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Thursday, October 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Commissioner candidates trade well-worn barbs at Valley debate

Al French and Mary Lou Johnson used the "Rally in the Valley" debate at Central Valley High School on Monday night to continue policy position and leadership style attacks that have defined the race since the two emerged victorious from the August primary.

Here's a look at some of those claims, and the facts that support or dispute them.

Claim 1: Johnson attacks French's public records request of Spokane city government as evidence of blustery style.

In April, French submitted a public records request to the Spokane City Council requesting documents and legal basis for discussions about the expansion of the urban growth boundary. You can read that document here.

Johnson drew the crowd's attention Monday night to a headline from Spokesman-Review columnist Shawn Vestal, who called French's records request "an attempt to annoy, chasten and insult those who disagree with him."

"Good leaders lead by example ... another thing good leaders don't do is lash out or alienate other elected officials," Johnson said, before referencing the opinion column.

French defended his request Monday, saying he filed the request because city council members were deceiving citizens in comments at a public meeting.

"As an 8-year City Councilman for the city of Spokane, I knew the information that they were telling the public was factually inaccurate," French said. "And the only way to prove that to the public was to do a public records request and have them back up their statements with facts. Which, to this day, they have yet to do."

The Spokane City Council provided records later Tuesday, after publication of this blog, that the records request has been suspended at the request of French and county attorney, Jim Emacio. The records request was suspended in April 2014.

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

Claim 2: French says Johnson would allow "bureaucrats in Washington D.C." dictate our future.

French's statement came in the midst of his request for a vote based on his "track record" of leading in the community. Johnson had just referred to her experience in crafting the "Blueprint for Reform" as evidence she is better equipped to deal with the criminal justice challenges facing the county.

The blueprint contains several proposed reforms that are also advocated at the federal level, but it is much more likely that French was referring off-handedly to Johnson's opposition to the county involving itself in a legal fight against the proposed Spokane Tribes casino near Fairchild Air Force Base.

French has said he believes state law requires the commission to protect the economic interests of the county. Fairchild is one of the largest single-site employers in Spokane County, according to the Journal of Business. Johnson has said, and continued to say Monday night, that the Air Force is in the best position to determine whether the proposed casino presents a threat to Fairchild, not county commissioners.

The two candidates' positions on Fairchild and the negotiating process with the Tribe continued to crop up throughout the evening.

Claim 3: Johnson says French's opposition to the Spokane Tribe's casino near Fairchild Air Force Base would cost the region thousands of jobs.

Johnson has attacked French's claim he's brought thousands of jobs to the area through streamlined regulatory processes for building on the West Plains, attracting businesses like Caterpillar and WEMCO. She says he's taking credit for efforts that were shared by many. She also cited a 2007 Spokesman-Review report by Jonathan Brunt in which French criticizes then-Spokane Mayor Dennis Hession for taking credit for job growth.

“It’s like staring at the horizon and watching the sun rise and taking credit for it,” French said in that story. “What created those jobs is the private sector.”

French defended his position, repeating the charge that job growth occurred in the city in spite of, rather than because of, Hession's actions. French's bid for mayor later that month fell short, as he finished third in the voting behind Hession and the eventual winner, Mary Verner.

Johnson's charge about the casino is based on several assumptions. The first is that the casino would not lead to reductions at Fairchild or a base closure, which has not officially been confirmed by the Air Force (see next blog item). The second is that estimates by the Spokane Tribe Economic Project are correct, and that 5,000 jobs would be created in a phased approach to casino construction. Roughly the same amount of employees, military and civilian, are currently employed at Fairchild.

Claim 4: French says the Air Force has gone on the record stating it is "neutral, with concerns" on the proposed casino.

Johnson has said that French is spreading fear of closure by stating he's heard from people in the Pentagon there are serious concerns the casino project will affect base operations. In an interview with the Spokesman-Review, he said he'd had discussions with local appraisers that have told him if Fairchild closes, the area would look "like Detroit."

In a rebuttal cut off by the Central Valley High School moderator, French reiterated that the official stance of the airport on the project is "neutral, with concerns." Both candidates lamented that the Air Force will not publicly comment on the project, wishing to remain out of local government issues.

Johnson continues to point to the Environmental Impact Study prepared by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Department of the Interior that says the casino development would be compatible with the current uses at Fairchild. A tribe-funded study also found no concerns about the casino affecting operations at the base, but that report was blasted by French, Greater Spokane Incorporated and others as factually inaccurate.

Additional issues brought up Monday night will be explored in a story coming later this week. Johnson has recently rebutted claims from French supporters she is not reporting campaign expenses in a timely fashion, while French reports ad sales totaling more than $25,000 to air until Election Day. French said Tuesday that Johnson is not following the law and expects fines against her campaign.

The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.