For the first time in 40 years, Republicans will run unopposed by Democrats for a seat on the Spokane County Board of Commissioners.
That’s more than 30 commissioner races in a row with a Democratic challenger, many of them won by Democrats.
But some party leaders say the party’s recent weakness running countywide – they haven’t won an election for commissioner since 2006 – has discouraged would-be candidates, even in a year that political analysts believe could be good for Democrats.
Spokane County Commissioner Al French is facing Democratic challenger Robbi Katherine Anthony, who filed for the District 3 seat this month. However, while Commissioner Mary Kuney is challenged by Republican Spokane County Treasurer Rob Chase for the District 2 seat, that race is lacking a Democratic candidate.
The last time Republicans ran unopposed by Democrats for a Spokane County commissioner’s seat was in 1978, when Republican Jerry Kopet secured the District 3 commissioner’s seat, according to Spokane County election records.
Spokane County Democratic Party Chairman Ed Wood said there wasn’t enough interest from the party this year to run for the District 2 commissioner seat, which covers the southeastern section of Spokane County. Wood said the party will not endorse Chase or Kuney in the race.
Former County Commissioner John Roskelley said Kuney’s seat largely encompasses Spokane Valley – which leans Republican – and Democrats haven’t had a lot of success in the area. Although the primary election will only be decided by voters in the district, the top two finishers will face off in November countywide.
The last Democrat to win the Commissioner District 2 seat was Steve Hasson in 1992, according to Spokane County election records. Bonnie Mager was the last commissioner to win either of the other seats running as a Democrat. That was in 2006.
“Democrats get discouraged,” Roskelley said. “But don’t think they aren’t trying to round up candidates to run.”
Former Spokane County Commissioner Skip Chilberg said it’s a daunting choice for candidates to step into a commissioner’s race because they need to show they have enough experience for the position.
“Democrats had some really strong candidates the last few election cycles and they didn’t do well for whatever reason, and that discouraged them from thinking about it in the future,” Chilberg said. “It’s a tough county for a Democrat to win right now. Campaigns are very expensive. Anyone who is qualified is walking away from a pretty good job, it’s basically kind of a long shot to win right now.”
Chilberg won the county treasurer’s office as a Democrat in 2006 only to lose it to Chase in 2010.
Anthony, who is running for county commissioner on a platform of fiscal responsibility, said she’s not concerned about running for a position that’s been Republican dominated for more than a decade.
“Everyone has got the sense that the county is ready for change,” she said.“When I saw that there wasn’t necessarily an exclusive challenger for this cycle, I thought ‘why not me?’ ”
Anthony, who assisted with Andrew Biviano’s commissioner campaign in 2016, said she wants her candidacy to bring another viewpoint to the all-GOP commission.
Anthony is surprised a Democratic challenger didn’t file for the District 2 seat.
“I think there’s a lot of fear for people trying to run in the county … I’m disappointed that it’s going to be two Republicans duking it out,” she said.
Roskelley said the District 2 commissioner seat could be lacking candidates due to the time commitment needed to run for office and because a commissioner’s duties aren’t as widely understood compared to a city council position.
“We need some alternate opinions to bring out to the public and it hasn’t happened since 2006,” Roskelley said.
State Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, sponsored legislation that became law this year that will increase the number of Spokane County commissioners to five.
The new system, which goes into effect in 2022, would require candidates to run in their respective district for the primary and general elections.
Under the five-commissioner system, districts will be smaller, allowing candidates to reach voters door to door, he said.
Wood said he didn’t know if Democrats are just holding out until the five- commissioner system begins.
Riccelli said the five-commissioner system will add more diversity to county government.
“You want to have diversity and voices even if we move to five,” he said. “Even if one is in the Democratic Party, it’s good to have that healthy debate.”