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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

3 candidates look to take McCaslin’s seat in Legislature

Three candidates are hoping to take state Rep. Bob McCaslin’s legislative seat in Spokane Valley after McCaslin announced in February that he would run for county auditor.

The race is in the 4th District, where Democrats last won a seat in 1992 and where former Rep. Matt Shea served for eight years before a House Republican caucus investigation found he engaged in domestic terrorism.

The top two candidates in the Aug. 2 primary will face off in the November election. With Democrats often winning around 40% of the vote in the 4th District, the primary race may mostly be about which Republican will attract the most votes.

MJ Bolt, a golf teacher currently serving on the state Board of Education, is backed by 4th District legislators McCaslin and Rep. Rob Chase. Suzanne Schmidt, a recently retired workers’ compensation manager who served on the Associated Builders and Contractors Inland Pacific Chapter, has the support of 6th District legislators, Rep. Mike Volz and Sen. Jeff Holy, among other local politicians.

A third candidate, Democrat Ted Cummings, said he filed to run because he did not want to see any Republican run unopposed in the primary. Cummings has worked for Kaiser Aluminum off and on for 30 years. He has served as a vice president for the Washington State Labor Council since 2018.

Schmidt recently retired from the Associated Builders and Contractors where she did workers’ compensation claims management and safety consulting services. Before that, she was an administrator for the Corps of Engineers at Libby Dam in Montana.

Bolt is a professional golf teacher. She is an Eastern Washington representative on the state Board of Education, a position she was elected to in 2016. Along with seven gubernatorial appointees, the board has five representatives who are elected by members of state public school boards of directors.

Why they’re running

Both Schmidt and Bolt said they are running because they are concerned with the direction Washington is heading.

Schmidt pointed to the governor’s and the Legislature’s decisions throughout the pandemic. She criticized the governor for his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Legislature for implementing “new taxes, new regulations, new fees” when she felt like everybody was already down. She specifically mentioned the new cap-and-trade and low carbon fuels standard laws.

All of those recent decisions led to her wanting to run for office, Schmidt said.

“It really was that frustration of ‘OK, enough is enough,’ ” she said. “We need to figure out how we can work together and how we can move forward.”

Bolt said she has become “increasingly concerned” with the direction the state is going. She said there has been “an infringement upon our freedoms coming out of Olympia.”

Bolt criticized the Legislature for a lack of emergency powers reform, implementing sexual health education curriculum and what she calls “the chipping away of our constitutional rights.”

“I’m a passionate advocate,” Bolt said. “I care about people, and I see a lot of our people are concerned about these policies.”

Cummings, who’s worked for Kaiser Aluminum and Alcoa Aluminum for 30 years said, “This year it feels so important to be out there. In my mind, democracy’s threatened by the Republican Party.”

COVID policies

On vaccine and mask mandates, Bolt and Schmidt have mixed feelings.

Schmidt said at the beginning of the pandemic, she didn’t question Inslee’s decisions because no one knew how to deal with a pandemic.

“But no, I did not support it going as long as we did,” she said.

Bolt does not support a mask mandate. She said the science is “questionable” surrounding the effectiveness of masks. She especially criticized mandating children to wear masks in school.

“I believe in medical freedom,” she said. “I think the mandates went way too far.”

Schmidt also said she did not support a vaccine mandate for state employees or school-age children in K-12 public schools.

The vaccine is available, she said, but it should be a choice for people. Schmidt said she did get vaccinated early on because she has an elderly mother who she needed to take to and from appointments.

Bolt said she does not support a vaccine mandate for state employees or K-12 children. Bolt declined to say if she decided to get vaccinated.

Bolt was critical of Inslee’s emergency powers. She said states of emergency should only last 30 days before the Legislature steps in. That’s one of the policies she said she would push for if elected.

Schmidt said she felt there has been “one-person rule” during the COVID-19 state of emergency. She said there should have been more input from the Legislature.

“It’s not the way that our government was created to run,” she said.

