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Democracy and freedom on the brink: Spokane residents weigh in on what they see as challenges to our country’s future

From staff reports

From staff reports

While democracy and freedom remain the strongest ideals in America, Spokane residents across the political spectrum said last week they saw those values as under attack.

The source of that attack, be it a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court or the Biden administration, differs based on who you ask.

But almost everyone The Spokesman-Review spoke with said a deepening division between Americans was also the root cause for their pessimism about the future of the republic.

Here, in both summary and in their own words, are what Spokane-area residents said about America’s health and future on the week of Fourth of July.

Jonathan Kozzer

25-year-old Jonathan Kozzer believes the federal government should be doing more to protect freedom in America and overseas.

In front of a shopping center on Wednesday, Kozzer shared his concerns about the recent Supreme Court decision that struck down abortion rights nationwide, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, as well as rising inflation and gas prices.


Kozzer said he has two sisters, and the three of them are all concerned about what the Supreme Court ruling on abortion may mean for other women’s rights.

He also worries about the future of Ukraine and its citizens, as Russian forces continue to encroach. He would like to see more action at the federal level to support Ukraine as it fights to protect its sovereignty.

Kozzer works nights as a baker at Donut Parade for minimum wage. He said the rising costs of gas, and just about everything else, have made it hard for many people to survive paycheck to paycheck, and he thinks the government should be doing more to help struggling Americans.

Nate Lewis

Nate Lewis, a videographer for Whitworth University, echoed President Abraham Lincoln’s famous scripture-inspired words Wednesday afternoon – “a house divided cannot stand.”


Lewis said American politics have become too polarized as of late, and he would like to see more open dialogue between both sides of the aisle. He worries what may happen if things continue on their current trend.

“We have seen, historically, where this kind of division leads, and it’s not good,” Lewis said.

Lewis said the worst of the conflict plays out on social media, where people are quick to judge others.

“When people don’t feel safe, when they feel like what they are going to say is going to get them removed from a platform or they could lose their business, that does not seem like a healthy democracy,” Lewis said.

Despites his concerns, Lewis said he is hopeful for the future. He believes most Americans want to see more civility in how issues are discussed.

Debi and Andy Bessmer

Debi and Andy Bessmer visited Audubon Park with their grandchildren on Wednesday afternoon, just beyond the front door of their home in northwest Spokane. Both said they were concerned by recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and the growing distrust among people of different political persuasions.

Debi Bessmer
Debi Bessmer

Debi Bessmer, a retired registered nurse who described herself as a Democrat, said the court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade was troubling.

“I’m grateful for the state that I live in,” Debi Bessmer said, referencing Washington’s law protecting a mother’s right to receive an abortion up until fetal viability. But a law does not have the permanency of a Constitutional right, she said.

Andy Bessmer, a retired firefighter, said democracy was “still our strongest quality, as Americans.” But he said gerrymandering of political districts to favor one party over another had eroded the need for candidates to represent moderates.

Andy Bessmer
Andy Bessmer

“I don’t think I’ve seen democracy challenged as much as I have in the past four or five years,” Andy Bessmer said.

Doneice Morgan

Doneice Morgan, of Spokane, joined friends Peggy Hurd and Cindy Cain sitting in the sunshine at Audubon Park while children tumbled around on a nearby playground.

The three women said they were concerned about the future of American democracy and an apparent lack of Christian values for that generation, arguing for more prayer in schools and more critical thought.

“I’m concerned a lot of people are knee-jerk, reaction-based thinkers,” Morgan said.

Morgan’s daughter is a teacher. During a lesson on the Holocaust, she’d encountered students whose parents had told them the genocide didn’t happen despite ample evidence, and witnesses, who confirmed it did.

“People have to start dealing in truth and reality,” she said.

Morgan also said she was concerned about those pushing for abortion access, claiming they were “considering another human being as less important than yourself.”

In that debate, Morgan said she was concerned that people refuse to share a common truth or language anymore, referencing the use of “fetus” and “cells” instead of “child” in talking about the issue.

