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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

House Democrats call for investigation into Spokane Valley state Rep. Matt Shea

Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane, speaks Tuesday, April 9, 2019, on the House floor at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., as lawmakers continued to work through the final month of the regular session of the Legislature. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – Rep. Matt Shea should be publicly reprimanded, removed from a key post on a House committee and the subject of an independent investigation into his online conversation with allies who advocated violence against political opponents, House Democrats said Friday.

But House Republican leader J.T. Wilcox said that while the allegations are serious, Democrats seem to be prejudging Shea before an investigation is conducted, and politicizing the process.

A letter to Wilcox signed by 56 Democrats cited reports that the Spokane Valley legislator had participated in an online chat with extremists, didn’t speak up when they called for violence against opponents and offered to conduct background checks on those with whom members of the chat disagreed.

“Through his words and actions, Representative Shea has aligned himself with voices that seek to erode the very ideals of our democracy and One Washington,” the letter says. “If we choose to tolerate an escalating language of violence, and remain indifferent to this attack on our shared humanity, we believe that as a legislative body we will not truly serve all our constituents and this institution.”

The letter said the House will conduct an independent investigation to determine whether action beyond a public reprimand and Shea’s removal as ranking Republican on the House Environment & Energy Committee is warranted.

After talking to other members of the Republican caucus Friday afternoon, Wilcox responded with a letter of his own, repeating a previous statement condemning threats of political violence “in the strongest terms.”

Earlier this week, Wilcox told reporters he planned to have the House Republican Caucus conduct an investigation into the reports of Shea’s participation in the online chat that included Anthony Bosworth, who participated in the 2016 armed occupation of a wildlife refuge in Eastern Oregon, and Jack Robertson, host of a far-right radio show called Radio Free Redoubt.

In his letter, Wilcox said he and other House GOP leaders were developing an “investigation protocol,” which they planned to begin this week or next. But on Wednesday, the House speaker proposed to have a special committee contract with an outside investigator.

“Before this review has even begun, we received your letter this afternoon, demanding imposition of immediate and permanent sanctions against Representative Shea,” he wrote. “In our system of justice, we do not take action by impugning or assigning motives; we take action based on evidence, developed through a fair process.”

Wilcox has said he believes the comments by others in the online chat are serious. Although Shea has said he joined the chat after those comments were made, portions of the log obtained by The Spokesman-Review contradict that claim.

In his letter, Wilcox said House Democrats’ request “has been politicized and appears to be clearly coordinated with the Washington State Democratic Party.” The party has sent out emails attempting to raise campaign contributions based on the Shea controversy.

But the allegations, and the investigation into them, could have a lasting impact on Shea and the Legislature, he wrote, and must be reviewed in a “serious, fair and non-politicized manner.”

Shea usually does not speak to The Spokesman-Review. A House Republican communications staff member Said he would pass along a request for a for comment.

Some members of the House Democratic Caucus wanted a statement about Shea brought up before the legislative session ended last Sunday. A caucus source said they were persuaded to wait, however, to avoid interfering with negotiations being conducted to vote on the budget and other issues and end the session on time.