No, Joel Connelly, the Spokane Valley City Council isn't trying to split Washington

click to enlarge No, Joel Connelly, the Spokane Valley City Council isn't trying to split Washington
City of Spokane Valley
Spokane Valley City Hall

On the afternoon of Dec. 17, longtime Seattle PI  columnist Joel Connelly published an article claiming that the Spokane Valley City Council will vote on a proposal from several regional conservative state lawmakers to split the state of Washington. The piece ran under the headline: "Spokane Valley Council to vote on proposal to split Washington."

The thing is, the Spokane Valley City Council isn't planning to vote on such a plan.

“We don’t know where this information came from, but it’s certainly not grounded in any fact,” says Spokane Valley City Manager Mark Calhoun in a Dec. 18 news release. (The release was titled "City of Spokane Valley Not Voting on Plan to Create 51st State.") “This came as a complete surprise to us and to our council. It’s unfortunate that a publication would publish something of this nature without checking with us. It detracts from the real work the city is doing to improve transportation, business development and economic expansion of our region.”

Additionally, Connelly asserts in the piece that the Spokane Valley City Council "wants its staff to evaluate" whether Eastern Washington and Spokane contribute more in state tax dollars than they receive relative to Western Washington before voting on the 51st state proposal. However, Annie Gannon, a spokesperson for the city of Spokane Valley, tells the Inlander that this is also inaccurate.

According to the release, Spokane Valley city staff reached out to Connelly and other PI  staff regarding the factual inaccuracies in the article, but were unable to get through to anyone. Spokesperson Gannon says that she did hear back from Connelly on Dec. 18, but he claimed that he saw the story covered by the Spokesman-Review and the Associated Press. (This reporter was unable to find any such articles from either outlet.)

"I’m still just trying to figure out where it [Connelly's angle] came from," Gannon says.

Attempts by this reporter to reach Connelly and other PI staff were initially unsuccessful, and Connelly's article was still online without any corrections on Tuesday but taken down by late afternoon. The article was eventually reposted with a correction, and Connelly himself published an apology note.

There is truth to the notion that certain regional state lawmakers are interested in splitting off Eastern Washington to form a separate state. For example, Rep. Matt Shea (R–Spokane Valley), a conservative local lawmaker who recently made international headlines for authoring — and defending — a highly controversial document titled the "Biblical Basis for War," has regularly called for turning Eastern Washington into its own state for years. (In Shea's mind, this theoretical 51st state would be a libertarian utopia fittingly called "Liberty.")

And the Spokane Valley City Council did consider weighing in on a specific proposal to split the state from three Republican state lawmakers — including Shea and Rep. Bob McCaslin of Spokane Valley — back in 2016, but never followed through with the vote.

However, Shea's coziness with the fringes of conservative American politics and the Spokane Valley City Council's prior willingness to weigh in on the idea of creating a 51st state back in 2016 are as far as the facts go on this matter.

It appears that Connelly cribbed information from a 2016 Spokesman-Review story covering the Spokane Valley City Council's interest in the 51st state plan and got the date wrong.

In his apology note, he admitted as much: "Eager to research and catch up on Shea controversies, I failed to check on the dates of the articles: News from 2016 was given a 2018 dateline," Connelly writes.

This post has been updated to reflect the apology note posted by Connelly and the correction added to his original story.

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About The Author

Josh Kelety

As a staff writer, Josh covers criminal justice issues and Spokane County government. Previously, he worked as a reporter for Seattle Weekly. Josh grew up in Port Townsend and graduated from the University of Washington. Message him through Signal @ (360) 301-3490.