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Effort to remove Shea likely over after no Republicans sign House letter calling for expulsion

Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, addresses a gun rights rally on the Capitol steps in Olympia in January, where some protesters carried signs supporting him. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – House members were asked Thursday to sign a letter to their leaders calling for the expulsion of Spokane Valley Rep. Matt Shea. All 56 Democrats signed the letter, but no Republicans did.

Rep. Tana Senn, of Mercer Island, one of the authors of the letter, said it showed “a clear distinction in values between the parties.” But it likely also signals the end of any effort to remove Shea from his seat.

“I’m guessing this is the end of the line for (expulsion) this session,” Senn said after collecting the signature pages that had been left on her desk throughout the day.

The letter asked Speaker Laurie Jinkins and Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox to “take the necessary institutional steps” to begin expulsion, although that process is not spelled out anywhere. It was drafted by Senn and Rep. Gael Tarleton, of Ballard, and was placed on legislators’ desks on the House floor Thursday morning. Republicans and Democrats immediately went into caucuses to discuss the letter.

“Failure to act undermines the integrity of the institution and the core tenets of our democracy,” says the letter, which had a space to sign for every member, Democrat and Republican, except Shea, Jinkins and Wilcox. “We do not make this request lightly.”

It cites the conclusions of an independent investigation by the Rampart Group, which alleged Shea was involved in planning political violence. Shea has denied the allegations and said he wants a chance to call witnesses to prove the allegations false. But he did not agree to be interviewed by the investigators, which the letter to leadership notes. He has refused calls from leaders of both parties to resign.

The House administration released the Rampart report in December, about a month before the session started, and the underlying documents from which investigators drew their conclusions last month.

After the report was released in December, Wilcox and other House Republican leaders kicked Shea out of their caucus, which means he can’t use GOP caucus staff and does not meet with them to discuss legislation and policy.

Wilcox said Thursday afternoon he was surprised by the letter and didn’t know at that point how individual Republican members would respond. He repeated the position he’s maintained since December, but said he opposed expelling Shea from the chamber.

“Who is in the Legislature as an elected representative or senator is up to the voters,” Wilcox said at a news conference of House and Senate Republican leaders.

All House seats are up for election this fall, and Shea has drawn a Republican and a Democratic opponent.

In an interview, Wilcox questioned the timing of the letter calling for an expulsion, saying the process would take valuable time in the 20 days remaining in the 2020 session.

“This is not a serious proposal,” Wilcox said.

Senn said the letter was timed to follow Wednesday’s key deadline, when bills had to be passed by the chamber where they were introduced.

“We didn’t want to make the session about Matt Shea,” she said, adding the House can move quickly if necessary. “We need to stand up and let people know we’re not willing to have this institution sullied.”

Jinkins has said she would be reluctant to begin potentially time-consuming expulsion proceedings unless the House has the necessary two-thirds support needed to pass it.