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Spokane GOP picks McLaughlin, Kerns and Baxter to replace Mielke

A former Spokane city councilwoman, a 30-year-old state legislative aide and a former Washington state senator will vie to replace Todd Mielke on the Spokane County Commission.

Nancy McLaughlin, Josh Kerns and Jeff Baxter earned enough votes from Spokane County Republican Party precinct officers to be named potential successors to Mielke, who represents the northern portion of the county on the three-member commission. Dale Strom, a concert booking agent and active member of the party, was the only nominee who didn’t make the cut.

Mielke resigned to become the chief executive for Greater Spokane Inc., a job he started on Feb. 1.

Spokane County Commissioners Al French and Shelly O’Quinn will interview and check the backgrounds of the three Republican nominees for Mielke’s seat. Mielke said Saturday he suspected French and O’Quinn would take at least two weeks to mull the potential appointees. They have a 60-day window from Mielke’s final day as a commissioner, which was Jan. 31. If they miss the deadline, Gov. Jay Inslee would choose from among the three, according to state law.

In their pitch to party members, the candidates and their supporters stressed the need to appoint a Republican who could win the general election for the seat in November.

“Make no mistake, the Democrats want this commissioner seat,” said Stephanie Cates, the vice chair of the Spokane County Republican Party, in her nomination for McLaughlin. “Now that they’ve taken over the City Council of Spokane, they have their sights set on the county and taking it in the same liberal direction.”

Kerns said he would bring the knowledge spent campaigning for several sitting state legislators to the commissioner race in November. The 30-year-old legislative aide to state Rep. Jeff Holy also owns a graphic design firm with his wife.

“They all know that I can win elections because I helped each and every one of them get elected,” Kerns said, listing endorsements from, among others, state Sen. Mike Baumgartner and Rep. Matt Shea.

McLaughlin, 57, was the first choice of the 178 precinct committee officers who cast their ballot at the New Life Assembly of God church in Spokane Valley, where the GOP meeting was held. In her remarks to voters, McLaughlin pulled out several props from a canvas bag that she said represented her beliefs. They included a Bible, a concealed carry permit and a framed picture of her family.

“I am a Christian, conservative, Republican woman. A seasoned political political war veteran,” McLaughlin, a former two-term Spokane City Councilwoman, said.

Baxter, 55, spoke of his time in the state Senate, serving as an appointee to replace outgoing Sen. Bob McCaslin in February 2011. Baxter served 10 months in the Senate before losing to current Sen. Mike Padden that November.

“When this seat opened up, I took a couple days to pray about it,” Baxter said. He said attracting businesses to the county and providing the same level of service while avoiding tax increases would be his priorities in office, goals echoed by his fellow appointees.

Though McLaughlin was the first choice of party members, that doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll be picked by French and O’Quinn. Baxter was the second choice of the GOP to take McCaslin’s place behind Shea in 2011, but the Spokane County Commission, then comprised of French, Mielke and Mark Richard, chose Baxter over the Spokane Valley representative.

If O’Quinn and French can come to an agreement on Mielke’s replacement, it would be a departure from the contentious appointment process to name a new county chief executive a little less than a year ago. When Mielke was forwarded by a panel of local executives and business leaders to replace Marshall Farnell as the county’s CEO, O’Quinn moved to hire him. French refused to second that motion. Gerry Gemmill was later given the job.

Kerns took 90 votes in the second round of balloting to make the final three. Baxter defeated Strom in the final round of voting.

Mielke attended the meeting Saturday morning to urge party members to pick the best candidates for the commission job. He left before voting began.


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