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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Here’s who’s running for Spokane County Commissioner District 4 and where they stand on county issues

Voters can pick between a former auditor, a pastor and a real estate investor in the Aug. 2 primary election for Spokane County Commissioner District 4.

District 4 covers Liberty Lake, the southern half of Spokane Valley and the largely rural, southeastern portion of the county. It’s one of five new districts drawn during last year’s redistricting process.

For the first time, Spokane County this year will elect five commissioners representing specific districts, not the county as a whole. The old system, wherein the three commissioners ran in district-specific primary elections and countywide general elections, is no more.

Based on past election results, District 4 will be a GOP stronghold. Not a single Democrat is even attempting to win the seat.

Republican Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney is effectively the District 4 incumbent.

Kuney has spent most of her adult life as an auditor for Deloitte, the Washington State Auditor’s Office and the Spokane County Auditor’s Office.

She was appointed to the commission in 2017 and won election in 2018 and 2020. Kuney has endorsements from a slew of prominent county Republicans and received $1,000 from Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ campaign fund.

“I feel I provide a strong, common-sense leadership,” she said. “I want to continue that.”

Republican Paul Brian Noble is a pastor at Valley Assembly of God and CEO of Peacemaker Ministries.

The political rookie has been a preacher for 25 years. Like most candidates during this election cycle, Noble said public safety would be a priority if he’s elected. He also said he wants to bring civility to politics and fight government overreach.

Noble is an outspoken abortion opponent. He was scheduled to speak Saturday at a freedom and anti-abortion rally in downtown Spokane headlined by former Rep. Matt Shea and organized by former Spokane Valley City Councilman Caleb Collier. But Noble said his name was put on the flier without his knowledge and that he’d be out of town that day.

Republican Chris McIntosh is also making his first foray into politics.

McIntosh, an Air Force veteran, has held a variety of jobs over the years. He’s been a real estate investor for well over a decade and teaches classes on investment strategies and financial literacy.

Public safety and addressing homelessness are among McIntosh’s top campaign issues. He’s also expressed worries about election integrity.

“If we don’t have concerned citizens constantly watching our elections, 2020 will happen all over again,” McIntosh wrote on his website. “I’m going to be there every step of the way to ensure your voice is heard and counted.”

Should the county build a new jail?

Politicians have been arguing about the Spokane County Jail for more than a decade. Repeated inmate suicides and deaths have plagued the facility in recent years.

Elected officials across the political spectrum agree the status quo at the overcrowded jail can’t continue. But not everyone agrees on the solution.

Some, especially conservatives, say the county needs to build a new jail to handle more inmates. Others, mainly progressives, say the county should focus on providing people with more mental health and addiction help rather than creating more cells.

Kuney said the county definitely needs a “new or expanded facility.”

“The downtown facility is basically a maximum security facility,” she said. “We need to have a model that has kind of a step-down approach, so that we can get people programming and get them back into the community so that they can be successful.”

Noble said he’s unsure if the county needs a new jail and wants to better understand the financial implications of the proposal. He said if a new jail is needed, and if the economics make sense, the county should build it.

McIntosh said the county should build a new jail if the money’s available.

The county needs a place to put lawbreakers, McIntosh said.

He specifically pointed to the county’s homeless population.

“We have to stop enabling them, but give them hope as well,” he said. “When people choose to live as criminals and live outside the judicial system, they need to pay the consequences for that, but if they choose to get help, get resources for them.”

Racial disparities in criminal justice

Spokane County locks up people of color at far higher rates than white people.

According to a 2017 analysis by the JFA Institute, a Black person in Spokane County is 13 times more likely to be jailed than a white person and Native Americans are 6.5 times more likely to be jailed.

Noble said he wasn’t familiar with the racial makeup of the county’s jail population, but emphasized everyone should be treated equally regardless of the color of their skin.

“I believe in equal justice under the law,” he said.

McIntosh said he doesn’t believe reforms are needed.

“I don’t think our criminal justice system is racist,” he said. “The law is the law and it doesn’t differentiate what race you are, what nationality you are.”

The system isn’t the problem, he said.

“Instead of reforming the judicial system, we need to reach out to maybe an area of population that is affected, that’s maybe making the wrong choices, and give them hope that there’s a better way of life,” he said.

