Spokane city voters might be ready for a major change in their government. Spokane Valley voters definitely are not.
That’s the message from Tuesday’s vote on the proposed massive overhaul of local government, a combined city-county charter that failed by more than 14,000 votes.
A breakdown of votes in precincts around the county shows the charter was supported by a majority of city voters.
A 1,500-vote cushion was blown away, however, in the Spokane Valley, where voters turned down consolidation by better than 2-1.
That had some city political analysts shaking their heads.
“What do they want?” wondered Jan Polek, a Democratic activist. “It seems that there’s some irrational fear that they are going to be harmed by anything that’s proposed.”
In recent years, Valley voters three times have turned down proposals to form their own city. They have turned thumbs down to a sewer utility that would cover the city and Valley and be operated by the City of Spokane. They have rejected a proposal to expand the board of county commissioners from three members to five.
But Kate McCaslin, a political consultant and 30-year Valley resident, said the key to the voting psyche in the suburban area east of the city is pretty simple.
“The Valley is very anti-government, period. People here just want to be left alone.”
McCaslin and other political observers noted that charter supporters faced some of the same arguments that incorporation forces faced earlier this year. In both cases, opponents were able to convince voters that the change could raise their taxes.
The dreaded utility tax - which the city imposes but the county cannot - was mentioned. The lack of a fiscal plan was questioned.
In the Valley, “city domination is a lifelong fear,” said Bill First, who campaigned against the charter. “I’ve heard the term used, ‘back-door annexation,”’ as a way to describe consolidation.
The charter proposal did poorly outside the Valley, also. It lost in Spokane County’s smaller towns, which would have kept their separate identities under the government realignment. It lost in the rural areas north and south of the metropolitan core.
It also lost in some parts of the city of Spokane. Some 52 percent of voters in Spokane’s 3rd Legislative District - which includes the downtown urban core, the East Central and West Central neighborhoods and the residential areas that flank North Division - were opposed to the plan.
Meanwhile, more than 54 percent of the voters in the 6th District - which includes some more affluent neighborhoods on the South Hill and the northwest sections of Spokane - were approving the charter.
City voters may have been saying something Tuesday about their overall view of local government. At the same time they were voting to change their entire government structure, they also were ousting incumbent City Councilwoman Bev Numbers and placing Councilman Orville Barnes in a race that is so close it won’t be decided until absentee ballots are counted.
B.J. Krafft, a local government activist, sees the charter vote and the council races as two sides of the same coin.
“Some proponents of the charter probably felt if we throw everybody out and start over, we’d be better off,” Krafft said.
Echoed Duane Sommers, chairman of the Spokane County Republican Party: “There’s sure a lot of people saying ‘I’m voting for a new government to get rid of the crop of politicians we’ve got.”’
McCaslin, who worked on the unsuccessful campaign to place the Pacific Science Center in Riverfront Park, said research conducted for that effort revealed some startling undercurrents about the city’s voters.
It could explain why city voters favored the charter and turned against incumbents.
“There’s real anger, particularly on the North Side of town,” she said. “They were just mad about everything.”