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Tuesday, May 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Don’t let incumbents run without challenge

Candidate filing week for this year’s local and state elections is here. So far it looks like too many incumbents will get a free pass to re-election. At least disgraced Rep. Matt Shea isn’t one of them.

Democracy works best if people step up and challenge the status quo. During a campaign, candidates vigorously debate issues, policies and priorities. Then, on Election Day, voters choose between competing visions. At least, they do if there’s a choice.

Sure, running as a challenger is hard. Incumbents typically enjoy greater name recognition and can run on their experience. They have more money, and districts often have a partisan lean. This election will be especially tough. Door-to-door canvassing, rallies and house parties are on hold for social distancing.

Yet, sometimes the person who thinks “I can do better” wins. It all starts with putting one’s name on the ballot this week.

File to run against so-far unopposed Spokane County Commission incumbents Josh Kerns and Mary Kuney. Challenge Republican Sen. Mike Padden, Democratic Rep. Timm Ormsby or anyone else with no general election opponent, let alone a primary one.

We’re not saying throw all the bums out. Kerns, Kuney, Padden, Ormsby and every other incumbent can make a good case for remaining in office for another term. But they should have to make that case to the voters, and they won’t if no one runs against them.

Candidates have until Friday to file with the county.

Rep. Matt Shea

Three challengers are running against our region’s most embarrassing and now least-effective lawmaker: Republican and former Rep. Leonard Christian, Democrat Lori Feagan and independent Ann Marie Danimus.

Shea lost his ability to represent the 4th District last year when Republicans threw him out of their House caucus and removed him from all committee assignments. He occupies a chair in Olympia and nothing more. He cannot advocate for his constituents’ needs because no one will listen to him. Leaders across the political spectrum have called for his resignation.

The GOP had good reason to disavow Shea. When he wasn’t deploying intimidation tactics and proposing violence against his political opponents, he was busy advocating secession, holy war and armed conflict against the federal government. An independent report documented it all and branded him a domestic terrorist.

Shea denies it all, of course. “They hate me, like they hate President Trump,” he wrote in a recent letter to supporters. “It is political assassination, plain and simple … followed by a label lynching.”

That someone who associates with white supremacists has the audacity to liken his deserved travails to the racist horrors of lynching disqualifies him from not just election but also civil company. In recent weeks, Shea has protested COVID-19 policies. There are plenty of legitimate questions to ask about how Gov. Jay Inslee has managed the crisis, but Shea doesn’t question, he spins shadowy plots against Washingtonians’ liberty.

Residents of Eastern Washington prize their independence. Pioneers came here to live free. That never meant living alone, though. In the public square, we exercise our inalienable rights, but we also share responsibility for each other. Living close together requires rules so that one person’s pursuit of happiness doesn’t impinge on another’s. Speed limits, zoning, growth management and social distancing are all part of that compact. They are solutions that keep a level playing field so everyone enjoys a physically safer, cost-effective environment. Closing businesses temporarily isn’t a nefarious plot; it’s a measure of respect for those who are vulnerable and for their families.

People who have lived here for decades will remember weeks spent wearing masks outdoors after Mount St. Helens erupted. This time it’s months and time indoors, too. That’s not invalidation of liberty. It’s preservation of lives and society.

The 4th District leans conservative. Voters can elect a conservative who can accomplish something in the Capitol. Or they can go another direction if they choose. They’re fortunate to have a choice.

An earlier online version of this editorial incorrectly stated that political parties hold primary elections in Washington state. Washington state primary elections are ‘top two,’ in which the top two vote-getters advance to the general election regardless of their political party.

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