Yelling matches, formal grievances and preferred pronouns: How the Spokane County Democrats self-destructed

click to enlarge Ed Wood — who would go on to become the Spokane County Democrats' chair — speaks at a 2017 meeting, - DANIEL WALTERS PHOTO
Daniel Walters photo
Ed Wood — who would go on to become the Spokane County Democrats' chair — speaks at a 2017 meeting,

Earlier this month, the Inlander contacted Spokane County Democrats Chair Ed Wood to ask about a barrage of complaints and accusations leveled against him — including a formal grievance from his own vice-chair that had been filed with the state Democratic Party.

Initially, Wood responded with outright denial.


No, he repeatedly insisted, he was not aware of any recent strife or conflict within the party. No, he claimed, he wasn't aware of any grievance filed against him, and even if he was, he wouldn't be allowed to talk about it because of the party's rules. 

That was on June 5. But a week later, Wood — and all the other executive officers on the board of the local Democratic Party — declared they were resigning. 

To Wood, the mass resignation was entirely the fault of Tina Podlodowski, chair of the Washington State Democrats.

“It is because of the lack of leadership and disrespect from you towards myself and my executive board,” he wrote in a resignation letter to
Podlodowski, accusing her of sitting on the complaints against him for months, of meeting with local groups about him behind his back, and telling the local party how he should be punished.

He continued, "This is not a way to run a party and I will no longer be a part of this." 

Wood repeated the charge in a follow-up interview with the Inlander, claiming he was being smeared by a lot of people.


"I thought we are a country of laws with due process!" Wood yells. "I’m being told that I’m this and that, and I don’t even know what the hell it's about. ... I have retained an attorney and I am very prepared to go to court over this."

Wood has a cadre of fervent supporters — they praise him for his ability to rapidly raise enough funds to pay for the $47,300 in campaign finance fines left as a consequence of previous leadership's mismanagement.

"I was in that office for seven months, six hours a day for seven days a week," says former City Council President Ben Stuckart, who ran for Spokane mayor last year with the Democratic Party's support. "I saw Ed Wood at a minimum of four days a week, giving of his time. I never had one single bad experience." 
But the voices against Wood have been growing increasingly louder over the past two and a half years — and in the last six months they've become a fervent chorus.

In December, a squadron of progressive activist groups — the Peace and Justice Action League, the criminal justice organization I Did the Time, local chapters of the NAACP and Planned Parenthood, and the National Organization for Women — co-signed a letter pleading with Podlodowski to intervene and push Wood to meet with those groups to address a variety of issues.

"While we cannot speak to his intent, the impact of Ed Wood’s leadership has been to further marginalize people of color, people who have been justice-involved, and LGBT+ people," the message read. "As we move forward, if nothing changes, it would be very difficult to keep our collective voices silent about our concerns."

In February, Vice-Chair Jac Archer resigned.


"Once it became clear that the party is a toxic place for me, as a queer person, as a black person, as a young person, I realized I could not be a good soldier anymore," Archer tells the Inlander. "I couldn’t in good faith encourage people to get involved with the local Democratic Party anymore."

By March, the Spokane County Young Democrats put out an official statement on Facebook, publicly calling for the party's leadership to resign.

“Over the course of the last year, the leadership of the Spokane County Democrats have, on multiple occasions, belittled young people, engaged in bigotry, refused to use preferred pronouns, and exhibited racism towards our members,” the group wrote.

Wood dismissed the Young Democrats' allegations as essentially slanderous and the party didn't respond to it.

"My leadership, to me, is impeccable. Impeccable. We welcome everybody in the party. Totally,” Wood told the Inlander before his resignation. "When you attack me, you attack the entire party."

But Podlodowski says that it wasn't just one formal complaint against Wood — it was three. All of them, she says, were serious enough for the state party to recommend the local grievance committee take action. And when it seemed like the grievance committee was dragging their feet, she says the state party began to take matters into their own hands.

She casts Wood as a "fundamentally good man — an honest man — who is struggling with change" and who had repeatedly failed to adapt to Democratic values of inclusion and equity and listen to those who'd been demanding a voice.
So in one sense, the sudden collapse of the Democratic Party had to do with procedural arguments and personal affronts. But in another, it was a symptom of the fracture running through the left as a whole, a divide between those who see championing protections for gender identity, race and sexuality as a central mission for the party and those who feel it's a distraction from "getting Democrats elected."

The split is generational as much as ideological. But Podlodowski argues that Wood wasn't prepared to heal that rift — or even truly acknowledge it. Change is a struggle, she says, but a party leader has to be able to grapple with it.

"It feels like he didn't want to face those things," Podlodowski says. "It feels to me in this situation, Ed is giving up in that struggle and placing the blame elsewhere."