Kuney acknowledged that people of color are disproportionately represented in the jail. But she said the county’s main focus probably shouldn’t be on the criminal justice system itself.

“What are the upstream things we can do to make that change?” she said.

LaunchNW, a broad initiative by the Innovia Foundation to help more Inland Northwest students pursue education after high school, could be a big part of the solution, Kuney said. The county commissioners have set aside $5 million from their $101 American Rescue Plan allocation for LaunchNW.

Kuney also touted the Spokane Regional Stabilization Center, which opened last year.

The stabilization center, which has nearly 50 beds, acts as a detox and mental health site for individuals who would otherwise be in jail. The project’s jointly funded by the county, state and Spokane.

People being diverted to that facility are getting the help they need, as opposed to sitting behind bars, Kuney said.

Should a medical doctor sit on the health board?

This fall, the Spokane County commissioners reformed the Spokane Regional Health District’s Board of Health.

They had to reform the board to comply with a law the state Legislature passed in 2021 that requires health boards to have an equal number of elected and unelected members.

The man who wrote the law, Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, said he wanted to depoliticize health boards, which have had authority over public health decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How the commissioners reformed the board caused controversy. They opted for fewer members, kicking off Spokane’s and Spokane Valley’s representatives. They also put Alycia Policani, a naturopathic doctor, on the board instead of a medical doctor. Multiple medical doctors applied for the position.

Kuney voted for Policani, although she made clear in public meetings she would have preferred a medical doctor.

“I was in favor of one, but it wasn’t going to happen,” she said, referring to the fact that the other two county commissioners, Al French and Josh Kerns, made clear they wouldn’t pick a candidate with a doctorate in medicine.

Kuney said even though she’d prefer having a medical doctor, it isn’t necessary.

“The role of the health board is governance, it’s not getting into the details,” she said. “That is up to the health officer and health administrator.”

McIntosh and Noble both said they think a medical doctor should sit on the health board.

“It seems like that would be really wise,” Noble said. “There should probably be more than one.”

Mask mandates

Would any of the candidates support a mask mandate if the county’s hospitals filled up with COVID-19 patients again?

All three said no.

Noble said he’d want to inform residents about the risks of wearing and not wearing masks, but wouldn’t support a mandate.

“I want the two voices, or three voices or four positions, whatever it is, from the medical world, so that way we can adequately inform the public of the risk,” he said.

He noted that he has a disabled daughter who would probably die if she got COVID. It’s up to parents to protect their kids, not the government, Noble said.

“I do not believe that I should take someone else’s freedom in order to protect her,” he said.

Kuney said she would abide by a mask mandate if it were imposed by the governor or health officer, but is personally against mandating vaccines and masks and is unsure how effective mandates have been.

McIntosh said he’s adamantly opposed to mask mandates and even masking in general.

“A mask mandate is not only not effective, I think it’s harmful,” he said.

Wearing a mask all day causes an individual to inhale unhealthy amounts of carbon dioxide, McIntosh said.

“After like four minutes of breathing in that mask you’re at like four times the level of what you should be inhaling,” he said.

Multiple studies have shown mask wearing causes “no to minimal changes in oxygen or carbon dioxide levels,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How should the county tackle homelessness?

Kuney said the county already is doing a lot to address the rise in homelessness.

The county financially supports Spokane’s shelter operations, she said, noting that the county contributed $2 million to the Salvation Army’s Way Out Shelter, which focuses on finding permanent housing for the homeless.

“I think we’re doing a lot at Spokane County, people just don’t know it,” she said.

McIntosh said homelessness has “gotten out of control.”

“We can’t just let homeless camp out on Department of Transportation property,” he said, referring to Camp Hope on Second Avenue near Interstate 90 in East Spokane. “I feel really bad for the people that live around Camp Hope.”

The county should help those who don’t want to be homeless, McIntosh said. People with addiction or mental health issues need assistance, too.

But the county shouldn’t spend money on people who are homeless by choice, he said.

“If they like living in that situation, in the homeless situation, then we can’t put the burden of their lifestyle on the taxpayers,” he said. “They can’t be homeless here and be criminals.”

Noble said the county should only spend money addressing homelessness when it improves public safety.

“I think the churches should be doing more to address homelessness,” he said. “I think nonprofits should be doing more.”