One of the dominating issues in City Council races this year is one on which every candidate agrees.
All six hopefuls for three City Council seats say they oppose the “Community Bill of Rights,” the initiative on the November ballot proposed by Envision Spokane. Even so, at least in some forums, the issue has become: Who opposes it the most?
“We haven’t been able to spend as much time talking about other issues,” said Amber Waldref, who is running against Mike Fagan for a seat representing northeast Spokane. “It has distracted from some of the serious budget issues we’re facing for the city.”
Waldref said the bill of rights is a legitimate issue, given its potential financial implications. But she said that other topics are more pressing, considering the solid opposition among the candidates.
“What I’m concerned about is that the discussion over Prop. 4 is maybe overshadowing some of the danger that 1033 offers to our government,” said Jon Snyder, a candidate for a south Spokane council seat. Initiative 1033 would restrict local governments’ ability to raise taxes and fees.
Other issues relegated to the back seat include those related to the fatal confrontation between police and unarmed janitor Otto Zehm, including a federal investigation into the possible obstruction of justice, and the future of Spokane’s trash system – an issue that likely will gain prominence in the next four years as several contracts expire related to the city’s Waste-to-Energy Plant.
Councilman Mike Allen, who will face Snyder in the November election, said it’s clear why Envision Spokane’s measure is prominent in campaign discussion, even if all the candidates say they oppose it.
“Proposition 4 is particular to Spokane and, if passed, could really do a lot of damage to our business community and our citizens,” said Allen.
Earlier this year Envision Spokane gathered enough signatures to place its bill of rights on the November ballot. The proposal would create nine rights to residents, including affordable preventive health care, affordable housing and renewable energy.
Envision supporters say the rights would give power to citizens and neighborhoods often ignored by business interests and elected leaders. Opponents say they would create a financial burden on city government.
Though all the candidates are on record in opposition to the proposal, some have suggested ties between other candidates and Envision.
The July newsletter for the Spokane Home Builders Association labeled Snyder “the Envision Spokane” candidate, though he stated his opposition to the proposal well before the City Council placed the measure on the ballot. The association has endorsed Allen.
A news release sent out over the summer by Tim Eyman, who with Fagan has led numerous efforts in support of state initiatives restricting tax increases, including I-1033, referred to Waldref as an “Envision Spokane-supporter” though her Web site already was expressing her opposition.
Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, who faces Karen Kearney in her bid for re-election, said the issue lost prominence once all the candidates came out in opposition.
“There’s no debate in my mind,” she said.
Still, last week, the issue was at the forefront in McLaughlin’s race. At a forum held by opponents of Envision Spokane, City Councilman Steve Corker told the audience that Kearney was the only candidate citywide who was declining to take a stand on the issue publicly.
Earlier in the day, however, Kearney spoke strongly against Envision during an interview also attended by McLaughlin at Spokesman-Review offices. McLaughlin was at the forum with Corker but did not correct him.
Kearney said she’s always been upfront and open about her opposition to Envision’s proposal, and she called Corker “a liar.” In an interview this week, Corker said he honestly thought Kearney hadn’t taken a stand and apologized to her when she phoned to question him about his statement.
Snyder said he’ll avoid a debate about who’s the most opposed to Envision Spokane.
“There’s a discussion that has to continue to happen about what’s the best way to develop our city,” Snyder said. “I’m happy to be someone who can talk to both sides of that debate.”
Corker said he doubts the loud debate about Envision will affect voting in the City Council races.
“I haven’t had a single person come up to me and say I’m voting for Nancy or I’m voting for Karen based on the issue,” he said.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.