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Voters get distinct choice in race for open county seat

Either way voters choose, the candidate who replaces Spokane County Commissioner Nancy McLaughlin will bring a notably different political ideology.

Spokane City Councilwoman Candace Mumm and state legislative aide Josh Kerns are picking up the pace of their campaigns, participating almost daily in debates, public forums and other events aimed at getting out the vote.

They’re competing to represent the northern part of Spokane County, which generally leans Republican. But Mumm, who has worked in both parties, said she’s unfazed running for the seat as a Democrat.

“We have a lot of independent voters who want the best person and not just the partisan affiliation,” Mumm said, touting her experience as a city councilwoman and chief executive of a housing development company, Smartland LLC.

Her $80,000 war chest is more than twice the size of Kerns’, but he’s encouraged by August primary results in which nearly 60 percent of the vote went to Republicans. In that contest, he represented a challenge from the right to McLaughlin, the Republican incumbent, and beat her by about 3 percentage points.

“I definitely know how to stretch a dollar on the campaign,” Kerns said. “We’re working as hard as we can … and leaving it all out on the field.”

Kerns frequently calls himself “an action-oriented advocate for property rights” who would resist tax increases, promote development and attract major employers. As an aide to state Rep. Jeff Holy, he said he could use his relationships in Olympia to loosen restrictions on county government.

Mumm has sought to paint herself as the more pragmatic candidate, noting her two terms as president of the city’s Plan Commission. She has criticized Kerns for some of his development proposals, saying they could exacerbate street crowding around schools and create unneeded expenses.

“I don’t think that’s fiscally responsible,” she said.

Both candidates have said they’re encouraged by ongoing efforts to improve the criminal justice system with more than $1.75 million from the MacArthur Foundation. But Kerns claims employment is the best way to combat mental illness, drug abuse, violence and property crime.

“We heard about this array of issues, and they all came back to jobs,” he said.

Kerns has criticized Mumm for a City Council measure requiring businesses to pay employees for up to five sick days each year. He claimed that move would cost businesses $24 million a year, citing figures from a conservative think tank.

Mumm has questioned Kerns about his political ties to controversial state Rep. Matt Shea, who most recently made headlines by suggesting that a Spokane County sheriff’s deputy was complicit in a triple homicide. She noted that as a commissioner, Kerns would have to work closely with Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who has expressed outrage over Shea’s remarks.

Mumm is endorsed by the Spokane firefighters’ union, the Spokane County Deputy Sheriff’s Association and the Washington Education Association. She also received campaign contributions from Avista Corp. and local engineering firm CH2M Hill.

Kerns, who previously served as an aide for conservative Rep. John Ahern, has secured backing from local developer Cyrus Vaughn and at least a half-dozen state legislators, including Holy, Shea and Sen. Michael Baumgartner.

Dave Moore, chairman of the Spokane County Republican Party, said the race appears more competitive than the race between Republican Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn and Democratic challenger Andrew Biviano. And that’s partly because the Mumm-Kerns race no longer involves an incumbent, Moore said.

O’Quinn, he said, “is a tested professional.” But Kerns has never held elected office. “He’s still, in some people’s minds, an unknown commodity.”

Ballots are due Nov. 8.


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