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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: In the too-close-to-call county race, a chance for an astonishing swing

Nov. 8, 2022 Updated Tue., Nov. 8, 2022 at 11:12 p.m.

Shawn Vestal  (DAN PELLE)
Shawn Vestal (DAN PELLE)

So, what kind of wave was that?

Incumbents rolled. Likely winners mostly won. The conventional wisdom and existing party dynamics prevailed.

A beige wave?

Whatever. A few thoughts on the election, hedged as necessary:

Photo finish: The nail-biter going in remains the nail-biter. Incumbent County Commissioner Al French holds a slim 542-vote advantage over Democratic challenger Maggie Yates, with tens of thousands of votes to count. Yates ran a great campaign in what was the single-most interesting local race. It was the only one, really, that seemed to hold out the possibility of an upset, and one that would make a huge difference on the County Commission. If Yates is able to pick up enough votes in the counting to come, it will produce something truly astonishing: a Democratic majority on the commission.

The true winners: Even if French wins, though, the new five-member County Commission is a victory for the citizens. It offers a lot of hope for a more accountable, more broadly representative government. Even if all three GOP incumbents keep their seats – Mary Kuney and Josh Kerns are winning handily – with two new Democratic commissioners on a five-member panel, the chances for more openness, more accountability and more public involvement in county government are promising.

Say your prayers: Incumbent County Auditor Vicky Dalton has a lead in what might be the most important local race of them all – if it holds. Her opponent, Bob McCaslin, elevates the election-fraud lies that are poisoning our politics and public life, and which have been excuses for mucking about with elections in the name of preventing nonexistent fraud. Dalton’s ahead 52% to 48%. Fingers crossed.

Indisputably good news: The end of the ads is here! The end of the ads is here! Our televisions and mailboxes will now be blissfully free of Cathy McMorris Rodgers at the gas pumps, Tiffany Smiley at the Starbucks, Patty Murray at the kitchen table, Mike Crapo posing in the barn door … as well as the increasingly desperate and scurrilous attacks that marked the last days. Most of it will fade from memory by next week, but the most persistent sensory imprint might be left by the Murray ad that replayed the clip of Mitch McConnell describing Smiley as “outstanding.” The repetition of that single word, delivered as if McConnell was speaking with a mouthful of Kentucky Burgoo, may have been the most haunting experience of the whole unruly season.

Unwatched polls: Though we’ve had more than our share of election denialism, it seems we had none, or little, of the aggressive ballot-box “oversight” patrolling that self-appointed defenders of the vote have engaged in elsewhere. Even the attempt by Matt Shea sidekick Caleb Collier to rally election observers to “watch” the vote counting at the elections office fell flat, with just a couple of folks coming out in the cold. (For his part, Shea – in his most recent Patriot Radio web broadcast – spent as much time decrying the evils of Halloween as retailing election fraud tales: “We do not, as Christians, give the enemy a day. Period. That’s just the way it is.”)

Undefeated: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has now won 10 straight elections. Whatever you think about her, she’s just the District 5-iest. It’s probably time to start thinking about what freeway or federal building might eventually be named after her. I suggest the Usk post office.

Entrenched camps: Murray’s drubbing of Smiley was only surprising if you were drinking the intraparty Kool-Aid. The optimism that Smiley supporters showed reminded me of the optimism from Lisa Brown supporters when Brown ran against McMorris Rodgers in 2018. I kept running into people back then who felt sure that Brown – who was the strongest challenger McMorris Rodgers has faced – was going to win, because everyone they knew supported her. This year, something similar seems to have occurred with Republicans and Smiley. In both cases, you might have argued that strong challengers and vulnerable incumbents set the stage for upsets. But with the existing party dynamics – and with ever-more-entrenched partisanship – the likelihood of big upsets outside of the electorate’s prevailing political slant shrinks.

One from the undercard: A bright spot among the many foregone conclusions in the legislative races was Leonard Christian taking a 51% to 47% lead over Rob Chase for the state House seat representing Spokane Valley. Christian is a conservative who stops well short of Chase’s conspiracy-ville views on several subjects, and it’s good to see him go up in a district where conspiracy-ville views are sometimes winners.

And finally: Why do we vote for judges again? It’s ridiculous.

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