“One of the problems I think is words losing their meaning,” Morgan said. “Nobody is going to be able to communicate.”

She also said that she did not appreciate the Biden administration and other elected officials blaming inflation and gas prices on the Russian invasion, and that he should take accountability for those consequences.

“Inflation started long before Putin got to Ukraine,” she said.

Sandra Haskins and Lorie Haskins-Olson

Despite their concerns for the state of the country, Sandra Haskins and Lorrie Haskins-Olson are excited to celebrate Independence Day this year.


Haskins-Olson, who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and voted twice for Donald Trump, said during a picnic lunch with her family that she was disappointed with President Joe Biden’s leadership.

“I think our change in president changed our country,” she said. “Democracy has taken major hits.” Haskins-Olson said this is “probably the lowest” her confidence in the country has been.

“It’s important to vote for the good guy,” she said, “regardless of party.”

Although Haskins-Olson feels confident about her decisions at the voting booth, she fears increased immigration from the southern border will damage the election process.

“People shouldn’t be able to vote who don’t have a vested interest in our country,” she said.

Haskins-Olson believes the solution to our weakening democracy is simple.

“Protect our rights,” she said. “Protect our votes.”

Sandra Haskins, sitting next to Haskins-Olson, took a patriotic stand on the coming holiday.

“I’ll celebrate it,” she said. “Americans will celebrate it.”

Vicki Mithoug

Vicki Mithoug worries the country is divided beyond repair.

“It’s been coming on for years, but especially in the last 10 years. The great divide. We went through MLK, JFK, those fighting for equality. Now it’s thrown in our face,” said Mithoug, 72, of Rockford.

Mithoug said she finds it hard to have conversations in her home, church and community about political issues without conflict arising.

“I think it’s really sad the way we’re split, these opposing sides. They seem to be encouraged to be opposed,” Mithoug said. “We as Americans have to come together and face the reality, not fight. The divide seems to be getting worse and worse. We’re not having discussions.”

Glenn Hannon

Glenn Hannon, a retired municipal bus driver, believes the current instability in America is due to the nation’s move away from biblical values.

“Hardly anything is stable,” Hannon said.

Hannon  (Emma Epperly / The Spokesman-Review)
Hannon (Emma Epperly / The Spokesman-Review)

In early American history, democracy worked well, Hannon said, mentioning early presidents including George Washington and Lincoln.

The United States still has the ability to attain that stability and prosperity, but it depends on the country’s leadership, Hannon said.

A “good” and “sound” president is key, he said.

Despite concerns about the country’s future, Hannon was excited about the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, calling abortion “murder.”

While Hannon said he doesn’t stay up to date on current events, he said the Jan. 6 insurrection was “instigated, it seems to me, to defame Trump.”

Many of the former president’s supporters have been indicted on federal charges related to their occupation of the U.S. Capitol.

Last week, a former aide testified under oath that the president physically accosted a Secret Service agent who tried to prevent him from driving to the riot that day.

Hannon, who rode through A.M. Cannon Park on Tuesday with biblical tracts tucked into his bike frame, said most of the country’s current problems can be traced back to one decision: leaving “God out of the picture,” Hannon said.

“This country was founded on biblical principles,” he said.

Asia Salazar

Asia Salazar, 27, mother of three, is not too fond of politics because of the disconnect she sees between the will of the people and lawmakers’ actions.

Salazar  (Emma Epperly / The Spokesman-Review)
Salazar (Emma Epperly / The Spokesman-Review)

“As a whole, everything is going downhill,” Salazar said. “Racism is getting worse. Gang violence is getting worse. There’s a lack of trust between police and civilians.”

When Salazar was in school, she didn’t feel connected to the history that was taught, because it didn’t include her struggles growing up as a Hispanic person. She felt that Latina history wasn’t taught unless it was in “private schools.”

Salazar hopes her three biracial children won’t experience the same trauma and discrimination she did.

“My fear as a mom is that she’ll get put down or degraded,” Salazar said as she smiled to her young daughters.

