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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Sponsor of petition against ‘sanctuary city’ law says she’s been misled

For months now, Jackie Murray – a truck driver, Teamster and recent transplant to Spokane from California – has been the point person in the petition drive to undo Spokane’s ordinance that restrains local cops from making immigration status the focus of inquiries or investigations.

Now she sounds like one of its harshest critics.

Murray says she wants to cut off all association with the petition drive, of which she is the formal sponsor. She says she’s been misled and used as a pawn by Craig Keller, the leader of the West Side anti-immigrant group Respect Washington. She referred to loaded, biased language that was added to the petitions and made to look official as “hate speech.” She said that when she tried to assert her authority as the sponsor, she was dismissed as a “stupid truck driver.” And she apologized Monday at the City Council meeting to Councilwoman Candace Mumm for an incident in which Keller showed up on Mumm’s doorstep and harangued her at length.

Mumm complained about that incident on the council dais in July, saying initiative proponents were using misleading language. “I know on my doorstep, I was being given false information,” she said at the time. “You’ve lost my respect, Respect Washington.”

It’s not clear what the skirmish between Murray and Keller will mean for the effort to undo Spokane’s so-called “sanctuary city” law. Murray says she still supports the goals of the initiative drive, and it appears that petitioners will have enough signatures to put an initiative on the ballot in 2017. Though she wants to withdraw from the effort, it’s not clear to city or county officials whether she can or what that would mean – the signatures are turned in and on the verge of being verified by the county.

Her problems with Keller and others stem from the way she has been treated by them, she said, and she’s been exhausted and saddened by some of the criticisms that have been leveled against her efforts. Her dispute with Keller and others seems personal and intense, and she acknowledges she’s played her part in it.

“I have sworn at him like the truck driver I am,” she said.

Neither Keller nor Councilman Mike Fagan, a supporter of the petition who has called sanctuary cities a “huge national issue,” returned messages seeking comment. The website for Keller’s group now gives top billing to the Spokane petition.

The “sanctuary city” issue, like so many regarding immigrants or people of color, brings a lot of ugly attitudes out of the woodwork. The city ordinance arose from a longtime police department policy that directs officers not to make arrests or inquiries for immigration status. It’s meant to make it easier to police communities with a lot of immigrants, legal or otherwise, who would be less likely to report crimes or step forward as witnesses.

When the council went to formalize the policy in 2014, some people freaked out. City Council testimony included a decent amount of wackadoodle scare-mongering: Ebola! Tax increases! Lepers! One woman testified that terrorists were crossing the border into Arizona and chopping off the heads of Americans.

Murray said she took a lot of heat and got called a lot of names. “All I wanted to do is protect the citizens,” she said. “I lived in California with the drive-bys. It got really ugly, and I moved.”

Murray and I have sparred over this issue in the past, and she has said I’ve written “hateful” things about her. I haven’t written about Murray by name before, but have indeed written critical things about her petition drive and, especially, what I see as the outpouring of misinformed, angry bigotry that has supported it. The people who support these positions always insist they are not bigots and racists, but then pretty soon one of them is describing all immigrants as a flood of disease-ridden criminals making their way to Spokane to rape and murder and apply for food stamps with impunity.

So, Murray and I are not going to come to agreement on this one. Still, I like the way she described our differences: “Just like you think I’m misguided, I think you’re misguided.”

Fair enough. Murray led the effort to gather signatures to repeal the city’s new law – an effort that fell short by a few signatures. But the tactics were suspect: The petitions included the neutral ballot language that was reviewed and approved by city lawyers, but organizers added additional inflammatory language – calling out council members for voting to provide a “sanctuary for illegal aliens,” among other things. Organizers were told the language was improper but did not take it off their petitions. The online petition includes it still.

Murray says now that she attempted to keep the language off the petitions, but Keller overrode her wishes. That decision puts the petition drive at risk of a lawsuit, though city law does not explicitly forbid it. Mumm said the council is getting ready to fix that, with changes proposed to the city’s initiative law, including more forceful requirements for “true and impartial” ballot language and a prohibition on adding anything to petitions once the language has been approved by the city.

“We’re making it very clear,” she said.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on twitter at @vestal13.

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