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Shawn Vestal: It’s up to Matt Shea’s voters to do the right thing – and they haven’t done it yet

Washington state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, speaks Jan. 13, 2017, at a gun rights rally at the Capitol in Olympia. Boeing, Allstate, the timber company Weyerhaeuser and the Washington Health Care Association have joined the list of corporate donors that say they will no longer contribute to Shea’s re-election campaigns. (Ted Warren / AP)

If I had to hazard a guess regarding the political future of Rep. Matt Shea, it would not include his resignation under pressure.

If anything, the growing condemnation of Shea by local officials, in response to the latest details about our region’s foremost conspiratorial, paranoid, gun-worshipping, anti-government zealot, will just fuel his appetite for martyrdom.

Shea’s end-times worldview, in which he casts himself as a righteous warrior against evil, requires the presence of an enemy, after all. The government, liberals, the media, Islam, the sheriff – the more that sane people object to Shea, the more he likes it.

So if Shea’s political career is endangered, it won’t be because members of the Spokane City Council, about whom he has creepily compiled dossiers, call for him to quit. They’re right to do so, but they’re not likely to move him to act.

Nor will his doom arise from the NAACP’s accurate assessment that Shea uses his platform to “promote hate and violence.” If that bothered his voters, they’d have already shown it. It won’t happen because the Spokane Police Guild calls for it, or because the state House of Representatives takes dramatic action, or because Avista stops giving him money.

We should not hold our breath waiting for Shea to be shamed out of office. Almost certainly, his political career will end only if the voters of the Fourth Legislative District decide to end it.

And I bet they won’t.

Shea’s not some lone wolf. Some outlier. He’s been the head of a movement for a long time – the pastor of a faithful congregation in which ammunition equals righteousness, bigotry means rectitude, and the presumption of an eventual armed conflict between good and evil is an absolute article of faith. He’s our head Bundy boy and Redoubt action hero, playing culture warrior, spinning conspiracy theories and serving as a legitimizing on-ramp for extremism.

And he’s been all of this for more than six straight cakewalk elections in the Fourth, the district between Spokane and the Idaho border that includes the city of Spokane Valley and upward of 150,000 people.

In a time when extremist right-wing violence plagues the country – and when it’s often excused, softened or ignored strategically by an increasing number of conservatives in politics and media – Shea is a steppingstone between the fever swamp and the halls of power. These links have long existed in Western politics, but in this era of the “very fine people on both sides” presidency, it has become a crisis.

But the sad truth is that the recent revelations about Shea – including his training of child warriors for “Christian warfare” and his gathering of information about political opponents – seem unlikely to move the needle among those who keep sending him to Olympia.

Shea was first elected to the House in 2008, with 58% of the vote. He won again in 2010, unopposed. Since then, he’s won again and again, no matter how much disturbing information about him becomes public.

In 2011, a few prominent local conservatives raised alarms about Shea’s anger and allegations of violence in a divorce proceeding, among other concerns. Bob McCaslin said, “I wish to state that under no circumstances would I support Matt Shea for any public office.”

Also in 2011, Todd Mielke, then a county commissioner, said he wanted answers about allegations Shea’s ex-wife made that Shea “was disarmed by his commanders” over anger issues while serving in Iraq, as well as domestic abuse allegations she made.

This was not, to put it mildly, the typical GOP response to Shea, which has been characterized by cowardly whispers more than principled opposition.

The next year, it was revealed that Shea had pulled an unregistered handgun on another motorist in a road-rage incident. Then, he posted a photo of himself on social media standing stalkerishly in the driveway of his opponent, Democrat Amy Biviano.

That fall, Shea beat Biviano handily, with 57% of the vote.

In 2014, running against the decidedly sane and reasonable Republican Josh Arritola, Shea won 58% of the vote. That came after he had traveled to Nevada for the first armed Bundy standoff with federal agents. In a video at the time, Shea fanned the flames with both hands: “This is a war on rural America” was his message to armed zealots who trained rifles on the feds.

In 2016 – after he defied FBI requests not to inflame the second Bundy standoff and traveled to Malheur, Oregon, to meddle – he beat Democrat Scott Stucker with a nearly two-thirds majority.

In 2018 – after it was revealed that he was passing around his “Biblical Basis for War” document that suggested that men who support abortion or gay marriage should be killed, among other things – he beat Democrat Ted Cummings with a 58% majority. Cummings told Rolling Stone magazine: “I lost to a fascist – what can I say?”

And this is but a short, selective list from the rich Shea cesspool. He puts out podcasts and makes public appearances that are simply jam-packed with paranoid, violent predictions. He tells outrageous lies about his political opponents. Year after year, it becomes more and more impossible to deny that he is a fanatic in love with righteous violence, fueling dangerous extremists and offering legitimizing cover for fringe figures.

And election after election, he wins easily.

I see no reason yet to think any of that has changed. It would be nice to be proven wrong. But until that happens, it will almost certainly be left to the voters in the Spokane Valley to do the right thing about Matt Shea.

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