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The 2010s in review: School funding, homelessness and City Hall intrigue defined Spokane’s politics

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 26, 2019

Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Lisa Brown shake hands before a debate at the Fox Theater in Spokane in this October 2018 photo. McMorris Rodgers, facing her toughest challenge to date to retain her seat in Congress, still emerged with a decisive win over a well-funded and well-known Democratic opponent. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Lisa Brown shake hands before a debate at the Fox Theater in Spokane in this October 2018 photo. McMorris Rodgers, facing her toughest challenge to date to retain her seat in Congress, still emerged with a decisive win over a well-funded and well-known Democratic opponent. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane’s recent political past has been marked by landmark individual accomplishments, along with new challenges.

Voters here re-elected a mayor for the first time in four decades, while also approving the creation of an entirely new, legal industry in marijuana. The region’s elected congressional representative rose to a position of power and national prominence in her party, eventually drawing the closest contest for the seat since Rep. Tom Foley was ousted in 1994. Spokane also said goodbye to that elder statesman in 2013.

Here’s a look back at some of those major events in Spokane’s politics since 2010.

Jan. 5, 2012 - The state Supreme Court says the Washington Legislature is failing its duty funding basic education

The initial decision that the state was not meeting its constitutional requirement to fund basic education prompted a lot of work in Olympia, but those decisions trickled down to local government throughout the decade. The final system lessened the tax burden on Spokane County voters, later used as a pitch to raise money for new middle schools and libraries. The new system also caps the amount local districts can raise in support of their operations, leading Spokane to eliminate librarians and other districts to seek supplemental levies, with varying success.

Nov. 3, 2015 - Mayor David Condon is re-elected in Spokane

Condon became the first two-term mayor since David Rodgers won a second term in 1973. The mayor’s re-election followed approval of street and park bonds that were used to continue infrastructure improvements around town, and also served as a backdrop for increased scrutiny on the departure of police Chief Frank Straub that culminated in an unsuccessful recall effort within a year.

Jan. 28, 2014 - Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers offers the GOP response to the State of the Union

McMorris Rodgers was elected conference chair in 2013, making her the third-ranking Republican in House leadership during the tenure of both House Speaker John Boehner and later Paul Ryan. It was her speech in 2014 answering the State of the Union delivered by Barack Obama that propelled her to national awareness, however, and prompted questions about the veracity of the congresswoman’s account of “Bette in Spokane” and Bette’s problems obtaining health care.

November 2018 - The congressional race between Lisa Brown and McMorris Rodgers

Brown, former majority leader of the state Senate, brought the largest Democratic bona fides to a contest against McMorris Rodgers. The local GOP responded in kind, with campaign appearances by party heavy-hitters Rep. Devin Nunes, Kellyanne Conway and Vice President Mike Pence in the district. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent, and at the end of the race, McMorris Rodgers secured a decisive victory, showing Eastern Washington was still very much red.

May 7, 2016 - Donald Trump holds campaign rally at Spokane Convention Center

The appearance drew protests outside, and within an endorsement from Washington State University football head coach Mike Leach. Trump promised a victory in Washington in November, a pledge that didn’t come true statewide. Eastern Washington did back the divisive Republican nominee six months later.

Oct. 18, 2013 - Longtime U.S. Rep. Tom Foley dies

Considered the consummate politician and statesman by many across the aisle, Foley’s death brought several federal lawmakers to Gonzaga University in the fall of 2013. There, he was lauded for accomplishments including the North Spokane Corridor, the Centennial Trail, Expo ’74 and more.

Summer 2019 - After a decade in office, including threats to political foes, pressure begins to mount on Spokane Valley state Rep. Matt Shea

After it was revealed in a series of leaked text messages that the right-leaning lawmaker was discussing spying on political rivals, many began to speak out and call for Shea’s resignation, including area conservatives. Mayor David Condon joined the list, as did members of the Spokane Police Guild. With the release of an independent report ordered by the state House of Representatives in December, Shea was hit with expulsion from the GOP caucus and a loss of support from many prominent members of the party, including Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and other local lawmakers.

Nov. 6, 2012 - A majority of Spokane County voters join the state and approve the decriminalization and legal sale of marijuana

Now a billion-dollar annual industry, with dozens of operating businesses within the county boundaries, a majority of voters in Spokane approved Initiative 502 at the ballot box in 2012. The proposal left enough room that local governments statewide were faced with questions of where to put the businesses, if they were even allowed at all, as law enforcement agencies raised concerns about crime and the drug’s availability to children at home.

November 2019 - Outside spending reaches record highs in local Spokane elections

The mayoral and city council president races alone saw more than a half million dollars spent on behalf of candidates outside of the campaigns. Much of the investment came from real estate interests and local unions, voices that had been present in past elections but not at the level seen in 2019. In the end, the city was left with a mayor and council president who appear to be on opposite sides of the political spectrum, just as it was before ballots were counted.

November 2016 - The city of Spokane opens a 24/7 warming shelter for the homeless in partnership with Catholic Charities

The city’s approach to housing its homeless population has dominated political discussions at City Hall for the past three years, and it became a major talking point in the 2019 mayoral election. Condon and City Council President Ben Stuckart, at odds on many other initiatives, stood together to announce the warming shelter’s round the clock operations, despite the weather outside, in November 2016. Prior to that, warming centers were only open when temperatures dipped to a certain level. The experiment ended in July 2018, and for the final 17 months of the decade the city grappled with how to replace the beds lost at House of Charity, prompting a tent protest at City Hall and passage of new laws targeting outdoor camping within city limits.

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