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Incumbents Higgins and Thompson trailing in Spokane Valley council election

Nov. 2, 2021 Updated Wed., Nov. 3, 2021 at 9:42 a.m.

Spokane Valley voters appear to have rejected two incumbents based on Tuesday night’s initial election results.

Two races are too close to call. Incumbent City Councilwoman Linda Thompson is behind, with 48% of the vote compared to 51% for challenger Laura Padden. 

Thompson said she feels there’s a chance she could close the 3-point gap, but doesn’t expect to win. 

“I feel really proud of what I’ve done on council and how I’ve run my campaign,” she said. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a Girl Scout. I did it and had just a fabulous time serving.”

Padden said she didn’t want to celebrate prematurely. 

“It’s always nicer to be up than down,” she said, “but there are still some to count.”

Incumbent Councilman Rod Higgins has 48% of the vote, putting him behind challenger James “JJ” Johnson, who has 52%. 

Johnson said he’s feeling good about the results so far. 

“I’ve played enough different sports in my life that you don’t count the game over until the game’s over,” he said. “The game’s not over.” 

Higgins said he’s not giving up hope. 

“I’m not panicking,” he said. “I’ve never run a race where there was a wide gap.”

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)

If the early results hold, Spokane Valley City Council may maintain a centrist majority. 

Four Spokane Valley City Councilmembers were up for reelection this year: Thompson, Higgins, Ben Wick and Pam Haley.

Wick, who currently serves as Spokane Valley mayor, and Haley won reelection easily, each defeating father-and-son candidates Brandon and Wayne Fenton by 33 or more percentage points. 

It always looked like the Thompson and Higgins races would be the ones to watch on election day. 

Spokane Valley City Council currently has a centrist majority and 4-3 votes aren’t uncommon. Councilmembers Wick, Thompson, Tim Hattenburg and Brandi Peetz sometimes vote together, while council members Higgins, Haley and Arne Woodard sometimes find themselves in the minority.

Both Wick and Haley’s seats appeared safe after their dominant showings in the primary election. So those hoping to maintain a centrist City Council had their fingers crossed for, at minimum, a Thompson win or a Higgins loss.

It isn’t surprising the Thompson-Padden race is close. The two were neck-and-neck during the primary election, with Padden edging out Thompson by 5 percentage points. 

Padden, who is married to Republican 4th Legislative District Sen. Mike Padden, easily led all Valley council candidates in campaign fundraising. She raised more than $35,000 — including $12,000 that she loaned herself — and spent about $32,000 while Thompson raised more than $11,000 .

City Council members are officially nonpartisan, but Padden received nearly $3,000 in in-kind contributions from the state Republican Party. Thompson ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat in 2008 for the Washington House of Representatives.

There wasn’t any primary election preview for the Higgins-Johnson race. Higgins and Johnson were the only candidates, so they automatically advanced to the general. 

Higgins, who spent much of his professional career as an executive in the mining industry, was appointed to council in 2013. He won election in 2013 and 2017. In an August council meeting, he said Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandates during the pandemic are “destroying our city.”

Johnson, who describes himself as “floating left and right of dead center,” spent years doing steelwork for large buildings and now works for Spokane Public Schools, buying textbooks and other supplies for students. He was the only candidate to criticize former Republican 4th Legislative District Rep. Matt Shea. 

Wick was clobbering opponent Brandon Fenton, earning 66% of the vote compared to 33% for Fenton.

This will be the 39-year-old Wick’s third term on City Council. He first won election in 2011, lost his reelection bid in 2015, then won again in 2017. Wick describes himself as conservative and is generally viewed as a moderate.

Wick’s seat never appeared to be in jeopardy after he topped opponent Brandon Fenton by 30 percentage points in the primary. 

Prior to the pandemic, Fenton wasn’t especially well-known among Spokane Valley residents. He made headlines in 2020 when the bar he co-owns with his father, The Black Diamond, remained open in defiance of Inslee’s stay-at-home order.

Fenton said he ran for council because he wanted the Valley to resist the mandates Inslee issued during the COVID-19 pandemic. He and his father, who ran against Haley, campaigned with the motto, “Make Spokane Valley Great Again,” a nod to former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan. 

Haley’s seat also appeared fairly safe following the primary election. Primary voters gave her 47% of the vote in August compared to 26% for Wayne Fenton.

But Haley widened her lead dramatically on Tuesday. She had 67% of the vote , compared to 30% for the elder Fenton.

Haley, a daycare owner, was appointed to City Council in June 2016 and won election in 2017. Several locally known Republicans donated to her campaign, including County Commissioner Al French and former county GOP Chairwoman Cynthia Zapotocky. 

Fenton, like his son, said he wanted to serve on City Council in order to resist state and federal mandates enacted during the pandemic.

S-R reporter Sydney Brown contributed to this story. 

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