Spokane City Council candidate Tyler LeMasters must be removed from the general election ballot because he has not met the necessary residency requirements, a Spokane County Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday.
Two plaintiffs – Mary Winkes and Paul Dillon, spokesman for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Greater Washington and Northern Idaho – filed the complaint against LeMasters in mid-August.
“Tyler LeMasters thought he could lie his way to the ballot,” Dillon said after judge Annette Plese’s ruling. “We’re very pleased with the judge’s decision.”
The plaintiffs argued that LeMasters didn’t meet the residency requirements defined in Spokane’s City Charter, which states that candidates must have been residents within their districts for a full year before filing for office.
LeMasters had lived in Virginia from July 2019 to November 2020 while working for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. He returned to Spokane in November and filed to run for City Council on May 18, 2021.
He argued he should remain on the ballot because, despite living in Virginia and working in D.C., he never ended his residency in Spokane.
LeMasters declined to discuss Plese’s decision after the hearing but had his attorney, Marshall Casey, speak on his behalf.
“I think this removes a choice for the voters,” Casey said. “I think people who are serving their community should not be uneligible. Running for office is extremely hard.”
LeMasters was running for City Council’s District 2 seat, which represents the South Hill and downtown Spokane.
His removal means Spokane City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson will run unopposed, barring write-in campaigns.
The argument between LeMasters and the plaintiffs came down to two fundamental questions.
First, what’s the legal definition of ”resident”? And second, what’s the legal definition of “civil servant?”
Zak Griefen, attorney for the plaintiffs, told Plese this was “a straightforward case,” because LeMasters simply wasn’t a Spokane resident for a year before he filed.
According to Washington state law, an individual must have a permanent address and physically reside in a given area in order to be considered a resident there. Because LeMasters wasn’t physically residing in Spokane for a full year before filing for office, he was ineligible to run, Griefen said.
Griefen spent little time defending that point. He mostly argued that LeMasters was not a civil servant when he worked for McMorris Rodgers.
The definition of civil servant mattered because, according to Spokane’s Charter, an individual cannot gain or lose his or her residence “by reason of his or her absence while employed in the civil or military services of the state or of the United States or due to other reasons recognized by state law.”
In general, civil servants are individuals who work professionally for the government. The term is typically reserved for career government employees who earned their jobs on merit and whose job security does not fluctuate with changing political administrations. Politicians and their staff, and appointed officials, are generally not considered civil servants.
LeMasters was a public servant when he worked for McMorris Rodgers, but not a civil servant, Griefen said.
Casey argued LeMasters was both a resident and a civil servant.
“I think this is an easy one,” he said.
Casey began his defense by arguing LeMasters established his Spokane residency in 2015, and that even though he was living in Virginia from July 2019 to November 2020, he never lost his residency.
“Mr. LeMasters clearly considered this his home,” Casey said.
The length of his absence from Spokane is irrelevant, Casey said, and only matters if LeMasters tried to vote elsewhere – which he didn’t.
“He was over there working for our congressperson who represents Spokane, Washington,” Casey said.
Casey also argued LeMasters had never lost his residency because state law notes an individual cannot lose their residence if they are absent from the state on business, as long as they don’t claim the right to vote somewhere else.
Working for McMorris Rodgers qualified as being away from the state on business, he said.
“He is not running a business,” she said. “Employment is not business.”
After hearing an hour’s worth of arguments from Casey and Griefen, Plese decided the laws regarding LeMasters’ situation were clear and he had not been a resident for a year before filing.
“The court is finding him ineligible,” she said, before running through a list of reasons why she disagreed with Casey’s arguments. “I applaud him for running.”