The bombshells don't come much bigger.Less than a year ago, Washington voters learned that an independent investigation — initiated by House Republicans — concluded that state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, had "participated in an act of domestic terrorism against the United States." In particular, the report revealed the depth of his involvement in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation, where armed militants occupied a federal facility for 41 days in 2016.
Shea already had a national sort of infamy, the subject of a Rolling Stone story and an entire podcast season, but this was another level entirely. Not only did calls for his resignation ring out, but Republican House Minority J.T. Wilcox took the dramatic step of booting the lawmaker from the state Republican Party caucus.
Across the state, county GOP parties were divided: Condemn Shea, condemn Wilcox or try to thread a narrow needle between the two.
Democrats saw an opportunity to hang Shea's extremist label on the rest of the party.
"I think the Democrats thought that their whole campaign was going to be about Trump, Trump, Trump and Shea," Wilcox says. But two things happened. First, the political extremism narrative got a little bit more complicated this year with far-left protesters — some of them armed — occupying several blocks in Seattle for three weeks.
Wilcox says Democrats “have been scared to death to touch” the topic of “not just the threat of political violence but actual political violence from people on the left.”
Second, Shea decided not to run again.
Shea still continued to appear in attack ads, acting as a cudgel to slam Democrats across the state. But on a broadcast on the American Christian Network the day of the election, Shea himself seemed to be gleeful that he'd denied his political adversaries and his critics in the media a direct target.
"They don’t know what to do," Shea opined. "They were literally trying to write me into stuff, but they didn't know what to do. ... It was really funny. I smiled.”
And so while Shea's legacy continued to loom large over the races this year, most of his allies didn't appear to be hurt by the association. Spokane County is a red county — and the 4th District is redder still.
Bob McCaslin Jr. (R) vs. Lori Feagan (D)
This was Matt Shea's old seat, in an extremely conservative district in Spokane Valley. Still, Lori Feagan, the nurse practitioner who planned to run against Shea, was confident.
"I felt like I had the experience and the leadership to get the political clout to mount a robust campaign to get Matt Shea out of Washington," says Feagan.
But when Shea opted not to run, incumbent Bob McCaslin Jr. switched positions to run against Feagan. And Feagan says McCaslin made for a much more difficult opponent than she was expecting.
"It’s challenging because he doesn't show up and create a public embarrassment for the district," Feagan says.
McCaslin had a similar voting record than Shea, but as a retired kindergarten teacher, he came off as a lot nicer. Where Shea was over the top, McCaslin flew under the radar.
(Earlier this year, McCaslin declined to speak to the Inlander.)
All of Feagan's efforts appear to have done little to dent McCaslin's incumbency advantage. While she's doing a little bit better than McCaslin's opponent in 2018, she's still trailing McCaslin by nearly 20 percentage points in early returns.
Feagan declined to opine on the results so far, saying "I want to honor the voices of all of the voters and wait until the votes are tallied."
Preliminary results showed McCaslin winning handily, 59.2 percent to 40.6 percent.
A longtime ally and defender of Matt Shea, Rob Chase, the former Spokane County treasurer, is the most Shea-like candidate in the race. Like Shea, Chase is a bit of a conspiracy theorist. He's dabbled in everything from birtherism to 9/11 trutherism and the wild QAnon conspiracy theory.
Lance Gurel, Chase's Democratic opponent, attempted to hang Shea's reputation on Chase.
"If Chase is elected, he will be controlled by Shea," Gurel wrote in a Sept. 24 newsletter, "It's time to return to sanity in the 4th District."
Then again, Shea won his district by more than 15 points in 2018. So maybe Spokane Valley voters don't necessarily mind if Chase ends up being controlled by Shea.
The 4th District, Shea said on an ACN radio broadcast, “was the target of a group of Marxists conspiring with a group of RINOs.”
And so far, Chase is winning handily.
"I ran in the 4th District, I think my message sold there," Chase says. "People remembered I was a good treasurer and kept my term-limits pledge."
As for his connection to Shea?
"I think it’s a huge advantage. For six elections he always got in the upper 50s, no matter what they threw at him," Chase says. "They called him an 'extremist.'"
But if Shea is extreme, Chase says, "the whole 4th District is extreme."
For the 4th, Chase says, "it seems like we're more in the middle of the bell curve."
After all, from 2013 to December of 2019, Casey and Shea worked side by side as attorneys at M. Casey Law. They'd teamed up to sue Eastern Washington University on behalf of a student they claimed had been unconstitutionally fired from the Easterner student newspaper after a particularly controversial opinion column criticizing Black protesters. And when Shea was sued by a Spokane County Sheriff's deputy, it was Marshall Casey who represented him.
"If you can break even in Spokane and carry the other counties, you win the day," Shea says. But so far, that strategy hasn't worked. Casey's not only getting blown out in Spokane, he's losing even in the conservative outlying counties, like Stevens County.
Preliminary results showed Staab winning handily, 65 percent to 35 percent.
Josh Kerns, who worked with Matt Shea as an aide for then-state Rep. Jeff Holy in the Washington Legislature, is not a full-on Shea ally.
But from his first run for county commissioner, Kerns has been dogged by criticism for his collegial association (and his podcast appearance) with Shea.
Kerns, the most conservative Republican on a board of three Republican commissioners, has also been criticized recently for appointing naturopathic doctor Jason Kinley — an anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorist with ties to Shea and Chase — to the Spokane Board of Health. (Kerns told the Spokesman-Review he picked Kinley partly because was the only applicant.)
And Ted Cummings? He’s the one who ran an ultimately futile campaign against Rep. Shea in 2018, accusing the Spokane Valley legislator of “sedition and fascism.”
At a KSPS debate, Cummings tore into Kerns for having declined to call for Shea’s resignation while other leaders demanded the controversial legislator step down.
“If you won't come out and confront someone that's so egregious, that reflects on our community,” Cummings said. “Whether you're effective or not, that's the road that we've gone down that led to ruin. We have to have principle.”
But Kerns stood by his decision.
"Do I agree with everything that Matt Shea has done and the things that he was accused of? No, I don't. ... 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,” Kerns says. “Whether you agree with what Representative Shea is accused of doing or not — he was elected by the people of the 4th Legislative District."
And Kerns, it appears, is about to be re-elected by the people of Spokane County, by a slightly larger margin than the 8 points that he won by in 2016.
"The numbers show the voters in Spokane County wanted a commissioner who is committed to fiscal responsibility, who is committed to transparency in government and is committed to getting our economy safely back on track," Kerns said Tuesday night.