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Spin Control

Women rock Spokane vote

A swath of central Spokane – roughly from the river to Wellesley Avenue – may have more women representing it in elective office than any place else in the country.

Eastern Washington in general is unique in the country for having women in top offices. No other voters outside the 5th Congressional District have both U.S. senators, a U.S. House member and a governor who are all women. And while the district’s voters didn’t necessarily give Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell or Gov. Chris Gregoire the majority of their votes in the last elections, all three hold office and no other state’s residents have a woman in those three statewide posts.

But the overlapping of several districts within Spokane County creates an area that has – by design or chance – an even larger array of executive and legislative power exercised by women.

Spokane County’s 2nd Commissioner District is represented by Bonnie Mager. Where Mager’s district extends into the city, those voters also have Mary Verner for their mayor.

Inside the city, two of Spokane’s three council districts have – or will have when the winners of this year’s council elections are sworn in – a woman as one of that district’s two council members. Nancy McLaughlin retains her seat after defeating Karen Kearney, and Amber Waldref was elected to the open seat.

Central Spokane’s 3rd Legislative District has Lisa Brown in the Senate, where she’s also the majority leader.

But it doesn’t stop there. All three Spokane municipal court judges are women, as are four of nine Spokane District Court judges and six of 12 Superior Court judges. Four of nine state Supreme Court justices are women, including the newly named chief justice, Barbara Madsen.

 The strength of women in elective office probably comes as no surprise to many Spokane residents, who have been supporting women candidates for more than a quarter century.

In 1980, the Central Spokane’s 3rd Legislative District was the first in the state to send three women to Olympia. In 1985, Spokane elected its first woman mayor, and voters chose between Vickie McNeill and Margaret Leonard in the general election.

It’s not a partisan thing, either. Murray, Cantwell and Gregoire are Democrats, but Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is a Republican. Of the three women legislators elected in 1980, Sen. Margaret Hurley and Rep. Lois Stratton were Democrats and Leonard, who was elected to the other House seat, was a Republican. Brown represents what may be one of the state’s most solidly Democratic districts in the state, but the Valley’s 4th District, a reliably conservative Republican bastion, sent Lynn Schindler to the House for 10 years.

 McNeill was a Republican, but her successor, Sheri Barnard, is a Democrat. City offices are non-partisan, but it would be safe to categorize McLaughlin as a conservative and Waldref as a progressive.

As mayors, women fared no better or worse than men have since 1977, that is, none served more than a term.

Gender as a factor has become fairly unremarkable in Spokane area politics. Male opponents who do remark on it probably do so at their peril, because Spokane voters are at least indifferent and very likely highly supportive of having women in office.

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