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Should Apple be called on the carpet?

Is it too much to ask that people who hurl political epithets during campaign season at least get them right?

OK, that was a stupid question. It probably is. But still…

In an e-mail to constituents last week, Spokane City Councilman Bob Apple described whom he is endorsing for various city elected positions this year, and how he’s voting on several ballot measures. No big deal. Apple has the same right as everyone else, and has no less right to an opinion by being elected to the council.

At least one reader e-mailed his objections, questioning whether Apple was out of line for his endorsement of judicial candidate Bryan Whitaker – not for anything nice he said about Whitaker but for a label he hung on opponent, Municipal Judge Tracy Staab.


The reader suggested it was libelous, which it probably isn’t on its face. It’s a political term in the midst of a campaign, and political speech is among the most protected by the courts.

Being legally protected, however, doesn’t make it correct...

...And while Apple is not the first to use the term in this race, that merely means he’s also not the first to get it wrong.

A carpetbagger is someone, recently arrived in an area, who moved there to take advantage of a situation and run for an election. In the South of the Reconstruction, shady Northerners who did this were said to be travelling so light that carried all their belongings in a carpetbag (21st Century equivalent: carry-on luggage).

Hillary Clinton was called a carpetbagger when she moved to New York to run for the U.S. Senate in 2000. So was Robert Kennedy in 1966.

This is not what Staab did. She used to live in the city of Spokane; about eight years ago, she and her family moved outside the city limits to the county, where they remain, in part, she says, because they have room for their horses.

Other than the fact that some carpetbaggers arrived in the South on horseback, it’s pretty hard to make the carpetbagger label stick on Staab. She didn’t move there to run for the municipal court; the job didn’t even exist back then.  

One could object to the fact that she’s sitting as a municipal judge when she’s not a city resident. But that’s not illegal; state law says city voters must select their municipal judges. It does not say the municipal judges must be city residents, and the City Council which was very interested in having city voters elect municipal judges, did not make city residence a requirement for the job.

Apple knows this very well, because he tried to change the city law this spring with that very requirement. It failed, 4-2.

He and others may consider the lack of a residency requirement a shortcoming, others might consider it ironic, and still others no big deal.

Whatever. It’s not carpetbaggery. Apple should apologize, or at least think up a correct word to express his opprobrium

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