The Spokane County Republican Party plans to go to court this week in an effort to block the county commissioner campaign of Democrat John Roskelley.
The county GOP filed a challenge to Roskelley’s current voter registration on Friday, and asked Auditor Vicky Dalton to remove his name from the ballot for the District 1 commissioner race, where he is challenging incumbent Republican Commissioner Todd Mielke. But an auditor has no authority to strike a name from the ballot, Dalton said, and the party will have to convince a Superior Court judge to take him off the ballot.
“This is a very clear-cut case,” Matthew Pederson, county GOP chairman said, contending Roskelley is trying to “deceive voters” with the address.
“It’s just politics,” said Roskelley.
At issue is the East Heron View Lane address Roskelley lists on his voter registration, which determines whether he is eligible to run in Commissioner District 1. There is no house on that property, although Roskelley said he’s owned the land for about five years. He and his wife sold their farm, which is in that district, last May, and moved temporarily into their son’s house, which is not in that district, while they made plans to build on the East Heron View lot.
Roskelley said he hired an architect, who drew up plans, and filed for a building permit for that structure in March. In checking the overall cost, however, he and his wife decided to scale back, came up with a less-expensive plan, and submitted those to get a different permit. A check of local homeowners’ association covenants showed the house needed a third garage, so they needed another change. He sent The Spokesman-Review copies of his permit applications, which start on March 2, and said he expects to pick up the final permit this week.
In the meantime, he dug a well, built a road and had a septic system designed for the property.
“He plans to build, but he does not have any improvements besides a well. There is no habitable abode” on the property, Pederson said.
But state law doesn’t turn on whether there’s a building on the property. It focuses the question of “residency” rather than “occupancy.” Twenty years ago, a similar challenge was mounted to the ability of Skip Chilberg to run for office in a commissioner district where he had property, but no house. Because he intended to build a house on the property, even though he lived temporarily at an address outside the district, Chilberg was allowed to keep his voter registration, and his place on the ballot. He won the election.
That decision and others revolved around a voter’s intent, Dalton said. The courts have been lenient in giving the benefit of the doubt to the voter.
Dalton will hold an inquiry on Roskelley’s residency as far as his voter registration, but even if the county GOP is right, she can’t take him off the ballot because that’s not retroactive. Only a Superior Court judge can do that, she said; such a challenge must be filed by Tuesday, and has five working days to be resolved. With the Memorial Day holiday next Monday, that means there would be a decision by next Wednesday. Time is important because the county needs to know whether his name goes on the Aug. 7 ballots, which must be printed soon. County commissioners run in a district primary, but are elected countywide in the general.
Pederson said the county GOP will file suit with the court by Tuesday to challenge Roskelley’s ability to run in that district. He added he hadn’t reviewed the Chilberg case, but the party is talking with several attorneys about filing the challenge.
Roskelley said he asked Dalton earlier this year whether he’d be able to use the East Heron View address for his candidacy, and was told he would because he intended to live there. He lived in the district for 27 years — and represented it on the county commission for eight of those — and said he would’ve moved into an apartment if he’d been told something different.
“I’m not going to hire an attorney. If the courts rule me out of it, so be it,” he said. “I’ll defend myself.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.