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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Labor Council backs Riccelli without seeking views of other Democrats in House race

Candidates haven’t even officially signed up to run for office, but the contest for a state House seat representing central Spokane is heating up.

The race for the seat held by state Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, already has attracted four candidates, in large part because Billig decided last week that he wouldn’t run for re-election as planned so that he could seek the state Senate seat held by Lisa Brown, who announced that she would not run for a new term.

The AFL-CIO’s Washington State Labor Council on Saturday endorsed Democrat Marcus Riccelli, Brown’s senior policy analyst, for Billig’s 3rd Legislative District seat without seeking the views and positions of the other candidates.

Democratic candidate John Waite, who owns Merlyn’s Comics and Games, said the labor endorsement indicates that “elite, upper party leaders” are working to control the outcome.

“That’s absolutely, positively not my vision for how our democratic elections process should work,” Waite said.

The other two candidates who have announced their intentions to run are Republican Tim Benn and Democrat Jon Snyder, a Spokane city councilman.

Riccelli, who attended the Labor Council’s weekend convention where union leaders selected candidates they support in the August primary, said he’s “extremely proud” of the abor council’s support.

“I believe the endorsement is the result of long-standing relations that I’ve had with local labor leaders and members as well as a result of the relationships I’ve built while serving for Sen. Brown for the last year and a half in Olympia,” Riccelli said. “I’m proud that they’ve recognized my ability to work alongside them on job creation and the issues that are important to the 3rd District.”

Kathy Cummings, spokeswoman for the Washington State Labor Council, said for most races the council sent questionnaires to candidates. But candidates for Billig’s seat emerged so soon before the convention – in Waite’s and Snyder’s cases only the day before – that there wasn’t time to solicit information from the new hopefuls.

“We put our people power behind him, and that can make a difference in a race,” Cummings said.

Waite said he likely wouldn’t have earned the council’s endorsement had he been given a chance to earn it. He has been critical in some instances of wages commanded by some public-sector unions, such as the city of Spokane’s fire battalion chiefs, arguing that high compensation could force taxes up on the working poor. But Waite said candidates should have had the opportunity to make a case to the Labor Council and that Snyder probably had a legitimate shot at AFL-CIO backing.

Snyder said Riccelli has developed better relationships with state union leaders during his time in Brown’s office. He said he sees nothing “weird or unusual” about the endorsement.

“I just think it was a timing thing,” Snyder said.

Waite, who considers himself liberal on social issues and conservative on fiscal ones, is new to party politics. He previously ran for state House as an independent and Spokane City Council without seeking party backing.

“I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘That’s how our system works. You might as well get used to it,’ ” he said. “I’m inclined not to let it happen without putting up a fight.”