To Republican state Rep. Matt Shea, Americans are on the verge of becoming slaves, and he has a plan to stop it.
Among his proposals: The federal government should make its payments to states only in gold or silver. The FBI and other federal officers must get permission from county sheriffs to arrest people. Guns made and sold in Washington should not be restricted by federal law.
“How long will we continue to beg like dogs only to be satisfied with a few scraps from the king’s table?” Shea said last year in an address to the Constitution Party. “When have we had enough? When we have no guns? When there’s an IRS agent stationed in every neighborhood in our country? When the piercing gaze of Big Sister penetrates our homes to tell us what we should eat or maybe what we should drive or how long we should keep our lights on? Is that not the very definition of slavery?”
It’s that kind of alarmist rhetoric that led some Republicans to distance themselves from Shea even before it became known this summer that he was charged in December following a road rage incident with keeping a loaded gun in his pickup without a concealed weapons permit.
The race this year for Shea’s House seat has become surprisingly active for a district that hasn’t been represented by a Democrat since 1994. Although Democrats say the race is winnable, there’s little tangible evidence that the race is close. In the August primary, Shea took 60 percent of the vote.
Even if Shea is more conservative than most voters in the district, as Democrats attest, it’s unclear if the district will accept someone further to the left.
Shea’s opponent, Amy Biviano, an accountant who is the former chairwoman of the Spokane County Democratic Party, opposes the requirement for supermajority votes to approve tax increases and supports same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
She has run an aggressive, active campaign, highlighting both the incident that led to Shea’s misdemeanor charge and the dissent within the Republican Party questioning Shea’s temper. She has stressed her desire for tax reform without instituting an income tax, particularly in restructuring the state’s unpopular business and occupation tax, and says as an accountant she’s the right choice to lead on tax reform.
Shea has a simple motto that he stresses in his campaign: “less tax, less government, more freedom.”
“I want to see a God-honoring constitutional republic restored and a God-honoring constitutional state of Washington restored,” he said in a four-minute campaign video summarizing his positions with dramatic orchestral music from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy in the background.
Local Democrats have focused on the race, helping Biviano to raise $50,000 – only about $20,000 less than the incumbent – and the Inland Northwest Leadership Political Action Committee, which typically backs Democrats, has begun work on her behalf.
Biviano dismisses much of Shea’s focus on states’ rights and the 10th Amendment, including giving sheriffs power over federal agents. She says it’s a waste of time when there are more important local issues to focus on.
“My contention is – especially as a constitutional attorney, he knows these bills don’t pass constitutional muster, even if he had the votes,” she said.
Throughout the summer, Shea has not returned numerous calls seeking comment on election issues and on the charge he faces in Spokane Municipal Court, and has said he won’t talk to The Spokesman-Review. But his positions are well-known from campaign materials and speeches he’s made in the House and to other groups, many of which are videotaped and available on popular websites such as YouTube.
In his four years in the state Legislature, Shea has become a leader of the most conservative wing of Republicans in the state House, unafraid of criticizing and withholding support from other members of his party, especially candidates he considers “establishment Republicans.” In a 2009 speech he called the GOP “a party that with a few exceptions like Ron Paul is without principle.” His list of endorsed candidates for the upcoming November election doesn’t include incumbent U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers
Still, while some elected Republicans duck the question of whether they support Shea in his re-election bid, few have opposed him publicly – even those who have criticized him in the past – and he retains the support of the party establishment.
“He’s a Republican candidate, and I am supportive of his re-election,” McMorris Rodgers said this week.
Biviano has won the backing of some holding nonpartisan office, including Spokane Valley City Councilman Chuck Hafner. Prominent businessman Mike Senske also has endorsed her campaign.
Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan said Republicans who question Shea should remember his commitment to gun rights, opposition to abortion, support for marriage only between one man and one woman and states’ rights.
“What he stands for are the principles that you would see in the Republican platform,” Fagan said. “He doesn’t waver.”
Former Spokane Valley Mayor Diana Wilhite, a longtime active Republican, ran against Shea in the 2008 primary for the seat. After she lost, she said Shea falsely accused her of leaking his divorce records to The Spokesman-Review.
She said that when people ask her about the race she tells them that character should count.
Shea has an “excellent voting record when it comes to the Republican record,” said Wilhite, who said she isn’t offering endorsements in the race. “However, I think there’s a flaw in his character.”
Signs of Republican discontent with Shea became clear last year when the three Republicans on the Spokane County Commission bypassed Shea and selected businessman Jeff Baxter to fill the seat of popular state Sen. Bob McCaslin, who had resigned because of health problems.
“I wish to state that under no circumstances would I support Matthew Shea for any public office,” McCaslin wrote to commissioners.
Shea embraces labels tying him to conservative causes.
“It’s great to be with you, tea party, pro-lifer, Tenther, gun-toting, home-schooling, global warming denying, Austrian-school returning, veteran, constitutionalist, Ron Pauler, freedom-loving radicals this evening,” Shea said as he began a speech at a rally earlier this year for U.S. Rep. Ron Paul’s presidential campaign.
