The Spokane County Democrats are seeking a new leader nine months before perhaps their best shot in a decade to take a new county elected office.
Former Chairwoman Nicole Bishop resigned at the end of January, citing “intraparty conflict” and personal reasons for vacating the job she’d held since summer 2020. That election followed the resignation of the party’s prior chair and members of the party leadership after complaints about lack of diverse voices in decision-making.
In her letter, Bishop said she believed continued concerns about those complaints were hampering recruitment of party members and candidates.
“Many found it clear that the attitudes and behaviors that resulted in the special election in 2020 persisted today, making the party a space that does not feel welcoming to so many in our community,” Bishop wrote in a letter to precinct committee officers announcing her resignation Feb. 1.
She said she didn’t believe everyone in the party was responsible for that feeling.
“There are many within our body who have been fantastic, resilient, open to change, and eager to invest their time,” Bishop wrote. “There are also many who are unnecessarily hostile, suspicious, negative, and self-defeating.”
In a brief interview last week, Bishop said she believed the party’s problems she witnessed firsthand as chair are fixable.
“I think the party can be healed,” Bishop said. “The takeaway is I don’t think the party is irrevocably broken.”
Intraparty conflict has become more and more apparent at all political levels in recent years, said Cornell Clayton, director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service at Washington State University. It can be tied to the increasing distance between those who identify as Democrat and Republican, he said.
“One of the consequences of deep polarization between the parties that is not well understood in the public’s mind, is that it leads to the radicalization of both parties,” Clayton said.
That can prompt what Clayton called a “purity test,” in which party members create escalating expectations of what it means to be a Democrat or Republican. He pointed to the recent resolution passed by the Republican National Committee censuring Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney for their involvement on a Jan. 6 investigation panel as evidence such purity tests are occurring at all levels.
The Spokane County Democrats intend to meet by the end of the month to select a new chair, who will be responsible for helping coalesce a party that has its sights set on at least one, if not more, seats on the new five-member Spokane County Commission.
Though those seats will be elected by districts drawn more favorably to Democrats than Spokane County as a whole, where only Auditor Vicky Dalton represents the party as an elected official, it will be important for leadership to support candidates, said City Council President Breean Beggs. Beggs ran unsuccessfully for Spokane County prosecuting attorney in 2014 as a Democrat.
“In Spokane, it’s more of a bonus as opposed to a requirement,” Beggs said of party support. The top-two primary system and the power held by the precinct committee officers means an endorsement or financial support from the Democrats comes after discussion and strategic decisions.
“That said, if you’re running in a county race in Spokane, you need every bonus and advantage that you can if you’re a Democrat,” Beggs continued.
David Green, who ran for Spokane County treasurer as a Democrat in 2018 and is the current chair of the Democrats of the state’s 3rd Legislative District, emphasized the role precinct committee officers play in determining both leadership and who will receive party support in contested races.
“Where the work gets done is at the grassroots level,” Green said.
He praised Bishop’s service to the local party, noting that it’s a volunteer position that requires unique skills.
Per Bishop’s letter, the party is expected to meet by Feb. 26 to elect a new chair.
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