is not going to do anything for anybody."
When asked whether she thinks the shelter should be in the Valley, Peetz says: "At this point, I don't think it matters where it goes."
Rasmussen has also been discussed favorably by Rep. Matt Shea, who described her on his website as a "solid Christian Conservative" who will keep Spokane Valley "business and Christian friendly."
When asked whether she rejects his endorsement, Rasmussen writes in an email: "My accepting or rejecting his recommendation of me on his website is of no relevance. He has a right to state what he feels." ♦