The 2022 Spokane County commissioner elections will be unlike any the county’s seen – and probably unlike any the county will ever see again.
Spokane County currently has three commissioners, but thanks to a law the Washington Legislature passed in 2018, voters will elect five commissioners in 2022 who will represent five newly created districts.
The five commissioners will take office in January 2023. Two will start off with four-year terms and three will start with two-year terms, so this will probably be the only time voters ever pick five commissioners at once.
A switch from three to five commissioners would be interesting on its own, but the 2018 law also changes how voters elect the county commissioners.
Historically, Spokane County commissioner candidates have run in district-specific primary elections and countywide general elections.
Roughly 55% of Spokane County voters are Republicans, so the countywide general elections have allowed the GOP to hold on to all three commissioner seats for over a decade. Even when voters within a district prefer a Democrat, Republican candidates have consistently prevailed on countywide ballots.
The GOP’s long undefeated streak will likely end next year, because the 2018 law makes the countywide general election a thing of the past.
From now on, commissioner candidates will only run for election within their own, newly created districts. Democrats will likely win two of the five seats, based on past election results.
Since a bipartisan redistricting committee agreed on the new district boundaries in October and the boundaries have been finalized, a candidate field with some familiar faces is beginning to take shape.
Here’s a look at who’s considering running – and who isn’t.
District 1 is a long, thin district covering central and western Spokane that in recent elections has preferred Democratic candidates. It has U.S. Highway 2 as its eastern border, 29th Avenue as its southern extreme and includes some unincorporated neighborhoods on its northern end.
No one has officially filed with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission to run for District 1, but a few people say they’re considering running for election in the district.
Democrat Ben Stuckart, who served as Spokane City Council president from 2012 to 2019 and is now executive director of the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium, said he’s considering running for the District 1 seat.
Another well-known Spokane County politician is considering running for the District 1 seat, too: Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.
Knezovich, a Republican, said he’s weighing a county commissioner run against running for re-election as sheriff.
“I’m more interested in keeping my job,” he said.
Knezovich added that he doesn’t like the new five-commissioner setup.
“The sad part about this is that it’s not countywide,” Knezovich said. “What we’ve created is fiefdoms now. It’s not going to be focused on what’s good for the entire county, it’s going to be what’s best for my fiefdom.”
District 2 covers eastern Spokane. Like District 1, its voters have tended to vote Democratic in recent elections.
Former Spokane City Councilwoman Amber Waldref has announced she’s running for election in District 2. As of Dec. 7, she’s the only nonincumbent to have officially announced a run for county commissioner.
Waldref, a Democrat, served on City Council from 2009 to 2017. She currently works as director of the ZoNE initiative at the Northeast Community Center.
“I believe that everyone needs to have a voice in our county government, and want to bring more transparency,” Waldref said.
Waldref said that if she’s elected, she would be especially focused on ensuring all county residents have equal economic opportunities. She also noted that investment in child care and early education would be among her top priorities.
Bob Apple, another former Spokane City Councilman, said he’s considering running for District 2.
Apple served on City Council from 2004 to 2011. He has run for office as both a Democrat and a Republican. Apple said if he does run for the District 2 seat it will, as of now, be as a Republican.
An incumbent Spokane City Councilman is considering running for District 2 as well.
Michael Cathcart, who won election in 2019, said he’s “strongly” considering vying for the District 2 seat. He said he would run as a Republican.
District 3 is mostly rural, covering northern Spokane County and Spokane Valley’s northern half. The district leans heavily Republican.
So far, only one District 3 candidate has official filed with the Public Disclosure Commission: Incumbent Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns.
Kerns, a Republican, has served as Spokane County Commissioner since 2016.
District 4 is similar to District 3 in that it’s largely rural, leans Republican and covers a large geographical area. It lumps southern Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake into the same district as all of southeastern Spokane County. Rockford, Fairfield and Waverly all lie in District 4. U.S. Highway 195 separates Districts 4 and 5.
Incumbent Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney, a Republican, is the only candidate to have filed with the Public Disclosure Commission in District 4. Kuney has been a county commissioner since 2017.
District 5 could be the most competitive.
The swing district covers all of the West Plains cities in the southwestern block of Spokane County. But it also includes sizable chunks of northwest and southern Spokane, which are significantly bluer than the conservative West Plains.
In recent elections, District 5 voters have favored Republicans by 5.5 percentage points.
That will give incumbent Spokane County Commissioner Al French an advantage if he decides to run for re-election. French has not yet filed with the Public Disclosure Commission and did not respond to a request for comment.
The no’s and unknowns
It wouldn’t be surprising to see a state legislator or incumbent City Council member run for county commissioner. County commissioners make a lot more money.
Right now, each of the Spokane County commissioners makes more than $115,000 a year. For comparison, Spokane City Council members make under $50,000 a year and most state legislators make less than $60,000.
Still, several politicians said they’re not considering running for county commissioner.
Spokane City Councilwoman Candace Mumm, who will wrap up her second and final council term this month, said she’s not considering running for a commissioner seat. Spokane Valley City Councilwoman Linda Thompson, who didn’t win re-election in November, also said she’s not considering running.
Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner, former Spokane County Commissioner John Roskelley and Mead School Board member Michael Cannon all said they’re not considering running.
Spokane Democratic Rep. Marcus Riccelli, who was the lead sponsor of the 2018 law that forced the county to move to five district-specific commissioners, said he isn’t running. Riccelli said he hopes to stay in the Legislature.
Former Republican Rep. Matt Shea, who was a co-sponsor on Riccelli’s bill, did not respond to a request for comment.
Colin Tiernan can be reached at (509) 459-5039 or at email@example.com.