Shea was a leader in Paul’s presidential bid in Eastern Washington, with considerable success. So much so that other Republicans have questioned if he has done enough to unite the party.
He also has bragged about criticism he’s received from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which put him on a list of state legislators it called “the Dirty Dozen” in part for embracing false conspiracy theories.
In 2009, Shea was interviewed on a radio program and appeared to agree with the host that the United States government may have been in the process of erecting camps to imprison political prisoners. The debunked theory has been widely circulated among anti-government and militia groups.
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said he believes Shea holds some extreme positions. Shea indicated to Knezovich as recently as this summer that he’s concerned about the federal government building such camps.
Knezovich, who opposed Shea’s bill to force federal agents to seek his permission to make arrests, said he still is approached by constituents worried about the so-called “FEMA camps.” Some even suggest to him that such a camp is within Eastern Washington close to the Canadian border. Knezovich said he has offered to check it out, but no one has been able to tell him where it’s located.
Although Knezovich isn’t endorsing Biviano in the race, he did agree to appear on a mailed advertisement for Biviano and has praised her positions on domestic violence issues.
Democratic state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said that although she’s unaware of any polls that show where Biviano stands, she believes the race is in play. She pointed to David Condon’s clear victory over Mary Verner for Spokane mayor last November after Verner trounced him in the August primary.
Former Spokane County Commissioner Kate McCaslin, Bob McCaslin’s ex-wife, said she suspects the controversy over Shea will lower Shea’s final numbers, but that it’s “highly unlikely” that he’ll fall below 50 percent – especially in a presidential election year where many will vote a straight ticket and arguments posed by candidates farther down the ballot are drowned out.
“The 4th District is as Republican as the 3rd District (in central Spokane) is Democratic,” said McCaslin, a Republican who doesn’t live in the district. She added: “I don’t agree with his behavior, but we are aligned on the major issues so I would hold my nose and vote for Shea.”
Editor’s note: This article was changed on Oct. 30, 2012 to change an error that incorrectly said Shea endorsed a candidate for Congress in Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District in this year’s August primary.
The following are excerpts from a 15-topic Spokesman-Review questionnaire. Each candidate was allowed up to 100 words to address each topic. Shea declined to provide answers to the questions. Biviano’s full questionnaire can be found attached to her candidate profile at spokesman.com/elections.
1. What is the first bill you hope to sponsor or co-sponsor next session?
Biviano: My first legislative priority is to create jobs by reforming our regressive business and occupation tax code. We must eliminate the hundreds of special-interest tax loopholes created for large companies with the most lobbyists, which place an unfair burden on our local small-business owners. I also support a simpler system based on net margin that allows business cycle predictability and removes some of the inequality of the current tax.
2. Do you agree with the state Supreme Court ruling from January that said that the state is not adequately funding basic education? Do you agree with Gov. Chris Gregoire’s assessment that tax increases are needed to meet the requirements of the ruling?
Biviano: Washington state must honor its paramount duty to educate our children. Education is an investment that pays dividends in a stable, ready workforce that attracts employers to our area, while giving our kids and grandkids good jobs to stay here. The Tech Campus in West Valley is a strong example of a public-private partnership that both prepares our students for future careers while giving local manufacturers a stable pipeline of trained employees. With these partnerships, and with smart budgeting, I believe we can strengthen education without increasing taxes.
3. Do you support same-sex marriage?
Biviano: Yes, I honor all families. As a woman blessed enough to marry my college sweetheart who will be celebrating 15 years of marriage this year, I could not deny that blessing to anyone.
4. Current plans for completing the north Spokane freeway call for its interchange with Interstate 90 to expand I-90 to about 20 lanes wide, including on-ramps and service roads, in a portion of the East Central Neighborhood. Do you support this configuration? Would you support asking voters for a state gas tax increase if it included money to help complete the north Spokane freeway?
Biviano: I support completing the north Spokane freeway as a major transportation throughway and will ensure it is well-designed. This project is a source of good, well paying jobs and a competitive advantage for Spokane businesses. I agree with the business leaders at AGC that the most stable and related source of funding for this vital project would be asking voters for a gas tax investment.
5. Do you support the voter-approved rule that stipulates that the Legislature can only approve a tax increase when each chamber supports the increase with two-thirds majorities? Should the state constitution be amended to require two-thirds votes to approve tax increases?
Biviano: I do not support the two-thirds majority rule for tax increases. It gives too much power to the minority to hold our budget hostage.
6. Do you support the legalization of marijuana for adults, including for recreational purposes? If not, do you support the legalization of marijuana for medical use? How would you address the conflict that currently exists between state law allowing marijuana for medical use and federal law banning it?
Biviano: While marijuana, like all drugs, is potentially harmful, I believe the time has come to decriminalize it, regulate it, and tax it. I also believe that all personal medical decisions should be made by individuals and their health care providers, and that medical marijuana falls into this category. I think that federal law will eventually go the same direction, and will advocate for it to do so.