OLYMPIA – In early August, The Spokesman-Review reported that legislative candidate Shelly Short’s husband was under investigation for allegedly stealing $3,318 from a local fair board.
Mitch Short called it “a political smear job at its worst” that would send “a chilling message to anyone considering public service.”
Two weeks later, he was charged with aggravated first-degree theft. Local police and prosecutors said that he had, in fact, stolen $3,318 from the local fair board.
Shelly Short promptly called the charges “nothing less than a public lynching, done to derail my campaign.”
She told voters her husband would be exonerated.
“The vicious attacks on my husband, Mitch, came as a complete surprise,” she wrote in a fundraising letter for her campaign.
In October, the newspaper reported that court records showed she faced a $36,000 IRS lien, a state tax warrant for another $1,000, and a $12,000 judgment for delinquent credit-card debt. At the time, she was also nearly $2,500 behind on property taxes. A 2007 lawsuit by an employee over back wages also included a promissory note from Mitch Short acknowledging he had owed the woman more than $9,000.
On the campaign trail, meanwhile, Shelly Short was touting her fiscal conservatism.
“I made this pledge because it is time to draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough. Frankly, the state should buckle down and handle its financial affairs in the same way our families do when times are tough,” her campaign Web site told voters.
Also in late October, voters received an e-mail, signed “Shelly Short,” blasting the “attacks” and “propaganda.”
“Don’t Let The Spokesman-Review Steal This Election” it began. The paper, it said, would “say and print anything in order to destroy my campaign.”
“In contrast, the local press has been very fair in this election,” the e-mail continued. “A local reporter said that the Spokesman’s latest attack was a blatant example of downtown Spokane elitist biased journalism written for the sole purpose to destroy my campaign.
“… Many years ago, there were some very wise words passed down to all,” the note continued. “Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
Voters apparently believed her. Short was elected to the Statehouse with 57 percent of the vote. State Rep. Shelly Short will represent northeastern Washington’s rural 7th District.
Two weeks after the election, her husband pleaded guilty to third-degree theft, admitting he’d stolen the money.
In a plea agreement, he was sentenced last week to a year in jail with 360 days suspended and the remaining five days converted to community service. A Spokane County judge ordered him booked and released at the Stevens County Jail and put him on probation for a year.
In court, Mitch Short apologized for stealing the money.
“He made a mistake,” said his attorney, Robert Critchlow. “It was a dumb mistake. And he’s sorry.”
GOP picks leaders: Kretz is now No. 2 in the House
House and Senate Republicans have picked their leaders for what’s going to be a pretty grueling legislative session.
Among the few major changes: Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, is the new deputy minority leader. That makes Kretz, in just four years on the job, the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives. He replaces Bellingham Republican Doug Eriksen.
Interestingly, the House Republican caucus is now composed entirely of lawmakers from largely rural parts of the state: Chehalis, Sunnyside, Snohomish, Cle Elum, Moses Lake and Naches.
Kretz said he’s proud that rural northeastern Washington will have “a strong voice at the table” and that “Olympia could use a dose of 7th District values.”
On the Senate side, local Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, keeps his spot as floor leader.
Olympia’s budget woes in a nutshell
If there’s any moment that neatly sums up Olympia’s budget dilemma, it was a debate last week in a state task force studying school financing.
The group is trying to overhaul how and what the state funds.
Several members want to add early learning pre-kindergarten teaching aimed at getting all students ready to learn to basic education. Why that matters: Washington’s constitution famously declares that such education is the state’s “paramount duty.” That means that schools can, and are, going to court to force the state to cough up adequate cash.
Research suggests that early learning helps struggling kids at a critical time, and the idea was backed by both Republicans and Democrats.
But the head of the governor’s policy office, Laurie Dolan, urged restraint.
What makes this interesting is that Dolan, a former Spokane school official and former elementary school teacher, is clearly a big fan of early learning. But she’s also well aware of how bad the state’s budget looks. The expected budget shortfall over the next two years has mushroomed to more than $5 billion, prompting talk of massive budget cuts and state layoffs.
“I’m really torn on this issue,” Dolan said. “Part of me, probably the first-grade teacher part of me in a high-poverty area, I’ve seen firsthand what early learning can do for kids. And it would be great if there was enough money to include that and fund it. At the same time, there’s not enough money to do what we need to do for K-12.”
These sorts of conversations – a tug of war between a good idea and what the checkbook can bear – are going to dominate Olympia for months.