In a conversation with his Republican counterpart broadcast Thursday, the newly appointed head of the Spokane County Democratic Party likened their relationship to an “arranged marriage.”
“Not by our parents, but by the Constitution,” said Andrew Biviano, who assumed duties as chairman of the party earlier this year. “We’ve been arranged to be together, in this process to try to move our community forward.”
From the outside, Biviano’s relationship with Stephanie Cates has appeared rocky in recent weeks. Both political party leaders acknowledged the public tension that has emerged in the past few weeks, with Cates calling out Biviano to condemn the booing of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally in Spokane, and Biviano criticizing Cates’ testimony against a measure by the Spokane City Council to oppose a hypothetical religious registry ascribed to President Donald Trump.
During a sit-down moderated by Spokesman-Review columnist Sue Lani Madsen and aired by Spokane Talks Online, both Cates and Biviano said the passion of the presidential campaign had injected itself into local politics.
“Tone matters, and, I think, separating the idea from the person,” said Cates.
Cates said the proliferation of labels like “snowflake” for Democrats upset by the outcome of the election and other name calling is unproductive and shut down political discourse.
“I see it on my side. I see it from the other side as well,” Cates said. “Obviously, Andrew and I, as leaders of our party, can’t police that with every single person.”
But Cates said she believed party leaders had “a responsibility to set the tone.”
Biviano urged Cates to listen to Democrats in the community who felt fearful as a result of Donald Trump’s presidency and to understand that fear, because Republicans could just as likely find themselves in the minority following the next election cycle.
“The responsibility, I think, falls to the people who are not upset, who just won, who are in a good mood, who are not afraid to extend the olive branch, and to maybe forgive the people who are terrified, who have been through the most uncivil campaign they’ve ever seen,” Biviano said.
Once the cameras were turned off, Biviano and Cates continued to discuss Trump, and their respective parties’ response to his presidency. Cates said local Republicans had expressed fear for publicly showing signs of support for the president, given the protests that followed.
“Our party won, and we have people who are excited about Trump, but they’re thinking, I better not say anything, or wear this hat in public, because I’m going to be bullied by someone coming up in my face and saying, ‘How can you vote for that man?’ ” Cates told Biviano. “And that’s unfortunate.”
Biviano said he believed much of that rhetoric came from the type of campaign Trump ran, indicting his opponents with nicknames like “Lyin’ Ted (Cruz).”
“Just outwardly disdainful, that’s never been allowed,” Biviano said. “Even if you were ripping the guy to shreds, you would call him Sen. Cruz, just to show that modicum of respect.”
In an interview after the roundtable, Cates said Trump “brought a lot of people together” under the Republican tent, and her role is to continue to increase the visibility of the party.
“I don’t necessarily want to be the story,” Cates said. “My intent is not to be the story. My intent is to take stands on things, and make statements, and be more visible.”
Biviano said he felt the need to give a voice to those hurting in his party, and to voice those concerns publicly.
“I think my job is to, hopefully, articulate in as clear a way as possible, the passionate feelings and belief that people have, and to try to distill it into productive conversation,” Biviano said.
Biviano said he wished some of the public barbs the pair had traded over the past few weeks might have taken place outside of the media. Past leaders of the two political county parties said that has been the custom in recent years.
Jim CastroLang, the previous chairman of the local Democratic Party, said he spoke frequently with his Republican counterparts, Ben Oakley and Dave Moore. CastroLang called today’s political climate “a different moment,” but applauded his successor for efforts to communicate with the other side.
“It’s time for everybody to take a deep breath,” CastroLang said.
Cindy Zapotocky, who served as the Spokane County Republican chairwoman for several years, pointed to her relationship with Biviano’s wife, Amy, who at the time was the Democratic chair, and their combined efforts to stop people from attacking political yard signs in 2010.
“Civil leaders, especially, have a responsibility to try and keep the peace,” Zapotocky said. “Your first responsibility is a peaceful, safe community.”
Andrew Biviano and Cates shook hands as they left the studio Thursday, pledging to work together on communication in the future. But Biviano acknowledged that complete agreement was likely a pipe dream.
“We’re going to have some verbal sparring, and that’s our jobs,” he said. “Because we both have values to present.”