The Spokane County Republican Party convened Saturday in a church in Spokane Valley to pick three potential replacements for Shelly O’Quinn, who recently vacated a seat on the county commission to lead a local nonprofit.
Rob Chase, the county’s elected treasurer, emerged as the party favorite in the first round of voting by precinct committee officers. Just behind him was Mary Kuney, the county’s chief deputy auditor, who campaigned to unseat Chase during his 2014 re-election bid.
Also on the shortlist is John Guarisco, an executive at a Spokane Valley marketing firm who sits on the board of directors of the Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The fourth nominee, Spokane Valley City Councilman Arne Woodard, was eliminated in the first round after receiving five of 157 votes cast.
The three-member Spokane County Commission wields both legislative and executive power over the half-million people who live in the county. The Republican Party is seeking to install someone who can fill O’Quinn’s seat – and defend that seat in a special election next year.
It’s now up to the remaining commissioners, Republicans Al French and Josh Kerns, to choose a new colleague from the party’s shortlist. Kerns said they will interview each nominee for up to an hour during a public hearing Aug. 16. The new commissioner will represent District 2, which encompasses the southeastern third of the county including Spokane Valley.
Chase, who has experience in real estate, ran for commissioner in 2012 but lost to O’Quinn in the primary. He also ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in 2000 and the U.S. House in 2002.
He was nominated Saturday by state Rep. Matt Shea, who also backed Kerns during his campaign last year. In a brief speech, Shea noted Chase already has been elected twice to a countywide office. He said Chase would push an agenda that’s “pro-life, pro-gun and also pro-economic development.”
Chase, for his part, said his office has taken on new responsibilities and operated “under budget” during his six years as treasurer. He also referred to the county’s financial woes. Officials have predicted a $10 million budget shortfall, and voters in November will decide on a “levy lid lift” that would raise property taxes by up to 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.
“Whether the proposed levy lid lift passes or not, I will follow the money and vote for a needed project only after we have explored lowering costs and eliminating waste,” Chase said. “We have problems at the county that honest people can solve, if there is transparency.”
Kuney, a certified public accountant, has worked in the county auditor’s office since 2015 and said she is prepared to tackle the county’s “budget crisis.” She said all county departments were recently instructed to draft budget proposals with 7 percent cuts.
“In my current role I work with all of the departments across the county. I’ve established relationships with department heads, and I don’t have to rely on reading reports,” Kuney said. “I can talk to them and ask direct questions and get real answers. I use a collaborative approach to problem-solving.”
Kuney worked for the state auditor’s office from 1993 to 2004. She has since worked for two major accounting firms and co-founded Summit Tea Co. Her husband, Max, is president of Spokane-based Kuney Construction.
Kuney is endorsed by O’Quinn, former commissioners Nancy McLaughlin and Kate McCaslin, state Sen. Michael Baumgartner and the county’s elected assessor, Vicki Horton.
Guarisco is the manager of creative and marketing services at MDI Marketing, which he co-founded, and touts more than 25 years of business experience. In addition to the Valley Chamber of Commerce, he’s held positions with Greater Spokane Incorporated and the local Rotary Club.
“When I was 25 years old I opened Luigi’s Italian Restaurant here in the Valley – 30 employees – and I really learned at a young age all about taxes and government bureaucracy,” Guarisco said.
While he’s never held elected office or worked in the public sector, Guarisco is quick to say his clients have included local government departments, and that he has experience reviewing budgets. He said he became active in Republican politics about 10 year ago and has filed to run for O’Quinn’s seat in next year’s special election.
In addition to budget and public safety issues, all three nominees dedicated significant parts of their five-minute speeches to rail against the so-called Hirst decision by the state Supreme Court, which requires landowners and developers to prove they have sufficient water supplies before obtaining building permits. They characterized the ruling as a flagrant violation of property rights and said it’s hurting construction companies. Rural counties have been urging the Legislature to address the issue.
O’Quinn officially resigned from the commission on July 17, seven months after starting her second term. She is now the chief executive of the Inland Northwest Community Foundation.
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