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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

House leaders unsure of next step involving Matt Shea

OLYMPIA – Rep. Matt Shea speaks to a gun rights rally on the Capitol Campus in April 2019. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – The fate of Rep. Matt Shea, who was accused last month of engaging in “domestic terrorism” in a special House report by outside investigators, will remain uncertain until the Legislature convenes next week but it has the potential to split the House along party lines.

House Democrats could push for an expulsion, although Speaker-designate Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma said she’ll have to talk with the entire caucus before determining the next step.

“I’ve never had members be so deeply troubled,” Jinkins said. “It’s too early to take (expulsion) off the table.”

But expelling a sitting member takes a two-thirds vote, and by themselves, Democrats don’t have that supermajority. They’d need at least 10 Republicans to agree to remove the six-term legislator from his Spokane Valley seat.

Republican leaders kicked him out of the GOP caucus the day the report was released, which means he can’t gather with them to discuss how they will vote on upcoming bills or amendments and can’t take advantage of party staff. But Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, of Yelm, said he doesn’t think expulsion is a good idea.

“It’s up to the voters who is serving as their representative,” Wilcox said. He and other GOP leaders have called for Shea to resign voluntarily. Resignation or expulsion would result in the appointment of a replacement nominated by Republican precinct officers in the legislative district and selected by Spokane County commissioners, who are all Republicans.

Shea doesn’t typically speak to The Spokesman-Review, but has said on Facebook he won’t resign and has called the report “a sham investigation meant to silence those of us who stand up against attempts to disarm and destroy our great country.”

One of Shea’s legislative allies, Rep. Jesse Young, of Gig Harbor, made support of Shea a key part of his “Statement of Republican Unity.” It asks other GOP representatives to oppose any formal House legislative action against Shea “until he has had due process to defend himself from accusations” in the report.

“We take an oath to uphold due process rights, and at a minimum Rep. Shea should be allowed equal time to respond and defend himself as it took to produce the accusatory report,” Young wrote in a statement released Friday night.

The report took about four months from the time the Ramparts Group was hired for the investigation until it was delivered to House leadership. The upcoming session is scheduled for 60 days.

The unity statement also asks Republicans to end the use of “title only” bills that can be introduced as blank bills with ambiguous titles and later amended late in the session for budgets or other complicated legislation. It also calls for them to pass a bill that mirrors Initiative 976, the proposal to reduce fees connected to car tabs which passed in November but is currently challenged in court, and to support the 2nd Amendment.

Although Wilcox said he has no problems with most of Young’s unity statement, he disagrees with any suggestion Shea didn’t receive due process before he was ejected from the caucus. Investigators tried to contact the legislator and his attorney before submitting their report, and they declined to participate, he said.

After he received the report, Wilcox said he tried to contact Shea, but the two didn’t connect. He eventually texted the Valley legislator about being kicked out of the GOP caucus and hasn’t heard back from him.

Some Shea supporters have said the report is based only on hearsay, but that ignores the fact that investigators also found emails and documents supporting its conclusions, Wilcox said.

Jinkins also disagreed with the claim that Shea has been denied due process. “He had every opportunity – multiple opportunities – to participate” in the investigation, she said.

But if House Democrats move for expulsion, Wilcox said Shea should have more opportunities to present his side.

“That is a much bigger deal…there would be, at the very least, a hearings process,” Wilcox said.

That might take place in a committee, although no one can say for sure. The state Constitution gives the House the power to expel its members on a two-thirds vote, but it doesn’t set out a process for doing that.

Only one representative has ever been expelled from the House, and that was Seattle Democrat Nelson Robinson in 1933. He was elected while in jail for sexual abuse of a minor, convicted after the election but pardoned by the governor before the Legislature convened when the alleged victim’s mother said the assault didn’t happen. The first week of the session, a special committee was appointed, held a hearing in which it heard testimony from Nelson, his attorney, the victim’s mother and two doctors who said the assault didn’t happen. But the committee concluded he’d been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude and recommended expulsion. Later that day, the House voted to do just that.

That one 87-year-old case doesn’t provide a guide for what to do in response to the Shea report, legislative leaders said.

“We would have to set up some procedures,” Jinkins said. “That would take some time to set up.”