THE EDS

click to enlarge Former Spokane County Democrats State Committeeman Ed Duhaime at a 2017 meeting of Democrats. - DANIEL WALTERS PHOTO
Daniel Walters photo
Former Spokane County Democrats State Committeeman Ed Duhaime at a 2017 meeting of Democrats.

To understand the divide, start with Jac Archer and Ed Duhaime.

Like Ed Wood, Ed Duhaime is a white-bearded white man. A 66-year-old Bernie Sanders supporter, Duhaime argues that Democrats spent too little time on labor issues and "ordinary working people" and too much time on things like "racism, feminism, gender issues, those kinds of things."

From 2016 to 2018, he was the local party's state committeeman. And until last year, he was the local group's unofficial volunteer coordinator: He'd greet people at the front desk, he'd do odd jobs around the office, he'd help manage volunteers for events.

But Jac Archer, who served as the local party's vice-chair, is a black trans activist passionate about precisely the sort of issues that Duhaime disparages as a distraction.

It's personal. Archer identifies as a "demi-guy" — a nonbinary person who leans toward the masculine gender identity — and prefers the gender-neutral pronoun “they.”

Duhaime refuses to extend that courtesy. He says it's a matter of principle, of linguistics. If he thinks a trans woman looks enough like a man, he'll call her a "he," he tells the Inlander. It's either "he" or "she," he believes, but never "they." 

"For crying out loud, you are trying to attack me over 'they, them and their' and it's not even my culture and I'm doing the best I can to remember when I can to do that."

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"I just thought that the issue was itself insane — and also politically a negative for the party,"
Duhaime says.

So in early 2018, shortly after Wood was elected chair, Duhaime made his opinions known to Archer. Duhaime went off on a 15-minute tirade about his pronoun policy, Archer says, denouncing activists for "bullying" changes into the language.

"I said, 'If you keep referring to me as she/her, I will correct you," Archer recalls. "And he says, 'And I will ignore it.'"

Archer remembers ducking around the corner after the meeting and bawling.

While Wood called Archer to apologize for Duhaime's behavior, Duhaime remained in his position as the local party's state committeeman. Wood casts Duhaime's refusal to use a person's preferred pronoun as merely an agree-to-disagree situation.

"That's his free speech right to do that. But it's also Jac's free speech right not to recognize him," Wood says. "If he doesn't want to respect they/them and they, then she has the right to not respect him."

To Archer, Wood's failure to take action against Duhaime — in a year when a trans woman was running as the Democrat's Spokane County Commissioner candidate — was inexcusable.

"I don't know how to explain what it's like to have someone look you in the face and say, 'I do not care how my words make you feel,'" Archer says. "'I do not care how important this is to you. I am going to willfully intentionally disregard you, your identity and your feelings.'" 

Calling a transgender person by the wrong pronoun is exactly the sort of behavior that leads to hostile work environment complaints, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

Archer's complaint wasn't just about Duhaime. Archer and several other local Democrats interviewed complained that Wood would frequently refer to Archer as "she" or "her" when Archer was outside the room, despite being frequently corrected. 

While nearly every person the Inlander interviewed for this story inadvertently used the wrong pronoun to refer to Archer at least once, several sources argued that the frequency of Wood's misgendering went beyond simple carelessness.

But Wood says he's genuinely trying, and you should cut him some slack. 

"I'm 73 years old, OK!? 'They and them' is new to almost everybody in our age group,” Wood counters. "For crying out loud, you are trying to attack me over 'they, them and their' and it's not even my culture and I'm doing the best I can to remember when I can to do that. What more can society expect from me or anybody else in the Democratic Party?"

Mary Winkes, who also resigned her position as the local party's state committee member last week, charged Archer gave "no latitude and no grace" when it came to misgendering screwups. 

"We need to elect Democrats. If we get caught up in all these side issues, we use energy needlessly," Winkes says. "A single person's identity is not our mission. Our mission is electing Democrats."

Another of Wood's supporters in the party hands the Inlander two 11-inch-by-17-inch color printouts of Facebook screenshots showing Archer praising Wood in 2018 for informing a bank teller about Archer's pronouns.

But the issue wasn't settled. While Duhaime didn't run again for state committeeman, he continued to serve as the front desk volunteer. And after a marathon Facebook argument last year with other local Democrats, where he decried preferred pronouns as "narcissism run amok," the calls for Duhuime's resignation got louder. 

"Our party is supposed to stand for inclusivity and acceptance, and these qualities are not shown by this individual," Autumn Reed, then NOW's president and a Democratic precinct committee officer, wrote in a March 2018 letter. 

But when local Democratic precinct committee officer Rebekah Mason wanted the letter to be read aloud at one of the party's board meetings, Wood refused to allow it, claiming that would be against the party's rules.

