Battle lines are being drawn in what is shaping up to be an acrimonious City Council race in Spokane Valley. Different factions of the Positive Change group that swept five council members into power in 2009 are backing different candidates in the race for Position Four.
Councilman Dean Grafos and former Councilwoman Brenda Grassel are backing challenger Ed Pace, while Mayor Tom Towey and Councilman Chuck Hafner are backing incumbent Gary Schimmels. Donors who supported the Positive Change candidates in 2009 are also split.
Pace has said he considers his views aligned with the Positive Change group – a claim that upsets Hafner, who was chairman of the Positive Change committee in 2009.
“I guess he can say that all he wants,” Hafner said. “He’s utilizing that as a piggyback to get elected. He’s completely opposite of our viewpoints.”
Pace said he agrees with the group’s views on low-cost government, decreasing taxes and deregulating businesses. “These are my principles,” he said. He points to his endorsements from Grafos and Grassel as proof that he’s on the right track. “They confirmed that you’re right on, you’re in line with us,” Pace said.
In an earlier interview, Schimmels said he didn’t want to speak to why he has lost support from some current and previous council members. “I just try to stay out of that situation,” he said. “There isn’t one of those council people that have said one word to me.”
Back in 2009 the Positive Change committee members met weekly at Hafner’s house and interviewed potential candidates to stand against the council incumbents. At the heart of their agenda was the ambitious Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan that called for extensive zoning changes.
The committee included Schimmels, the late Sen. Bob McCaslin, Towey and Grassel, all of whom would run for election on the Positive Change slate. They later recruited Grafos to join them after the disincorporation effort that Grafos was involved in failed.
At the time Hafner was in charge of soliciting donations for the candidates, including contributions from retired businessman Jack Pring. Pring donated significant amounts to the Positive Change candidates, but in this election he has donated the $1,800 maximum to Pace.
The committee hasn’t met in a long time and no one can claim its support, Hafner said. A small group of people still meets for coffee every day at the Rosauers at Sprague Avenue and University Road. Hafner said he attends sometimes, but most of the others there are not a part of the original Positive Change group.
Grassel, who serves as Pace’s campaign manager, is an enthusiastic supporter of Pace even though she supported Schimmels in 2009. “In a nutshell, it comes down to Gary’s voting record since we were elected,” she said. “I do feel like he’s been diverging away from our original mission.”
Grassel points to Schimmels’ support of the Broadway Avenue Safety Project that reduced traffic from four lanes to two, and his opposition to putting the question of whether to keep Sprague a one-way street on the ballot. He also supported a contract with the city manager that Grassel said she thought was too generous.
Of Pace, she said: “We just had the same ideology. He gets it. He wants to continue the vision of the Positive Change, the original mission, which was to restructure the budget.”
Although Hafner said he’s been told that Pace is claiming to have his support and the backing of Positive Change, Pace denies using the Positive Change name. “When it comes up in conversation, I say I’m very much aligned with them but that doesn’t come up often,” Pace said. As for Hafner, Pace said: “I don’t have his support. I’ve told a few people that I’ve asked for his support, but that was early on. I don’t even mention him.”
Longtime community volunteer Sally Jackson said Pace visited her home while campaigning. “He said he was supported by the Positive Change candidates,” she said. “I can’t remember if he mentioned Chuck’s name.”
Jackson said she initially endorsed Pace, but withdrew her support after finding out that he now favors the tea party.
Pace said he’s not officially a member of the tea party. “I would describe it as aligned with (Rep.) Matt Shea’s Freedom Agenda,” he said. The Freedom Agenda focuses on lower taxes, less government and more freedom along with gun rights. Pace has included his stand in favor of gun rights in his campaign advertising.
“It’s important to a lot of people,” Pace said.
Pace said he is planning joint fundraising events with appointed council incumbent Rod Higgins. “I think we’re aligned very much in platform and ideology,” he said.
Said Higgins, “I would say you could call us both conservative.” However, he said he doesn’t always agree with tea party views even though Shea has endorsed him. “Do we have some of the same views? Yeah, I think so. Do we differ on some views? Yeah.”
Higgins said he’s not claiming any Positive Change endorsement even though he is also supported by Grafos, Grassel and Pring. “There is a divergence of opinion in the Positive Change group,” he said. “There are some that support Ed. I happen to be one of them.”
Higgins also received a $100 donation from Hafner, who voted to appoint Higgins to a vacant council seat. The vote was based on Higgins’ qualifications, Hafner said, but he is rethinking his support in light of some of Higgins’ recent statements. “If he’s a tea party affiliate, I can’t support him,” Hafner said.
Hafner said the core of his opposition to Pace is that he doesn’t think Pace will be willing to compromise and work together with other council members.
“I just don’t think he’s qualified,” he said. “Gary (Schimmels) has integrity, he has honesty, he has experience.
“I just don’t feel like getting rid of Gary is the answer.”