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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Biggest primary victory was the defeat of the conspiracists

Aug. 5, 2022 Updated Mon., Aug. 8, 2022 at 10:50 a.m.

Rep. Dan Newhouse (right), R-Sunnyside, poses for a photo with a supporter before a rally to oppose efforts to breach the Lower Snake River dams on Aug. 1, 2022, in Richland, Wash.  (Orion Donovan-Smith, The Spokesman-Review)
Rep. Dan Newhouse (right), R-Sunnyside, poses for a photo with a supporter before a rally to oppose efforts to breach the Lower Snake River dams on Aug. 1, 2022, in Richland, Wash. (Orion Donovan-Smith, The Spokesman-Review)

Stopped the steal!

Spokane and Washington voters did, that is. Or delivered it a few body blows, anyway.

Despite another dismal voter turnout in the primary, those who did vote handed a defeat to the election “integrity” grifters – those engaged in attempted factual larceny regarding elections, in which their losses at the ballot box are transformed into conspiratorial falsehoods deployed to attack the legitimacy of the voting system.

Tuesday’s primary election results were wonderfully bad for election deniers in our state, from red-district congressional races down to our very own county auditor’s contest.

Trump-endorsed Loren Culp, who tried absurdly to claim he was the victim of fraud when he was trounced by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2020, is trailing Rep. Dan Newhouse in the Fourth District along with a pack of other uber-conservatives, though Newhouse suffered at the polls due to his vote to impeach the former guy. If the current numbers hold, Culp won’t make it to November.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, another portrait of honor among a field of toadies, is narrowly holding off the Trumpalicious Joe Kent and a field of others for the second spot to advance to the general election, where she’s a strong favorite.

Kent suffered an ironic twist of fate in the days leading up to the primary; after running as the craziest right-winger on the ticket, he was turned against by other crazy right-wingers, such as the loathsome Nick Fuentes, and attacked as an agent of the deep state.

When you lie down with dogs…

In other words, while it was closer than you might have wanted, in the two congressional challenges where election deniers took a run at principled, real-world conservatives, they fell short.

Better still, in Spokane County, our longtime auditor, Vicky Dalton, defeated a conspiracy-monger in the race to oversee our local voting system – a conspiracy-monger endorsed by several top local Republicans.

Dalton, a Democrat, has served in office for more than two decades. In the past year she has been subjected to a raft of inquiries from election “integrity” Republicans, drunk on that Dinesh D’Souza documentary, going door to door to “investigate” voter roll discrepancies and calling for audits.

Again and again, these groups identify problems that don’t exist or pose ominous questions with innocent answers. Dalton has been a calm, professional, steady presence, answering questions and defending the system without being dragged into the mud.

Her opponent, the far-right Republican Bob McCaslin Jr. – heir of the prominent Spokane Valley political family – ran on a platform of “rebuilding” trust in elections, which is a coy way of suggesting that you can’t trust elections.

He was one of five GOP lawmakers – Spokane Valley’s Rob Chase was another – who attended a “hearing” at a Snohomish church to gather evidence of election irregularities last year, and he hosted a separate appearance by a prominent election conspiracist.

Dalton beat McCaslin soundly – 55% to 45% so far – but they’ll have a rematch in November. It would be hard to imagine anything worse for our local elections than to have them overseen by someone who claims to build trust on the sand of lies.

By this point, we’ve all seen ample proof of the determined effort to overturn the fair 2020 election by the former president, who wanted to seize voting machines, who elevated a proposal to replace legitimate electors with hand-picked “alternates,” who urged Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” him votes – and who inspired a mob to try and take by force what he couldn’t take by belligerence.

This is now the partywide model: An impulse to insist on the existence of nonexistent fraud, and to use that to take hold of the levers of power to produce favorable outcomes.

The nonpartisan States United Action, which advocates for free and fair elections, titled its report on this trend “Replacing the Refs.” Of the 16 election-denying GOP candidates in secretary of state primaries so far this year, 12 won.

“Giving them power over our elections would be like putting arsonists in charge of the fire department,” the report says.

The arsonists are doing fine in other states, but Washington voters weren’t having it. In our secretary of state race, Democrat Steve Hobbs finished well ahead of a slate of other candidates, all of whom kinda-sorta raised election integrity or transparency questions. Hobbs seems likely to put an end to almost 60 years of GOP dominance in that office in November.

Primary results sometimes tell a story that the general election does not reinforce. Tuesday’s numbers included a lot of fascinating results for Spokane County, including the early signs of how things might break on the soon-to-be-expanded County Commission and Deb Conklin’s first-place finish in a four-way prosecutor’s race – a race thrown into turmoil by the revelations last year of the online racism and trollery of incumbent Larry Haskell’s wife.

It will be fascinating to see what happens in those races between here and Nov. 8.

For now, though, the primary was a positive referendum on the electoral weakness of conspiracy theories.

The biggest winner might have been elections themselves.

Editor’s note: This column has been updated to correct the name of States United Action.

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