"I was yelled at, told that I was out of order," Mason says. 

So in April 2019, Mason filed a grievance with the local party, charging that Duhaime's behavior violated the party's bylaws. But with the party engaged in a full-scale rewrite of the party's grievance procedures, it took five months for her complaint to even get processed. And the verdict? Since Duhaime was only a volunteer at that time, the committee determined, the party's bylaws didn't even apply to him.

But Duhaime had already resigned way back in May of 2019: Wood didn't tell him to do it, he says, but he also felt the party no longer had his back.

To Wood and Winkes, Duhaime's resignation represented an irreplaceable loss of a tireless volunteer.

“Was it a hardship on me? It's still a hardship on me,” Wood says. “He was the best I'd ever seen do that job."

But Duhaime quitting didn't solve the concerns that LGBT members of the party had with the leadership. Archer sent a grievance over Wood's leadership to the state party in December.
And Mason, feeling her concerns had been met with "resistance, denial and gaslighting," filed a grievance with the state in February.

Ultimately, it's a central question for the Democratic Party: Can the Democrats' big tent include both Ed Duhaime and Jac Archer?

"A party where transphobia is acceptable," Archer says, "is not a party that I'm going to be a part of."

SAFETY ISSUES

click to enlarge Former Spokane County Democrats Vice-Chair Jac Archer - DANIEL WALTERS PHOTO
Daniel Walters photo
Former Spokane County Democrats Vice-Chair Jac Archer

By contrast, you'd think a resolution condemning white nationalism would be simple. Two years ago, the Spokane County Republican Party had made national news when their chair hosted a member of the white supremacist group Identify Evropa and claimed he'd been "label lynched."

But when the Spokane County Democrats set out to pass a resolution condemning hate groups in early 2019, it quickly devolved into infighting.

"It was tearing the party apart," says Winkes, the former state committeewoman. "We couldn't seem to have a reasonable discussion on this."

Some members of leadership proposed simply affirming a 2017 Washington State Democrats resolution that dedicated Democrats to fighting white supremacy and systemic racism.

But Archer and others wanted to go further: Their proposed resolution dedicated Democrats to ask local leaders — including every candidate asking for the party's endorsement — to refuse to ever offer a platform to hate groups. It named organizations like Identity Evropa, Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys as examples. 

But Winkes and others worried that the resolution could put their lives in danger.

"My back is to the front door of the office," Winkes says. "And I didn't want the Proud Boys or somebody else busting in and shooting me because they were mentioned in some resolution."

The party could lock the doors, Winkes says, but then an attacker could shoot through the glass.

And Wood was outraged that their proposal hadn't gone through the resolutions committee first. Precinct committee officer Erin Ormsby recalls Wood declaring he'd been "stabbed in the back" by Archer at a February 2019 resolutions meeting. 

“He came in and was very angry, he was shouting about how Jac hadn’t consulted with him with the resolution," Ormsby says, "and that he was resigning if it passed."

According to witnesses, Wood stormed out after getting into a yelling match with Jeff Beaulac, a state committee member who had a reputation for aggressive verbal exchanges.

"Ed threatening to resign had become commonplace. And he never did, and I don't see that he ever would. He likes being chair," Archer told the Inlander a week before Wood's resignation.

While Wood later apologized for yelling, Archer says they didn't feel safe continuing talking to him without a mediator and brought in Breean Beggs — a Spokane City Council member and an attorney trained in mediation — to try to broker a truce. Wood declines to say what happened during mediation, while Archer blames Wood for the mediation not continuing.

By the time the two anti-white nationalist resolutions came up for a vote at the Spokane County Democrat's quarterly central committee meeting in March of 2019, Wood officially endorsed both resolutions.

But that doesn't mean the meeting went smoothly.

"People were screaming at each other," Winkes says. "It was stupid. There were tears. It was nuts."

At first, Wood refused to allow Archer to speak about the proposed resolution, claiming that Archer hadn't signed in.

"We have rules, I hate to tell you," Wood tells the Inlander.

But Wood had interpreted the rules wrong. A ruling from the party's parliamentarian concluded that Archer was allowed to speak.

Wood scoffs at the notion that anyone could object to how things went down.

"She came up — pardon me — they came up and spoke! For crying out loud, Jiminy Christmas," Wood says. "For an all-volunteer organization, this kind of crap makes very dedicated people not even want to be involved with anything."

He points out that both resolutions ultimately passed. But Archer felt that Wood had attempted to take away their voice.

"Literally," Archer says. "I know it wasn't just my feeling, I know other people saw it that way as well."

Wood's predecessor, former Spokane County Democrats Chair Andrew Biviano, left particularly disturbed that at a meeting about a resolution to support people of color, a person of color was initially barred from speaking. He saw it as an "openly exclusionary act" and he decided he wasn't going to be involved in the party going forward. 

