Spokane County Commissioner Mark Richard announced Tuesday that he will not seek a third term.
Richard, 47, announced his decision today in a news conference outside the Spokane County Courthouse with his wife, Wendy Richard, at his side.
“Part of my belief system is that you get engaged in government and then you kind of go out and sow the seeds,” Richard said. “It’s important that you have changeover, that you have fresh views.”
Richard had not yet begun to raise money for another campaign, sparking speculation that he wouldn’t seek a third term.
He said that the lack of opposition that emerged to challenge him allowed him more time to consider a possible third term. At least a few Republicans have been exploring bids for the seat in the event that Richard opted against a new term, including state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley.
Richard represents the commission’s second district, which includes Spokane Valley and the eastern portion of the South Hill.
Soon after his announcement on Tuesday, Shelly O’Quinn, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for state Legislature in 2010 against state Sen. John Ahern, announced she would run for Richard’s seat. O’Quinn is the director of education and workforce development at Greater Spokane Inc., the region’s Chamber of Commerce.
Contacted Tuesday after Richard’s announcement, Shea would only say: “I’m going to be making an announcement in the next few days.”
As the former government affairs director for the Spokane Home Builders Association, Richard entered his position with a pro-development reputation, but while on the commission he’s taken the lead on many other topics, including on the proposed new jail to replace Geiger Corrections Center. He started a new regional council of governments in hopes of fostering better cooperation among area leaders. He’s also been the commission’s primary advocate in recent years for boosting mental health services.
Richard said Tuesday that his proudest vote was one in favor of asking voters for a sales tax to support mental health, and his most difficult was one that cut programs at the Spokane Regional Health District as a result of budget shortfalls.
The quest for a new jail to replace Geiger has been one of Richard’s top priorities for most of the time he’s been on the commission, but plans have been consistently delayed by location controversies, skyrocketing cost estimates and concerns that voters would reject it.
Richard, who earns $93,000 a year as a commissioner, said he doesn’t have any current plans to run for another office. He said he expects to return to the private sector and that he has “interesting prospects.”
“I’ve had a great opportunity to be a part of something special. Not very many people get to do this,” Richard said, catching himself before he choked up. “No matter what I’m doing it will be something meaningful and will be something that I will be committed to moving the dial in a positive direction to help Spokane County advance forward.”
Richard joined the commission in 2005 along with Republican County Commissioner Todd Mielke. They brought two new faces to a commission that had held steady with Republicans Kate McCaslin and Phil Harris and Democrat John Roskelley the previous eight years.
While Mielke, a former state representative, gained a reputation for his political prowess, Richard has been more cautious, a trait that sometimes made him a swing voter with power, especially when Democrat Bonnie Mager was the third vote.
His most controversial decision was when he joined Mielke in authorizing the purchase of the Spokane County Raceway in an auction. Richard was at first skeptical of the idea. After he agreed, Richard refused to go along with Mielke’s desire to purchase more acreage. In the end the county spent $4.4 million for 315 acres, including the dilapidated Spokane Raceway Park.
The raceway has been a consistent headache from lawsuits and other issues at the track, but Richard said Tuesday that The Spokesman-Review hasn’t given the issue “a fair shake.” He said if the county hadn’t bought it, it would have closed and the region would have lost an important spark for the economy as well as a place for citizens to recreate.
He noted programs sponsored at the track to get teens to drag race there instead of on local streets.
Richard also was the swing vote in using Conservation Futures money to purchase the former downtown YMCA, which was surrounded by Riverfront Park. After demanding extra financial protections for the county, Richard sided with Mielke and agreed to buy the land.
“After we’re gone and and I’m dead, you’ll have future generations looking at that area being able to see that pristine set of falls that was previously blocked from public viewing unless you’re a member of the Y or you walked down the narrow path.”
While Richard was more likely to side with Mielke on controversial issues like the Y, raceway, and the decision to build a new wastewater treatment plant, he did occasionally break – perhaps most notably when he joined Mager in supporting an agreement with Spokane Tribe of Indians on a revenue deal for its proposed casino.
Mielke praised Richard for his desire to look out for the less fortunate and to create bridges with minorities. He acknowledged he sometimes was frustrated with the time Richard took to finalize his position. But Mielke said the delay often made the outcome better.
“He understands that some of the decisions we make have large impacts to the citizens of this region,” Mielke said.