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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Everyone was politicking…not that there’s anything wrong with that

Now that most dust has settled from filling the Spokane Valley’s 4th District Senate seat, it may be safe to answer the question of who was guilty of committing politics to fill that spot.

Answer: Everyone.

While it’s generally true if everyone’s guilty, no one can claim the moral high ground, the problem seems to be that some people don’t like to be thought of as resorting to politics to get what they want. They believe there’s something inherently evil or icky about it. For them, here are two words of advice:

Grow up. . . .

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, go inside the blog.

We’re talking about a political party trying to fill a partisan position in a body where politics is described as the art of the possible and serves as the oil that lubricates the process.

In the five weeks between Bob McCaslin’s retirement and Jeff Baxter’s appointment, everyone who had a stake in the outcome was politicking, but not everyone was willing to own up to it.

The cries of foul came loudest from people who may be newest to the process, the wing of the Republican Party that might belong to members of the Libertarian Party if the Libertarians were in some way, shape or form a viable vehicle to elect people to office. Many also have some affinity with the tea party, although that party is such a wide and interesting amalgam of philosophies that its membership can be hard to define.

Tea partiers seem to share a belief that the status quo must change and politics as usual must end. So they were duly incensed after hearing that some current and former legislators discussed favorites for the nominee list to fill McCaslin’s seat. They may have been rightly alarmed that their preferred pick, Rep. Matt Shea, wouldn’t be the county commissioners’ pick.

Their first reaction was to warn the commissioners about being unelected for dereliction of constitutional duty. They then engaged in political maneuvering of their own, arranging a slate designed to make Shea the obvious choice and pushing through rules for the nomination process to shut out anyone else. This produced complaints from the other side, followed by retorts from the Shea supporters that this was just democracy in action.

Were politics being committed when current and former legislators met over a meal to discuss potential replacements to McCaslin? Yes, but there wasn’t anything immoral or illegal about that.

Was it politics when tea partiers tried to intimidate the commissioners into choosing their favorite for the opening? Yes, but as long as they didn’t threaten violence, the commissioners are big boys and can handle it. When one throws around the constitution, however, it’s always good to read it and realize there’s nary a word about commissioners having to take the precinct committee officers’ choice. In fact, it says nothing about precinct committee officers, period; they’re a part of the process by party rules, not the constitution.

Did the Libertarian wing of the local GOP engineer a backroom deal to put Shea on the nominee list with Jeff Baxter and Roy Murry? Yes, and it included a certain amount of recognizable payback for what happened to them at the county and state GOP conventions. There’s nothing wrong with that unless you are categorically or vocally against backroom deals. In that case, you may have some uncomfortable ’splaining to do.

Was it democracy in action that Shea supporters could change the rules for electing nominees and push through their slate by the sheer force of numbers? Maybe, but it’s important to remember that we don’t live in a democracy but a republic, which is probably why the founding fathers wanted the party to nominate three, and the commissioners choose one.

The commissioners chose Baxter, and he began work in the Senate last week. One might think the waters will now calm, former adversaries will have a Kumbaya moment and unite against a common enemy, the Democrats.

Probably not. Republicans aren’t much for Kumbaya moments. There are still people who hold grudges from the 2008 John McCain-Ron Paul fight, the 1996 Bob Dole-Pat Buchanan contest, the 1988 George Bush-Pat Robertson split, or the 1976 Gerald Ford-Ronald Reagan contest. There may be some still around with a score or two to settle from the 1964 Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller battle, although they probably refer to McCaslin as “that young whippersnapper.”

That’s another thing about politics. It attracts people with long memories.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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