“I can't tell any of my black friends that they should join the Democrats, because I haven't seen any evidence that they'll be treated well,” Biviano says. "I had hard evidence that they weren't going to feel accepted or feel safe. I didn't want to be a part of a place that wasn't welcoming other people."
One of the reasons Biviano had recruited Archer to become vice-chair in the first place, he says, was because the local Democratic Party had struggled to recruit black and LGBT community members to join.

"And now I know why," Biviano says.

When the Inlander shared Biviano's concerns with Wood, Wood blamed Biviano for not telling him how he felt.

"Andrew has never brought one concern to me!" he says. "I would have listened to what Andrew had to say! And I would have addressed it! This is what's driving me nuts. You're getting more information from these people than I've got. I don't have any."

One of Wood's big complaints about Podlodowski, head of the state party, was that she'd criticized the Spokane Democrats' apparent lack of diversity.

“You gave no credit to anyone in the room for all the work they did to get progressive candidates elected," Wood wrote in his resignation letter to Podlodowski. "Not a one of us felt any love from you after you made the comment that we were not diverse.”

Still, local NAACP President Kurtis Robinson says, he'd expressed his own concerns to Wood last year and offered to help address some of the issues.

"We offered a race and equity statement," Robinson says. "We had offered to do race and equity training — we never heard anything."

Ultimately, Robinson was one of the community leaders to sign onto the letter of community organizations calling for the Washington State Democrats to intervene in the local party and push Wood to address these concerns.

While Wood and Robinson recently spoke in a video chat about the party, Robinson says there's a lot more to be done.

"Have our voices been adequately heard?" Robinson says. "When the dust settles and the smoke clears, that's what we're trying to figure out."

THE EXODUS
click to enlarge Former Spokane County Democrats Chair Ed Wood. - DEREK HARRISON PHOTO
Derek Harrison photo
Former Spokane County Democrats Chair Ed Wood.

Other controversies have abounded. In Archer's grievance, Archer provided the state party with evidence suggesting Archer's email account was being accessed by other members of the party without Archer's knowledge. In November, Young Democrats Chair Nick Castrolong emailed Podlodowski with complaints about everything from transphobia to the lack of childcare during the quarterly meetings.

In April, another precinct committee officer, Angie Beem, filed a grievance with the Washington State Democrats that recounted angry outbursts from Wood and described the Spokane County Democrats as being controlled by "a small group of people manipulating and playing games to fulfill their personal agendas." 

But Stuckart, the former City Council president, continued to defend Wood. If it weren't for Wood, Stuckart says, there wouldn't be a local Democratic Party organization today. Wood put in the time and put in the work — while his critics didn't.

"The people who are the loudest complaining about Ed in the leadership, I didn’t see them once during the seven months," Stuckart says. "Not once did I see the vice chair."

After the argument with Duhaime, Archer acknowledges only going through the motions for much of the time.

"I wasn't really hanging in there. I just slowly diminished and diminished and diminished," Archer says. "I just faded for a while." 

Still, there's a stark difference between the way the two sides of the party understand the issues confronting it. Wood's complaints are all about rules, about processes being followed and hierarchies being honored. Archer was out of line for talking too publicly to the press about the various complaints, he claims, and Podlodowski was out of line for exceeding the state party's authority.

Similarly, Mary Wissink, who'd served as the head of the local party's grievance committee, sees it as a clash between those who have experience and those who don't.

"A lot of people come into the party thinking they were going to change everything," Wood says. "There's structures, there’s rules, there’s regulations, there’s the PDC, there’s bylaws."

But to Archer and others, it's about an unwillingness to address the party's deeper issues including transphobia, racism and representation.
Wood was part of the problem, Archer says, but only the symptom of a larger issue.

"I don't want to make it sound like he was a big bad wolf, because there are no big bad wolves," Archer says. "There are just bullies and the people who empower them."

Pressed before his resignation on how he’s tried to fix the wounds within the party, Wood scoffed at the premise, since most of the people who’d complained were no longer a part of the party's leadership.

But today, he's no longer part of the local party's leadership either. Neither is Wissink.

"At this point, it no longer matters," Wood says. "It no longer matters, anymore. I'm done."

Wood says the party has 30 days to hold a special election to choose new leadership.

Archer was "honestly completely shocked" by the resignation and says, "I am hopeful that this could mean a fresh start for the party."

This, after all, is the moment of a dramatic societal shift, Podlodowski says, and while that can be tough for some, it's the job of the Democratic Party to embrace it.

"The thing that, in the end, makes us Democrats is that we move forward with that kind of progressive change," she says. "Just saying 'All we do is elect Democrats' is not good enough."

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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...