Leonard Christian, an Air Force veteran and Spokane Valley real estate businessman, was selected Wednesday to fill the 4th District legislative seat vacated by former Rep. Larry Crouse.
Christian, 48, was chosen unanimously by the three members of the Spokane County Board of Commissioners from a field of three candidates recommended by the district’s precinct committee officers.
The Ferris High School graduate beat out former Spokane Valley Mayor Diana Wilhite and schoolteacher Bob B. McCaslin, son of the late 4th District Sen. Bob McCaslin.
Commissioners said all three candidates were qualified for the appointment, which made their decision a close one.
Each of the candidates was interviewed by commissioners for about an hour before the board moved to a closed-door session to evaluate their qualifications in private.
During his interview, Christian told commissioners that “people in the 4th District are very tax averse. I am one of them.”
He said, “I believe we are taxed enough.”
However, he indicated a willingness to consider new revenue options that would require approval by voters.
Christian is likely to face opposition when the seat goes up for election in the Aug. 5 primary. The winner of the primary would likely be the favorite going into the general election in the heavily Republican district.
Wilhite and McCaslin have already filed public disclosure forms with the state to run for the House in the 4th District.
Wilhite did not specify which of the two House seats she would seek. McCaslin said on the disclosure form he is undecided which seat he is going to seek.
Two other potential challengers are former Spokane Valley Mayor Tom Towey and Liberty Lake Mayor Steve Peterson.
Peterson indicated in his public disclosure form that he is going to challenge for the seat held by incumbent Rep. Matt Shea in position 2.
All of this points to a fluid playing field in District 4 politics. Competition among far-right Republicans led by Shea and more traditional Republicans may be the heart of the uncertainty.
Wednesday’s selection comes three years after commissioners passed over Shea to fill the district’s Senate seat when the elder McCaslin, a longtime senator, stepped down.
The filing period for this year’s election opens May 12. All of the declared candidates in the 4th District are Republicans.
Christian has been on the Republican Party’s county board since 2008 and lost a race for auditor to incumbent Vicky Dalton in 2010.
Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn said that Christian has shown sensitivity to divisiveness and indicated a willingness to resolve problems. She said transportation funding is a big issue for Spokane Valley and will be a leading topic when lawmakers convene on Monday.
“It’s not about just saying no,” she said in reference to Republican resistance to a proposed $10 billion transportation funding package.
In an interview, Christian said he supports completion of the North Spokane Corridor but is skeptical of any road tax increases without Republican reforms to cut costs.
On other issues, he said he supports Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich’s proposal to tighten a legal loophole that has allowed disciplined officers to escape dismissal.
He said he also believes the growth management law “needs to be re-thought.”