The race for Spokane County Commission District 5 promised to be interesting from the start.
But it got even more interesting on Thursday when a GOP candidate endorsed the Democrat who will face incumbent Republican Al French in the general election.
District 5 candidate Don Harmon, a Republican who served as Airway Heights’ mayor in the 1990s, is supporting Democrat Maggie Yates. Harmon was eliminated from the race after finishing third in the primary election on Tuesday.
“I think she’ll be a breath of fresh air,” Harmon said of Yates. “I won’t and can’t vote for French.”
While candidates who get knocked out of the running after the primary election often endorse their one-time opponents, endorsing a candidate for a rival party is rare. That means Harmon’s endorsement could be particularly significant in District 5, one of five new districts created during last year’s redistricting process.
The district lumps together the mostly red West Plains with the blue upper South Hill and purplish northwest Spokane. Those incongruous parts add up to a swing district that has historically favored Republicans by about 5 percentage points.
Harmon, 76, has won 11% of the primary election vote there as of Friday, with about 18% of ballots left uncounted. That’s well ahead fourth-place finisher Tara Carter’s 3% and a solid showing for a man who’s been out of politics more than 20 years.
It wasn’t enough to win a ticket to the general election. But it’s more than enough to make French and Yates fight to win his supporters.
Yates, who formerly led Spokane County’s criminal justice reform efforts, leads with 45% of the vote as of Friday. French, who has more than two decades of combined experience as a Spokane City Councilman and county commissioner, has 41%.
Crunch the numbers and it’s clear: The Harmon voters could decide the race.
They could even decide which political party wins a majority on the county commission, given Democrats are the favorites in districts 1 and 2, and Republicans will almost certainly win districts 3 and 4.
On election night, French said he was comfortable Harmon’s votes would swing his way and he’d prevail in the general election.
That’s not a foregone conclusion, Yates said.
“I don’t think it’s a fair assessment to assume, ‘Oh, 12% are going to go to French just based on party affiliation.’ I think it’s more complicated than that,” she said. “A vote for Don was a vote against Al French.”
Harmon said he’s voted for French three times but became disillusioned with the commissioner after his requests to discuss development issues were ignored.
“At one point I called his office two, three times, no response,” Harmon said. “Eventually I went down to his office, left a message because he wasn’t there and asked for a call back. That happened about three times, and I never did get a response, not once. That was an insult, as far as I’m concerned.”
In a text, French said Harmon clearly misrepresented himself to voters.
“Mr Harmon’s endorsement of my far left liberal opponent clearly demonstrates that he is not a Republican and misled the voters in the primary,” French wrote. “I am proud to have the endorsement of the Republican Party as well as accomplished Airway Heights’ Mayors like Mayor (Larry) Bowman, Mayor (Kevin) Richey and Mayor (Matthew) Pederson as well as Mayor (Terri) Cooper of Medical Lake, Mayor (Chris) Grover of Cheney and Mayors (Nadine) Woodward and (David) Condon of the City of Spokane.”
Harmon said he endorsed Yates partially because she’s a good listener and he likes her policies, and partially because he dislikes French.
He said he believes growing partisanship in America is a problem.
“I do look forward to working with Maggie. I believe Democrats and Republicans should get along,” Harmon said. “If she asks me, I’ll campaign for her.”
Yates said she’s “grateful and humbled” to receive Harmon’s endorsement.
“It shows an immense amount of integrity,” she said. “It also is an indication of his understanding that we need new leadership at the county.”
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