Two of the three Spokane County commissioners are up for re-election, and each faces a strong challenger. Criminal justice reform, the county budget in a pandemic-induced recession, assistance for economic victims of COVID-19, open union negotiations and more will demand the attention of the winners.
Having reviewed the candidates’ records and the positions they have taken on the campaign trail, we recommend voters re-elect incumbents Josh Kerns and Mary Kuney.
District 1: Josh Kerns
District 1 covers the north and northeast portion of the county including Spokane’s north side and part of northeast Spokane Valley. Voters there first elected Kerns, a Republican, to the commission four years ago.
Since then, Kerns has been a voice for fiscal responsibility, economic development and job creation. A small business owner himself, he knows firsthand the challenges that local businesses face.
This year Kerns faces Ted Cummings, a union leader and Kaiser Aluminum employee. Cummings’ support for unions informs one of the key differences between the candidates. Kerns supports negotiating with public employee unions openly. Cummings does not. Voters who prefer that their government work in sunlight and not strike backroom, sweetheart deals with unions should remember this.
On other issues, the two are closer to agreement. For example, neither supports building new jail space at this time, though Kerns seems more likely to do so if the data supports it someday. Cummings instead would expand alternatives to jailing. It’s notable, however, that the county already has robust diversion programs that Kerns has supported. Commissioners also this year adopted guiding principles for how the criminal justice system should better consider race, gender and circumstances.
Both candidates agree that the county should proceed cautiously about re-opening during the pandemic. They also both would allocate county funds to coronavirus aid if the federal relief funds run out and are not replenished by Congress and the White House.
Kerns has performed well in his first term and takes the sensible positions in favor of a strong economy and government transparency. He has earned re-election.
District 2: Mary Kuney
District 2 covers southeast Spokane County including most of Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake as well as some of Spokane’s east side.
Voters might recall that Kuney was on the ballot just two years ago. That’s because she was appointed to the job to fill a vacancy in 2017 and then elected for the remainder of the term.
Both Kuney and her opponent, David Green, are accountants. Either would bring a critical financial eye to the commission, as Kuney has for the past few years. Kuney gets a nod here, though, for having worked as a state and county auditor prior to joining the commission. She has prioritized improving departmental efficiency at the county.
As in the District 1 race, the candidates differ on whether the public should get to monitor county negotiations with unions. Kuney, a Republican, is in favor of transparency. Green, a Democrat, would keep things secret until a deal is done.
Green knocks the current commission for being too business friendly. He believes that the county should have a “people-first” approach. That might be a comforting sound bite for progressives, but we hope most county residents realize that building a strong local economy does put people first. Without jobs and services, people suffer.
Green also says he would prioritize climate change if elected. Commissioners would better focus their attention on local issues that they can actually affect.
Kuney has had two years to prove herself, and she has. Voters should give her a full term to continue the good work.
One final note. If all goes according to plan and state law, the county commission will grow to five members in 2022. The incumbents’ resistance to this change – including wasting money on a fruitless lawsuit – has been disappointing.
Spokane County now has more than a half million residents. With two more commissioners, representation will be more granular and more responsive to local concerns. New districts will be drawn based on 2020 census data.
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