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GOP memo ponders Staab’s political leanings

The debate over Municipal Court Judge Tracy Staab’s residency isn’t going away.

A memo circulated with local GOP leaders indicates that Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, who is active in the party, has questioned the party’s decision to oppose Staab’s candidacy.

Party leaders formally opposed Staab’s attempt to retain her judgeship in the November election because she lives outside the city. Spokane Municipal Court judges rule only on cases from within city limits, but state law allows the judges to live outside the borders – as long as they live in the same county.

The memo, written earlier this month by Michael Cathcart, a member of Spokane County Republican Party’s executive board, says McLaughlin believes “that Tracy is the more conservative candidate between (Staab) and Bryan Whitaker, and the candidate with more experience and endorsements.”

“Judge Staab told me that she has to be careful because of the nature of the job with how she relays her positions on issues, but she did say that she is a Christian and gun owner and considers herself more so on our side of the fence,” said the e-mail.

County Republicans didn’t endorse Whitaker, who says he’s a Democrat. They just advised against voting for Staab.

Staab said Tuesday she never tried to imply what party she supports.

“I told him I don’t want to be labeled as one thing or another,” Staab said.

Cathcart said his interpretation that she considers “herself more so on our side of the fence” was based on her telling him that she is a Christian and a gun owner. (Whitaker, for his part, said Tuesday he, too, is a Christian and a gun owner.)

Amy Biviano, chairwoman of the Spokane County Democratic Party, said Tuesday that the memo from the GOP probably won’t affect the Democrats’ recent endorsement of Staab.

That endorsement is referenced in Cathcart’s e-mail: “ Nancy asked the question are we ‘cutting off our nose to spite our face?’ This is a great question. If Tracy is the more conservative, and the more accomplished should we be willing to overlook the residency issue? First of all, I can’t say that she is the more conservative (candidate because) she was endorsed by the Democrats, but Judge Staab says that it was a mere fluke and that that endorsement came because she was the only candidate to return the survey the Democrats mailed out.”

In an interview Tuesday, Staab said the memo’s description of the endorsement was “inaccurate.”

“It wasn’t a fluke,” she said.

Biviano said Staab was the only candidate for the position who returned the survey by the deadline, but she said the party’s endorsement also was made because of Staab’s experience as a judge, public defender and prosecutor.

Judges “should be making decisions on the law, not based on party politics,” Biviano said.

The Spokane County Bar Association recently rated Staab “well qualified” and Whitaker “qualified” for the job.

Curt Fackler, former chairman of the Spokane County GOP, said Republicans will discuss their stance at a meeting on Sept. 1. He said his party’s decision wasn’t based on party politics, but on the philosophical issue of whether judges should be allowed to live outside the jurisdiction they serve.

Cathcart's memo said he's supportive of the party review but that he maintains his original position in opposition to Staab's candidacy.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.