Schmidt said she felt Inslee picked and chose what businesses could reopen and when.

Economic recovery

As the state looks to an economic recovery post-pandemic, the candidates have differing ideas on how to move forward.

Bolt pointed to the failure of the Legislature to give any of the budget surplus back to taxpayers. She called it a “huge missed opportunity.”

The Legislature came into the session this year with an unprecedented amount of money to use to adjust the next year’s spending. The $59 billion budget that passed in 2021 became a $64.1 billion adjusted budget passed this year with additional federal funding and higher-than-expected revenues going toward new transportation projects, construction projects, housing, K-12 education and a number of other areas.

Republicans criticized Democrats for not giving any broad tax cuts to residents.

Schmidt said there’s still a lot of recovery to go from the effects the COVID-19 pandemic had on the economy. To address inflation and bolster economic recovery, Schmidt said she first would like to see the low carbon fuel standard and cap-and-trade program reduced or reversed.

“Right now is not a time to pile on gas tax on top of gas tax,” she said.

Both Bolt and Schmidt criticized the low-carbon fuel standard and cap-and-trade program that the Legislature passed in 2021.

The low-carbon fuel standard would provide incentives for fuel companies to make alternative, cleaner fuels in the state with a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuel by 20% by 2035. It would penalize producers of transportation fuels that don’t meet the standards. The cap-and-trade program, which is set to go into effect next year, would put a cap on emissions from large polluters. Companies that cannot meet the cap can purchase carbon allowances from the state, and the revenue from those allowances would fund transportation and environmental projects statewide.

Opponents of the bills say they will hurt working families, resulting in them paying more for fuel, electricity or food.

Cummings said one way to help the economy is focus on investment and growth in clean energy and building the manufacture sector back up. He said he wants to see a new economy based on clean energy that can help solve the climate crisis and the economic crisis facing the country right now.

Solving record-high inflation and economic recovery will take time, Cummings said.

Housing and more

Other issues on candidates’ minds this election include public safety, education, workforce issues and housing.

Schmidt said she would want to promote policies to lower the cost of housing, specifically by building more single-family homes, condos or townhouses, not just apartment buildings.

On housing, Bolt said if elected, she wants to form an advisory committee of stakeholders in the community to talk about what policies are needed to solve the housing crisis.

“We need to get after that,” she said. “This crisis is bad, and it’s not getting better. We’ve got to come up with solutions immediately.”

Regarding public safety, Schmidt said she has heard that people feel unsafe in their own homes. She pointed to police reform laws passed by the Legislature in 2021.

After the laws went into effect, law enforcement agencies pushed for clarity on a number of topics, including use of force, vehicular pursuits and military equipment. Lawmakers passed a number of bills addressing those issues, but some, including new guidance around vehicular pursuits, remain unchanged.

Endorsements, contributions

Schmidt has received the endorsements from 6th District legislators Volz and Holy. She also has endorsements from a number of local politicians, including Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward, Spokane City Councilman Jonathan Bingle, County Commissioners Al French and Josh Kerns, and County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.

Schmidt has received much financial support from builders and contractors. She’s raised $35,207 as of Friday, according to the Public Disclosure Commission. Her top donors include Baker Construction and Development in Spokane, general contractor Divcon in Spokane, Gaylor Electric, Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Washington and County Commissioner Mary Kuney.

Bolt has the endorsements of McCaslin; Chase; Rep. Alex Ybarra, R-Quincy; and Spokane Valley City Councilman Rod Higgins.

Much of Bolt’s campaign has been self-funded, having donated almost $11,000 of her own money. She’s raised $20,645 as of Friday, according to the Public Disclosure Commission. Top individual donors include Gene Bolt, a retiree from Medical Lake; Tia McInerney, a retiree from Mead; and Patti Marquis, a golf instructor from Post Falls. Other noteworthy donors include Chase and Spokane Valley City Councilman Arne Woodard.

Ballots will begin being sent to voters July 15.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.