Voters in Spokane’s 6th Legislative District seemed torn two years ago. Faced with a choice between four-term Republican incumbent John Ahern and Democratic newcomer John Driscoll, they made a change, but not decisively. The election for the House seat came down to a scant 74 votes out of more than 70,000 cast.
Voters in the traditionally Republican district appeared weary of Ahern’s rigid ideology. Many of them were ready to take a chance on a Democrat with free-market sympathies and ties to the city’s health care community.
Driscoll has done OK, taking cautiously restrained positions that deviated from his caucus’s generally more liberal views on taxing and spending. But if those votes have earned him any constituent approval, they also limit his potential to be influential in his caucus – and therefore on behalf of his constituents.
This year’s rematch between Driscoll and Ahern would be uninspiring but for the entry of Republican Shelly O’Quinn, a bright, energetic and well-qualified newcomer. She’s what the Legislature needs, a pragmatic conservative who respects the role that compromise plays in achieving goals.
O’Quinn bears the newcomer’s burden of making her name and qualities known to voters, but there’s plenty to like for those who get to know her.
Raised and educated in Spokane, she took off after graduation from college on a Central American adventure that led to small business development work in Honduras. Her resume is rich with activities that couple entrepreneurism with social outreach – work she describes as empowerment.
In Spokane she’s been family services director for Habitat for Humanity, executive director of the George Nethercutt Foundation and is now work force development manager for Greater Spokane Incorporated. Her breadth of experience and her familiarity with business challenges amply qualify her to represent Spokane’s concerns in the House.
Ahern describes himself as a legislator who “knows how to get things done,” and his work to create a Spokane Veterans Home and to enact a felony drunken driving statute were worthy accomplishments. Still, we’d expect more from eight years in office.
Instead Ahern was mostly associated with the image the GOP has acquired – and which O’Quinn wants to change – as the “party of ‘no.’ ”
“You can either choose to sit back and decide you’re not going to play the game, or you can figure out how to play it effectively,” she told us.
In O’Quinn, voters in the 6th District have a chance to support the kind of thoughtful, moderate conservatism modeled by former Gov. Dan Evans and such lawmakers as A.J. “Bud” Pardini, who was representing the 6th District, honorably and effectively, in the 1970s when O’Quinn was born.
Those were more favorable political times, and Shelly O’Quinn has the potential to help restore them.