Shelly O’Quinn wants to make a difference, she says. So she’s running as a Republican for an open seat on the Spokane Board of County Commissioners.
At 37, O’Quinn believes her job experience and education qualify her.
“I bring a well-rounded focus to this position,” she said.
O’Quinn defeated Spokane County Treasurer Rob Chase in the summer primary election and now faces Democrat Daryl Romeyn, a former television news broadcaster, in the Nov. 6 general election.
The winner will replace outgoing Commissioner Mark Richard, who decided to step down at the end of the year after two terms in his District 2 seat.
O’Quinn is currently the education and workforce development director for Greater Spokane Incorporated, the region’s central business organization.
In that position, O’Quinn works to connect businesses and students and ensure that education is relevant for creating new workers. The idea is to build an employable local workforce. If companies are recruiting, O’Quinn urges them to hire Spokane talent.
“I’m the person who brings together the different partners from K-12, higher education and business,” she explained. “Businesses are constantly challenged finding the right students with the right skills.”
O’Quinn said her skills are the right ones for county commissioner.
A native of Spokane Valley, O’Quinn graduated from Central Valley High School. She received her bachelor’s degree from Whitworth University in business and accounting in 1997.
Her adventures took her to Honduras, where she worked for two years with World Vision on micro-enterprise development.
She went on to earn a master’s in business administration in international management from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in 2001.
O’Quinn was a director of missions for the First United Methodist Church in Florida for two years before returning to Spokane to take jobs with nonprofits, including Habitat for Humanity from 2004 to 2007.
She was the first executive director of the George Nethercutt Foundation for civic engagement among young people in 2008 and 2009. She was recruited to the GSI job during those years and worked in both positions until the GSI job became full time.
Two years ago, she ran for a 6th District seat in the Washington Legislature but lost in the primary.
Her taste for public service wasn’t quelled.
“We have to work together as a community to make things happen,” she said.
Romeyn said he would cut the $225,000 annual contribution that Spokane County makes to GSI for economic development. He said the county can’t afford it and GSI hasn’t produced enough new jobs this year to justify it.
O’Quinn said he is wrong.
GSI is a broad-based network that provides both chamber of commerce services and economic development initiatives, she said.
In the past 10 years, GSI has helped recruit 46 companies employing 1,700 workers, she said. “That’s a great return on investment,” she said.
O’Quinn said Romeyn “doesn’t do his homework.”
Romeyn criticized O’Quinn for representing special interests, but O’Quinn responded that “the job I do is working on behalf of the community.”
On other issues, O’Quinn supports a modest expansion of the county’s urban growth area to create more opportunities for housing.
She said road maintenance is always important to voters.
The criminal justice system needs reforms to reduce the number of repeat offenders, she said.
The sheriff has sought a 0.2 percent increase in the sales tax for criminal justice services, but the measure is not on the ballot yet.
O’Quinn said any sales tax increase for criminal justice has to be justified by the sheriff and other officials before she would consider allowing it to go to a vote.
If she’s elected, O’Quinn said, she will face the same pressure that other working parents do: managing a job and family.
She and her husband, attorney Sean O’Quinn, have two boys. They live in the Ponderosa neighborhood.
Coming from a large Spokane Valley family has its benefits, she said: “My parents pick up my kids every day from school.”
Her 12-year-old son, Ryland, goes with her doorbelling. Six-year-old Iain rides with her in community parades.
“They learn early on the importance of being involved,” she said.