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Higgins officially wins reelection after recount in Spokane Valley City Council race

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 1, 2021

A recount has confirmed  (KATHY PLONKA/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
A recount has confirmed (KATHY PLONKA/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Spokane Valley City Councilman Rod Higgins has officially won reelection after the county certified the results of a recount Wednesday.

Higgins summed up his reaction in one word: “Relief.”

The past 30 days have been a bit strange for the incumbent.

On election night, it looked like Higgins’ seat was in jeopardy. He had 49% of the vote compared to 50.5% for opponent James “JJ” Johnson. Only 20% of the ballots remained to be counted, so Johnson’s lead looked significant.

But, as they usually do, the later arriving ballots favored the more conservative candidate. Higgins won 54% of the final 4,098 ballots and overcame a 253-vote deficit.

Making up a 1.5% point gap isn’t unheard of, but Higgins hasn’t taken the comeback for granted. He’s called it a “miracle,” and said Tuesday the roller coaster election inspired him to buy a custom T-shirt.

“Across the front it has the word ‘Lazarus,’ ” he said.

Per Washington law, races separated by fewer than 2,000 votes and less than 0.5% automatically trigger a machine recount – gaps smaller than 1,000 votes and 0.25% trigger hand recounts.

The county conducted the machine recount Monday. It didn’t change a single vote.

Higgins ultimately took 50% of the vote to Johnson’s 49.7%. He beat Johnson 10,375 to 10,307 and won by 68 votes out of more than 20,700 cast.

Johnson said he’s disappointed to have lost, but hopes the close race sends a message to City Council.

“Politics shouldn’t be a consideration at this point,” Johnson said. “It should be simply what’s good for the city of Spokane Valley.”

Higgins and Johnson may have been farther apart politically than any of the final eight Spokane Valley City Council candidates this year.

For instance, Johnson, who describes himself as “floating left and right of dead center,” was the lone candidate to denounce former Republican state Rep. Matt Shea. Higgins has long defended Shea, who was ousted in 2019 by his own House caucus for his involvement in the 2016 standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The two candidates disagreed on mask mandates, too. Johnson said Gov. Jay Inslee’s mask and vaccine mandates have unfortunately been necessary in order to save lives. Higgins harshly criticized the mask mandate during a City Council meeting this summer, saying “perhaps it’s time for a little civil disobedience.”

Higgins and Johnson didn’t agree on much during the race, but they each made the same point when reflecting on the election.

“It’s just a testimony that every vote counts,” Higgins said.

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