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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

51st state supporters reserve booth at Spokane County Interstate Fair, draw scrutiny

Washington state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, speaks about his vision for a 51st state called Liberty on Feb. 15, 2019, at the Capitol in Olympia. Supporters of Shea’s secessionist movement have concerned local progressive activists by reserving a booth at the Spokane County Interstate Fair. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

Supporters of a movement to turn Eastern Washington into a 51st state have concerned local progressive activists by reserving a booth at the Spokane County Interstate Fair.

The movement to create a new state called Liberty has been championed in recent years by state Rep. Matt Shea, the Spokane Valley Republican who has faced calls for his resignation amid revelations that he explored ways to surveil political adversaries and endorsed training children in “biblical” warfare.

Shea’s former legislative aide, Rene’ Holaday, said in a Wednesday installment of her “Liberty State Radio” podcast that volunteers have begun collecting petition signatures and handing out flyers at fairs across Eastern Washington, including recently in Grant County.

“Our county captains have been hitting it out of the park this past week with their Liberty state booths at their local fairs,” said Holaday, who calls herself Lady Liberty.

Holaday said secessionists would be present at upcoming fairs in Benton, Franklin, Douglas and Stevens counties, and at the Spokane County Interstate Fair, which runs Sept. 6-15.

During the 19-minute podcast, Holaday also railed against socialism and communism, and said Liberty state proponents plan to host a news conference Sept. 4 in Moses Lake.

Among those criticizing the Liberty state fair booth is Jac Archer, the vice chair of the Spokane County Democratic Party, who argued the secessionists’ presence would “normalize what is a very dangerous and extreme ideology.”

“I have the utmost respect for everyone’s First Amendment rights. I don’t want to see those violated,” Archer said. “I do want to see this community decide what kind of community it wants to be.”

Archer added that “Christian dominionism” – the idea that Christians have a God-given right to govern – “is in and of itself an ideology that espouses and promotes violence.”

Jessa Lewis, a Democrat who ran against state Rep. Jeff Holy, R-Cheney, last year, said she used to be an evangelical Christian, a Republican and, as a child, a regular competitor in 4-H events at the county fair. Now, Lewis said, she worries about extremist views seeping into the region’s mainstream culture.

“You’ve got Identity Evropa, you’ve got Liberty state, you’ve got all these efforts to make it normalized and less threatening and more acceptable,” Lewis said. “And so I think that, as a community, we’re frogs in a boiling pot of water, and we may not see exactly what a lot of this is leading to. And I would even go as far as to say, I think a lot of people who are even involved don’t know the dangers of what they’re involved with.”

Holaday, for her part, denied in her podcast that the Liberty state would force residents to practice Christianity. Rather, she said, the new state is needed to balance the power of rural conservatives and urban liberals from Western Washington.

“We are outnumbered in every single election, so just imagine finally getting rid of their domination and finally having the upper hand,” she said. “There should not be a single Republican that does not support Liberty state for that reason alone.”

In an email, fair director Erin Gurtel said vendors and exhibitors – including political parties, candidates and religious groups – can participate in the fair, and prices do not vary based on nonprofit or for-profit status.

Gurtel said applications are evaluated based on space availability and “the number of like vendors/exhibitors already in the fair.” Vendors and exhibitors must conduct business within their booths and are not allowed to exit their booths to approach visitors, she said.

“The Fair and Expo Center respects each organization’s freedom of speech, as long as vendors do not promote violence, obscenity or cause disruptions during events,” Gurtel said. “Spokane County respects the First Amendment right of all our citizens.”

Holaday is a horse breeder from Stevens County, outside the 4th Legislative District that Shea represents.

The Inlander reported Friday that she was fired as Shea’s legislative aide for speaking at a Liberty state fundraising event in Spokane Valley in May. There, she summed up what she said was the sentiment of other GOP representatives: “It’s either going to be bloodshed or Liberty state.”

Although they assist individual lawmakers, personnel decisions involving legislative aides, including hiring and firing decisions, are made by the House clerk’s office. As employees of the state government, legislative aides are prohibited from lobbying and taking leadership roles in political organizations.

In response to news reports about Shea’s participation in a private chat that discussed violence against liberals, the state House of Representatives recently hired a team of private investigators to examine Shea’s activities. Preliminary findings from that investigation are expected by the end of September, with a final report expected in December.