With the appointed incumbent ousted in the August primary, the two Republicans jousting for a state House seat representing Spokane Valley are relying in part on name recognition to win, but they come by their name recognition differently.
Diana Wilhite served on the Spokane Valley City Council for several years, including a term as mayor. She’s been heavily involved in the community, served on numerous state boards and committees and currently sits on the Spokane Valley Fire Department Civil Service Commission.
Her opponent, Bob McCaslin, has a name well-known in Spokane Valley largely because it also belonged to his father, the late Bob McCaslin, who was a state senator for more than 30 years. The two men have the same first and last name but have a different middle name.
McCaslin is a kindergarten teacher and has little political experience. He has not volunteered on campaigns like Wilhite has and has not held elected office. He currently holds a seat on the Spokane Valley Planning Commission, a position that he was appointed to by the City Council.
McCaslin, who has not returned recent calls seeking comment, said in a previous interview that his inexperience is an asset.
“There are some deep divisions in the Republican Party in Spokane County,” he said. “I can tell you I’m the only one that didn’t have a part in that.”
He also acknowledged that his name gives him a boost politically.
“I’ve been very clear with people,” McCaslin said before the primary. “I’ve had people tell me they voted for me more than once and I say, ‘No, you voted for my dad.’ ”
Wilhite, who has spent much of the last few months ringing doorbells to ask for votes, said she often encounters people with mistaken ideas about McCaslin’s positions.
“I think people made the assumption that because Bob was running he must be just like his father,” she said. “I say, ‘Look at your kids. They have some of the same characteristics and look like us, but they’re not clones.’ ”
Both candidates are running as conservative Republicans and say they want to improve the business climate. They agree on most major issues, including a dislike of any gun control legislation or new taxes, but McCaslin seems to be aligned more with Tea Party conservatives. He has been endorsed by Spokane Valley’s other state representative, Matt Shea, and echoes some of Shea’s talking points. McCaslin said on his website that his strong support of the Second Amendment is not about hunting, “it’s about the last line of defense against tyranny.”
Money and how to spend it will be the biggest issue facing the Legislature this year, Wilhite said.
“I think people are still concerned about pocketbook issues,” she said. “I’m a fiscal conservative. I’ve been a business owner for 35 years, and I know how to stretch a penny. The state needs to be that same way. They need to conserve and live within the revenues given by the public.”
She also is concerned about businesses leaving the state and how to attract new ones without promising endless tax breaks. “Sometimes we need to look at the fairness of what we do, too,” she said. “We don’t want to give an advantage to one company over another.”
Incumbent Leonard Christian, who lost the primary election, has declined to endorse either McCaslin or Wilhite.
“I don’t believe Bob is qualified for the job,” Christian said. “I just don’t believe me getting involved is going to do any good.”
McCaslin listed his planning commission seat as “elected experience” in the Spokane County Elections Office online voter guide. Wilhite said McCaslin should have specified that he was appointed, not elected.
“I don’t think that tells the whole story,” she said.
McCaslin has the edge in fundraising, collecting just over $44,500 compared to Wilhite’s $24,800. Many of McCaslin’s largest contributors are political action committees, including $1,900 from the Council of Police Political Support (the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs), $950 from the Justice for All PAC (Washington Association for Justice, formerly the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association) and $950 from Physicians Insurance.
The Washington Education Association also has donated $950 and endorsed McCaslin, who teaches in the Central Valley School District. But McCaslin’s biggest financial supporter is Duane Alton, who has financially backed campaigns against school levies across the state, including the most recent levy put on the ballot by Central Valley. Alton has donated $1,600, his wife has donated $1,700 and his company Swan LLC has donated $1,850.
In an earlier interview McCaslin said he had no problem accepting Alton’s support. He said that as a teacher he supported his district’s levy, but said he had no comment on his “personal feelings” about the levy.
Given those facts, Wilhite said she was a little surprised that the WEA endorsed him.
“Maybe they thought it wasn’t that important,” she said.
Many of Wilhite’s top financial donors are individuals and businesses, including $750 from Spokane Rock Products, $500 from the Build East PAC (Inland Northwest Association of General Contractors), $500 from contractor Max J. Kuney and $500 from former Central Valley superintendent Mike Pearson.