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Friday, February 21, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Fuse justifies lie as way to show Woodward not being transparent

Spokane mayoral candidate Nadine Woodward reacts with supporters as results come in during an election night watch party on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, at Barrister Winery in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane mayoral candidate Nadine Woodward reacts with supporters as results come in during an election night watch party on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, at Barrister Winery in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A progressive political organization that accuses a Spokane mayoral candidate of not being honest about her political leanings defends using a lie of its own to prove its point.

Fuse Washington, which has endorsed Ben Stuckart for Spokane mayor, sent an activist to a campaign stop by Nadine Woodward last July, claiming to be a supporter of President Donald Trump and asking the former television news anchor who she voted for in the 2016 presidential election.

When Woodward declined, saying the race is nonpartisan and it doesn’t matter what party you are if you’re filling pot holes, the activist persisted. He said it was a key factor in deciding his support. After several minutes of discussion, Woodward said “I’ll tell you one thing, I did not vote for Hillary Clinton. Is that good enough?”

Fuse posts a link to a snippet of that 9 minute conversation, recorded without Woodward’s knowledge, on its Progressive Voters Guide website embedded in a photo of Trump and contends she is “a Trump-supporting right-wing candidate and is not being honest with voters about it.”

Recording the conversation without a candidate’s knowledge isn’t illegal. Gonzaga University political science professor Blaine Garvin said opposing campaigns often record a candidate’s comments at public events.

Lying in attempt to get an answer from a candidate is “unfortunate but not surprising,” said Garvin, who has taught political theory at Gonzaga since 1971 and couldn’t remember a similar instance in Spokane campaigns

“I think it’s a natural outgrowth of the situation today … polarization in the electorate is growing,” he said.

Jim Dawson, program director in Fuse’s Spokane office, said the tactic was justified in an attempt to get Woodward to answer a question he believes voters have a right to know.

“She’s running on a platform of transparency and she’s the least transparent candidate out there,” he said, criticizing Woodward for refusing some reporters’ requests for interviews and not attending some candidate debates or forums.

Woodward declined to comment for this story. Spokeswoman Allison Walther said she was busy ringing doorbells and waving campaign signs “focusing on winning the mayor’s race.”

Dawson defended using a lie about the activist being a Trump supporter while accusing Woodward of not being honest.

“We’re not running for office,” he said. “I think it’s totally fair when she’s speaking out of both sides of her mouth.”

Cornell Clayton, director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute of Public Policy and Public Service at Washington State University, said lying by activists in a campaign “falls into a gray area.” A conservative group, Project Veritas, has used it repeatedly to compile video exposes of groups it targets, justifying the tactic by arguing its opponents are hypocritical, he said.

Woodward had refused to say how she voted in the presidential election, but a week before being confronted at the North Spokane pizza parlor she had told a local Rotary Club luncheon that a person like her who is “right of center” would have a hard time winning the mayor’s race because “the city has turned liberal.”

Republican candidates who win countywide lose in the city of Spokane, she said. Some recent election results bear that out.

In 2016, Donald Trump won the county by more than 20,000 votes, but Hillary Clinton won the city by more than 10,000 votes. That same year, Republican Chris Vance led Democratic Sen. Patty Murray by 3,400 votes countywide, but Murray beat Vance in the city by more than 16,000 votes.

In 2018, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers topped Democratic challenger Lisa Brown by 11,000 votes countywide, but Brown received 16,000 more votes in the city. Republican challenger Susan Hutchison led Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell by 3,000 votes countywide, but Cantwell got 18,000 more votes in the city.

It’s not always true. David Condon, the current mayor, is a known Republican who beat a more liberal incumbent in 2011 and was re-elected in 2015 when facing a challenger with Democratic Party backing.

Being right of center and not voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016 don’t automatically equate to voting for Trump for president. The Washington ballot had other candidates, who collected a total of more than 225,000 votes. Some traditional Republicans in Washington also promoted the write-in candidacy of Evan McMullin for president, and some 107,000 write-in votes were cast.

Dawson contended voters have a right to know how Woodward voted for president because she has no record in government or elected office and who she supported would be an indicator of her political leanings.

“Most people have no problem saying how they vote,” he said.

Secret ballots have been standard in American elections for more than a century. Candidates often deflect questions about how they voted in other races or for controversial measures by citing the secrecy of the ballot, Clayton said.

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