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Early returns offer cause for celebration, hesitancy for liberals and conservatives across Spokane County on Tuesday

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 3, 2021

Margie Dennis, left, and elections supervisor Kris Forgey-Haynie sort through ballots on Tuesday at the Spokane County Elections Office.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Margie Dennis, left, and elections supervisor Kris Forgey-Haynie sort through ballots on Tuesday at the Spokane County Elections Office. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

No matter which side of the ideological spectrum you consider yourself on, there was enough in Tuesday’s Spokane County election results to be happy – and concerned – about.

Two incumbents appeared capable of defeat on the Spokane Valley City Council. A candidate with strong financial backing from the same political interests that backed Mayor Nadine Woodward’s campaign two years ago was coming up short against a young progressive challenger in northwest Spokane. And school board races, sometimes twisted by complicated write-in candidacies, offered wins for both those pushing for equality efforts in the schools and those pushing back on mask mandates and curricula dealing with race.

In northwest Spokane, voters gave an early edge to Zack Zappone over Mike Lish. Lish had drawn considerable support from a political action committee representing local Realtors. Zappone, meeting with other progressive candidates at the Ruby River Hotel in downtown Spokane, declared his lead a win for working families in Spokane.

City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, who was running unopposed, called Zappone’s lead, and the election of two progressive-leaning candidates on the Spokane Public Schools Board of Directors, a victory for their values.

“We are in a very happy, happy place right now,” Wilkerson said.

If Zappone hangs on and defeats Lish, he’ll replace City Councilwoman Candace Mumm, who was term-limited.

Spokane conservatives, gathering at the Davenport Hotel, had a victory to declare in northeast Spokane. Jonathan Bingle, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for mayor two years ago, will replace Councilwoman Kate Burke, who used her position to advocate for homeless persons in town and other marginalized groups.

Two incumbent Spokane Valley City Council members on both sides of the political divide were on the verge of losing their seats in Spokane Valley. Councilwoman Linda (Hatcher) Thompson, one of the council’s most liberal members, and Councilman Rod Higgins, one of the most conservative members, were trailing in early returns, to Laura Padden and James “JJ” Johnson, respectively.

Laura Padden is leading in her race against incumbent Spokane Valley City Councilwoman Linda Thompson.  (Molly Quinn)
Laura Padden is leading in her race against incumbent Spokane Valley City Councilwoman Linda Thompson. (Molly Quinn)

Meanwhile, incumbent Spokane Valley council members Ben Wick and Pamela Haley both earned re-election against Wayne and Brandon Fenton, bar owners who’d been critical of the state’s COVID-19 response.

“I’ve never seen people as engaged in an election, and right at the door,” said Padden, who joined Higgins and Haley at a gathering at O’Doherty’s Irish Pub & BBQ to watch returns. “They have concerns, and that’s good; people should be concerned about what’s going on right now.”

Melissa Bedford, 35, and Riley Smith, 23, had comfortable leads for the Spokane Public Schools board races. Both had backing from local and state Democratic groups.

“This is our community’s dream to make sure our values are represented,” said Smith, who joined the progressives at the Ruby River Hotel.

Riley Smith won a seat on the Spokane School Board with strong support in central Spokane. His opponent, Kata Dean, did well outside central Spokane.  (Molly Quinn)
Riley Smith won a seat on the Spokane School Board with strong support in central Spokane. His opponent, Kata Dean, did well outside central Spokane. (Molly Quinn)

Meanwhile, Mead voters gave an initial lead to BrieAnne Gray, who’d raised popular conservative concerns about masks and critical race theory in her contest against incumbent Carmen Green. The race, like many after an initial tally Tuesday evening, was too close to call, with 258 votes separating the candidates out of more than 10,000 cast.

The contest in Cheney for City Council position No. 3, between Jacquelyn Belock and Mark Posthuma, was separated by just one vote Tuesday evening, out of more than 900 cast.

Turnout in Spokane County was slightly ahead of recent off-year municipal elections, with 28% of ballots returned as of Tuesday afternoon. Final turnout in races in the 2017 contest was 34.3%, and in 2013 it was 43.3%.

Final election results will be certified by the county Nov. 23.

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