Candidates haven’t even officially signed up to run for office, but the contest for a state House seat representing central Spokane is heating up.
The race for the seat held by state Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, already has attracted four candidates, in large part because Billig decided last week that he wouldn’t run for reelection as planned so that he could run for the state Senate seat held by Lisa Brown, who announced last week that she would not run for a new term.
The AFL-CIO’s Washington State Labor Council endorsed on Saturday Democrat Marcus Riccelli, Brown’s senior policy analyst, for Billig’s 3rd Legislative District seat without seeking the positions of other candidates.
Democratic candidate John Waite, who owns Merlyn’s Comics and Games, said the labor endorsement indicates that “elite, upper party leaders” are working to control the outcome.
“That’s absolutely, positively not my vision for how our democratic elections process should work,” Waite said.
The other two candidates who have announced their intentions to run are Republican Tim Benn and Democrat Jon Snyder, a Spokane City councilman.
Riccelli, who attended the labor council’s weekend convention where union leaders selected candidates they support in the August primary, said he’s “extremely proud” of the support he earned from the labor council.
“I believe the endorsement is the result of longstanding relations that I’ve had with local labor leaders and member as well as a result of the relationships I’ve built while serving for Sen. Brown for the last year and a half in Olympia,” Riccelli said. “I’m proud that they’ve recognized my ability to work alongside them on job creation and the issues that are important to the Third District.”
Kathy Cummings, spokeswoman for the Washington State Labor Council, said for most races, the council sent questionnaires to candidates. But the new candidates for the race emerged so soon before the convention – in Waite’s and Snyder’s cases only the day before – that there wasn’t time to solicit information from the new hopefuls.
She said the decision to endorse Riccelli was made after a participant made a motion to do so. The motion required at least a two-thirds vote and was approved on the first try, she said. About 450 members participated in the candidate selections, she said.
“It’s not really easy to get a two-thirds majority,” she said. “He’s the one we believe will stand up for working people in Spokane and the rest of the state.”
Cummings said the endorsement comes with more than financial support.
“We put our people power behind him, and that can make a difference in a race,” Cummings said.
Waite said he likely wouldn’t have earned the council’s endorsement had he been given a chance to earn it. (He has been critical in some instances of wages commanded by some public sector unions, such as the City of Spokane’s fire battalion chiefs, arguing that high compensation could force taxes up on the working poor.) But Waite said candidates should have had the opportunity to make a case to the labor council and that another of his opponents, City Councilman Jon Snyder, probably had a legitimate shot at AFL-CIO backing.
Snyder said Riccelli has developed better relationships with state union leaders during his time in Brown’s office. He said he sees nothing “weird or unusual” about the endorsement.
“I just think it was a timing thing,” Snyder said.
Waite, who considers himself liberal on social issues and conservative on fiscal ones, is new to party politics. He previously ran for state House as an independent and Spokane City Council without seeking party backing.
“I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘That’s how our system works. You might as well get used to it,’” he said. “I’m inclined not to let it happen without putting up a fight.”
Photo caption: Spokane City Councilman Jon Snyder, left, and Paul Dillon, legislative aide to state Rep. Andy Billig, greet state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown at her farewell celebration on Wednesday, May 9, at the Matin Woldson Theater at the Fox. Snyder is running for the state House seat currently held by state Rep. Andy Billig. Brown, who announced last week that she would not seek a new term, has endorsed one of Snyder's opponents in the race, Marcus Riccelli, her senior policy analyst.