Twenty minutes before a Republican debate in Spokane Valley, the Greenacres venue filled to capacity and late-comers were being turned away.
The room, packed with 150 people, became stifling with heat. It didn’t take much longer for things to heat up between the candidates.
The forum, sponsored by North Side Conservative Action Alliance, featured four Republicans running for two positions in the 4th Legislative District: incumbent Rep. Matt Shea; his challenger, Josh Arritola; Diana Wilhite; and Bob McCaslin Jr.
All agreed on a few issues. Climate change is natural, they said. They are all anti-abortion. None of them would raise the gas tax. The Affordable Care Act should be revoked.
Wilhite and McCaslin shared the stage with the others, but they soon were overshadowed by the verbal boxing between Shea and Arritola.
Shea is running on a “freedom agenda”: gun rights, a Christian America and limiting an out-of-control government. Arritola, a Republican who is not as ideological as Shea, is primarily running a pro-business campaign.
In his first response to a question about fundraising, Arritola mentioned Shea’s trips out of state, notably Shea’s visit in April to meet with Cliven Bundy, a controversial Nevada rancher backed by an armed militia who challenged the federal government over grazing rights. Arritola said this was an example of Shea being out of touch with his constituents.
“You’re bought and paid for by lobbyists in Olympia,” Arritola said.
Shea wouldn’t be outdone, mentioning that his opponent accepted donations from the Service Employees International Union and saying he “would never take money” from the union.
Shea repeatedly stated he is an adherent to the freedom agenda, though it was unclear what that meant. In his opening remarks, he said that after coming home from Bosnia as a soldier in 2000, he had “seen how much my country had changed.” He said the state was under “regulatory tyranny.”
Asked what he would do to help the economy, Shea replied, “Well, first of all, pass the entire freedom agenda. That’d be great.” Later on, he warned that the economy would collapse if the nation didn’t switch to a “commodity-backed currency as a legal alternative to that of the Fed Reserve notes,” as is recommended by the Spokane County Republican Party.
Arritola disagreed, also raising the specter of economic failure.
“It would fundamentally, overnight, collapse not only the national economy, but the world economy,” he said. “I absolutely do not support switching to the gold standard.”
At the end of the debate, the candidates were allowed to ask one question. Shea asked Arritola if he knew all the Valley’s school mascots.
“That’s the question you have for me,” said Arritola, acting stunned and calling the question “cute.”
In his rebuttal, Shea named a number of mascots before turning to Arritola.
“You don’t even know the district. How can you represent the district if you don’t know the district,” he said. “That’s not a cute question. That’s a serious question.”
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