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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Spokane’s greatest election that never was: Baumgartner vs. Knezovich vs. Shea vs. Stuckart vs. Parker vs. Brown

Michael Baumgartner, left, and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich talk during a Republican Party election night celebration at the Davenport Hotel on Tuesday, Nov, 2, 2010. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)
Michael Baumgartner, left, and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich talk during a Republican Party election night celebration at the Davenport Hotel on Tuesday, Nov, 2, 2010. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)

And so the most fascinating campaign in years to hit Spokane ended before a ballot is cast, or even, an election scheduled.

News on Friday that U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ nomination as Interior secretary was imminent caused a wave of uncomfortable announcements on Twitter from among four of the highest-profile politicians in Spokane County. It was sparked by City Council President Ben Stuckart. Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich followed. Then state Sen. Michael Baumgartner. Finally state Rep. Matt Shea.

They said they would run for McMorris Rodgers’ seat representing Eastern Washington if Donald Trump moved forward with her nomination.

And two others: state Rep. Kevin Parker and former state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown indicated that they were considering runs.

Imagine a debate in which Knezovich and Shea – even greater political foes than Stuckart and Spokane Mayor David Condon – shared a stage. (Shea isn’t known for participating in debates, but there is a great tradition of debates in the race for the Congressional seat once held by House Speaker Thomas Foley, and Shea would risk being ignored if he was a no-show since Baumgartner, Knezovich and Stuckart would most certainly show up.)

The three Republicans in the race-that-never-was, Baumgartner, Knezovich and Shea, represent different parts of the party. Shea, the super conservative sympathizer of Cliven Bundy who has thwarted attempts from Republicans and Democrats to throw him out of office, has won his re-elections by comfortable margins. But he has never faced an opponent who has appeal across party lines. Not many politicians have that these days, but Knezovich has enjoyed enough support from Democrats with his nonpartisan running of the sheriff’s office and opposition to Shea that Democrats have opted not to challenge him.

Since his toppling of Chris Marr to win his senate seat in 2010, Baumgartner has been a prominent force in the party. He’s recovered since his overwhelming loss to U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell two years later, and his voice is growing louder. He also has a resume that may be the most attractive among the Republicans who want the seat, and his proposal to cut college tuition, which was adopted at a time when few thought it possible, has earned him a major policy achievement to highlight in a campaign.

A four-way race would be hard to predict, except that Stuckart would almost be assured a primary win since Democratic votes wouldn’t be split. He would then be the underdog in the final two-way race.

But throw Lisa Brown in the mix, and there’s no telling what would happen. Two Republicans could top the pack and move past the primary. Add Kevin Parker and there’d even be a chance Republicans would be so divided that two Democrats could win the primary in the Republican district, not unlike the way Republicans captured the state treasurer’s office this year in a Democratic state. 

Of course, other folks likely would have jumped in, too. The district touches three states, and we only had a weekend to speculate who else may have run.

After reports of McMorris Rodgers selection proved false, Stuckart pledged to challenge McMorris Rodgers in 2018. His drive and potential populist appeal will bring a fight that could make the race for McMorris Rodgers' seat more interesting than we've seen the last few cycles. But it's only a consolation prize for political junkies who almost witnessed Eastern Washington's election battle of a lifetime.


Jonathan Brunt
Jonathan Brunt joined The Spokesman-Review in 2004. He is the government editor. He previously was a reporter who covered Spokane City Hall, Spokane County government and public safety.

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