Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Immigration fight leads to City Council meltdown

Council president leaves meeting amid boisterous crowd

After numerous, ultimately unsuccessful attempts to quiet the packed Spokane City Council chambers, Council President Ben Stuckart gaveled the meeting to an early close and stormed from the chambers Monday night. Most in the crowd of more than 100 people were there to speak in favor of repealing a city law that says police will not ask people about their immigration status. A few spoke in support of the city policy, which was put forward by Stuckart and adopted last year by the City Council. After Stuckart left, the crowd grew rowdier, booing Stuckart and attempting to outshout each other. Councilman Jon Snyder quickly gained control of the meeting and calmed the crowd. But George McGrath, who speaks at every council meeting multiple times against government overreach and taxes, wouldn’t be silenced. McGrath yelled into the microphone and Snyder had a police officer escort him from the chambers. “There was no way in hell I was going to let them shut off that microphone,” McGrath said after the meeting. He faulted Stuckart for “taking his marbles and going home.” The outbursts and subsequent chaos occurred after eight people had spoken. By the end of the meeting, 30 people had taken to the podium; all but three against Stuckart’s immigration-status ordinance. The Spokane County Republican Party urged people to attend the meeting and speak against the ordinance. At turns calling Spokane a “sanctuary city” and spitting out terms such as “illegal alien” and “terrorists,” the crowd generally painted a frightening picture of Spokane’s future if the law were to remain in place. Council members heard they were “violating the higher law of God” by making “legal what is lawlessness.” They heard that Spokane would become “a horrible, dangerous, crime-ridden city” because “terrorists are coming over our borders, especially the southern one.” It was the testimony of former Republican state Rep. John Ahern that led to Stuckart leaving. Ahern said businesses would be wiser to locate in Idaho because it didn’t have laws protecting immigrants, or a business and occupation tax. The crowd cheered Ahern, in direct conflict to Stuckart’s earlier warnings to not show support for or disagreement with any speakers. Jackie Murray, who filed the initiative to repeal the ordinance with the city on behalf of the Federal Way-based Respect Washington, told the council that “inviting more (immigrants here illegally) is insane.” “I’m a refugee from California,” Murray said after the meeting. “I’ve already lived through this.” Murray wouldn’t give details about what she believed would happen to Spokane if the law remained on the books, but she said the city would get “the good with the bad.” After almost two hours of testimony, council members Mike Fagan and Mike Allen expressed sympathy with the audience and tried to bypass standard initiative rules for collecting signatures before it appears on the ballot. The remaining four members blocked their attempts. The initiative will now be reviewed by the city’s hearing examiner for legality and constitutionality. The sponsor must collect about 14,000 signatures for it to appear on November’s ballot.
Follow SR reporter @nickdeshais on Twitter for the latest news from Spokane City Hall