National protests for racial justice and equality were “amazing” and pushed other marginalized groups to speak out on the discrimination they experience, Salazar said.

“Every culture is speaking up more, and I love that,” Salazar said.

Dan Rogers

Dan Rogers, a 64-year-old Spokane resident, said politics has replaced governing in America. Elected officials, from the president to Congress, are not properly representing the people, he said.

“What they are doing, though, is politicking,” Rogers said.

He said it’s not a matter of politicians not listening to their constituents. Congress members, for example, want to govern well, but money and politics drown that desire out once they get to Capitol Hill, Rogers said.

He said he does not know how to improve the situation, but Rogers, who has lived around the globe, maintained “the representative form of government is still the best form of government.”

The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last month was one of the most recent examples in which millions of people across the country viewed as challenging their freedom, Rogers said.

Rogers said the sad part about the court’s recent abortion decision is Congress has had ample time to codify Roe. Meanwhile, Republicans have said for decades they wanted to overturn the 1973 ruling.

“I wouldn’t have imagined in my lifetime that Roe v. Wade would be overturned in the court system, but if our elected officials were really concerned about the reproductive rights of women, they should have codified the law a long time ago,” Rogers said.

President Joe Biden tweeted Thursday Roe v. Wade needs to be codified into law.

“Make it a law and then let the Supreme Court decide on the veracity of the law, not on whether it was a constitutional right,” Rogers said.

Brent Johnson

Brent Johnson, 38, trusts his government about 50-50.

“They don’t really always have our best interest in mind all the time,” Johnson, a commercial real estate agent, said of politicians. “I think they all promise to do that (make changes), but, you know, it just never happens.”

Johnson  (By Mathew Callaghan / The Spokesman-Review)
Johnson (By Mathew Callaghan / The Spokesman-Review)

Johnson also doesn’t trust the way politicians spend tax dollars.

“My perspective is, they get a certain amount in a budget and they spend that entire amount,” Johnson said. “They don’t try to save money or be frugal.”

To Johnson, democracy may have worsened in recent years, but this is not solely due to politicians.

“It seems like we were more, like, in-line and unified as a country ,” Johnson said. “It’s just gotten more divided.”

People are having a hard time seeing issues from others’ perspective and are not very accepting of different ideas, Johnson said.

Johnson said America’s problems are not as great as other countries, however.

“We deal with issues like inflation, higher prices and increased gas prices,” Johnson said, chuckling when talking about gas prices. .

Johnson said we still have all of our freedoms, and that the principles of democracy are still very much in tact.

“(The state of democracy) is still strong, but the country is very divided right now,” he said.

Jennifer Hoover

Hoover  (Jase Picanso)
Hoover (Jase Picanso)

Jennifer Hoover, an Airway Heights resident, thinks of Trump when she thinks about the state of democracy in the U.S. He was “authoritarian,” she said, but his policies led to more material wealth for Americans.

The high cost of gas, food and rent are just some of her complaints. Regardless of who’s in power, Americans should come together to support what’s best for each other, she said.

“I honestly think that out of everything Trump did wrong, he was right when he loved America,” Hoover said.

“We can’t look at our own passion and our own political beliefs. We have to look at the outcome and the person best able to (achieve) that outcome.”

Sheila Brown

“The future is in jeopardy,” Airway Heights resident Sheila Brown said.

Brown  (Quinn Welsch)
Brown (Quinn Welsch)

Brown said she was concerned about the recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“It’s a dangerous and horrible tragedy,” she said.

The decision has “diminished trust” between the people and the government, and “the trickle-down” effect of this ruling could result in diminished democratic values, she said.

“Welcome back to 1950.”

Spokesman-Review staffers Garrett Cabeza, Emma Epperly, Nick Gibson, Kip Hill, Greg Mason and Quinn Welsch contributed to this report. They were joined by members of The Spokesman-Review’s Teen Journalism Institute, a paid high school summer internship program. Those members are Mathew Callaghan, Carly Dykes, Nwannediya Kalu, Sidiq Moltafet, Jase Picanso and Molly Wisor.

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