Washington’s 4th District can do better than Rep. Matt Shea. The people of Spokane Valley and points east deserve a lawmaker who can go to Olympia and effectively advocate for their concerns within the political realities of the Capitol, not a secretive, conspiratorial member of the conservative fringe. Finding that leader must be by way of voters, though, not political machinations.
Stomach-churning allegations have swirled around Shea for almost as long he’s been in the Legislature. Voters first elected him in 2008, and by 2011, some of his fellow conservatives were going public with concerns about his inability to control his temper. Allegations of violence that emerged during his divorce proceedings bolstered that sense.
Every time people thought he couldn’t embarrass the district further, he proved them wrong. He traveled to support right wing ideologues at the Bundy ranch in Nevada and later at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. He circulated a manifesto titled “Biblical Basis for War” in which he foresaw conservative Christian patriots taking up arms. He endorsed training children to fight in that war. He assembled dossiers on local progressive political leaders. And he wants to form a 51st state for Christians.
Yet Shea has several planks in his candidacy that score points with his district, and these carry far more weight than his extracurricular activities for many voters. He stands as a principled man against a state that, from a semi-rural district’s point of view, has increasingly imposed its will over theirs on growth policy, building standards, taxes, wages, medical leave, traffic patterns, health care and more. Leave us alone, say the voters.
But times have changed. Like it or not, the state’s public employee unions are in control. Our part of the state, including the 4th District, needs reality-based strategies for dealing with government overreach, homelessness, responsible growth, infrastructure and all the issues idyllic rural communities never used to have to deal with. Setting up a conservative Christian-ruled 51st state is not a rational priority that serves this region well.
Shea’s constituents also should worry about his dislike for transparency. Being upfront with the public, including the media, about where one stands is one of the most patriotic things an elected official can do, but Shea instead hides his worst inclinations behind emails and private text messages.
Now there is a growing chorus calling for Shea to resign. We doubt that will happen. Most of the people demanding he step down are his political opponents, so not the ones he’s likely to heed. Besides, as long as the voters have his back, why listen?
Another option would be a recall effort to have voters in the district remove him, but that, too, seems unlikely. It’s not clear that his actions, as odious as they might be, meet the constitutional requirement that he has “committed some act or acts of malfeasance or misfeasance while in office, or who has violated his oath of office.” And by the time that was litigated and an election held, his re-election would be upon us. It’s only a two-year term.
The Legislature itself could expel him from its ranks. As far as we’ve been able to find out, such an expulsion has only ever happened once in the entire history of the state, and that was in a case of a lawmaker convicted of statutory rape. Shea faces no charges of any crime.
The only viable course forward, then, is also the best one. Voters must choose someone better. Some residents of his district might sympathize with him and appreciate that he lends an air of legitimacy to views that are far outside the mainstream, but their primary goal in selecting a representative should be finding one who can serve the interests of the district in Olympia. Shea is so far out there and so badly damaged politically he cannot help Eastern Washington.
An electoral change must begin in the primary. Eastern Washington needs someone who can produce results, not just scandal. Which practical conservative in the 4th – a safe Republican district – has the courage to take on Shea and offer voters a better option?
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