Two Republicans are vying to represent Spokane County Commission District 4 in this November’s election, but the candidates are dramatically different .
Incumbent Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney, 57, is an experienced politician who spent more than a decade as a state and county auditor. Challenger Paul Brian Noble, 48, is a political rookie who’s been a pastor since his 20s.
District 4 includes Liberty Lake, Spokane Valley’s southern half and the rural area that makes up the county’s southeastern third. It’s one of five county commission districts created during last year’s redistricting process.
Spokane County had to switch from three to five commissioners to comply with a law the Washington Legislature passed in 2018. The change will fundamentally alter the county commission, which makes policy decisions and decides how to spend taxpayer dollars.
Under the new setup, each commissioner will represent a district, not the entire county. The end of the countywide general election may allow Democrats to win at least one commission seat for the first time in more than a decade.
Deep red District 4 is seemingly safe for the GOP, though. Roughly 60% of the district’s voters typically vote Republican.
Kuney was appointed to the county commission in 2017 and won re-election in 2018 and 2020.
She’s endorsed by Mainstream Republicans of Washington and more than a dozen prominent conservatives, including Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward and former Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed. U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has donated to Kuney’s campaign.
Noble, who declined to be interviewed, is the executive pastor of Valley Assembly of God church and CEO of Peacemaker Ministries. He’s the author of “Living Reconciled,” a book on conflict resolution written from a Christian perspective.
While Noble lacks the backing of elected officials, he does have a few prominent supporters.
He’s been endorsed by Spokane County Republican Party State Committeeman Matt Hawkins, who made headlines this summer after calling for an audit of the county’s 2020 election. Caleb Collier, a former Spokane Valley City Councilman who frequently organizes protests with former state Rep. Matt Shea, has donated to Noble’s campaign. Noble has also received funding from Eastern Washington Liberty, a group that advocates for splitting Eastern Washington into a 51st state.
Kuney heads into the November election as the favorite.
She has the clear financial edge, having raised nearly $60,000 to Noble’s $25,000. She fared better in the primary election too, receiving 54% of the vote.
Noble collected 32%, although he’ll likely receive more votes next month considering he’s endorsed by Chris McIntosh, a Republican who won 12% of the primary vote.
Like many candidates running for office in this election cycle, Kuney said public safety is her No. 1 priority. She said she’s committed to fully funding the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.
While she hasn’t said outright that she supports building a new jail, she has said the county needs a “new or expanded facility.”
Politicians have argued about the Spokane County Jail for more than a decade as inmates have repeatedly died at the facility. Elected officials from both major parties agree the facility is dangerous and overcrowded, but they propose different solutions.
Many conservatives say building a new jail with more cells would be better for inmates and improve public safety. Many liberals say adding jail capacity won’t improve public safety, and taxpayer dollars would be better spent on addiction and mental health treatment resources.
In June, Noble told The Spokesman-Review he’s unsure whether the county should build a new jail.
Kuney has acknowledged the criminal justice system disproportionately impacts people of color.
Incarceration rates paint a clear picture. For instance, while 2% of county residents are Black, Black people make up 14% of the county jail population.
Kuney has said the county commissioners should work to address the problem by investing in community programs that help improve outcomes for people of color.
She said LaunchNW, an effort by the Innovia Foundation that will help pay college tuition for Inland Northwest students, could be part of the solution. The county commissioners have dedicated $5 million of their $101 million American Rescue Plan allocation to LaunchNW.
The new Spokane Regional Stabilization Center could help address racial disparities too, Kuney said. That facility, which has nearly 50 beds, acts as a detox and mental health site for individuals who would otherwise be in jail. The project is jointly funded by the county, state and Spokane.
Noble hasn’t offered any detailed ideas for addressing racial disparities within the county’s criminal justice system, although he said this summer he believes in “equal justice under the law.”
The pastor has taken clear stances on some criminal justice issues, though. According to his Facebook page, he supports adding a 13th Superior Court judge.
The state Legislature in 1997 authorized Spokane County to add a 13th judge. The state would pay half of the judge’s salary while the county would pay the remaining half and the salaries of judicial staff.
In the last 25 years, Spokane County has gained 140,000 residents, but the number of judges on the bench hasn’t changed. Proponents of a 13th judge say it would help reduce the court’s case backlog and speed up the administration of justice.
Kuney said she’d like a 13th judge but doesn’t want to commit to adding the position until she knows how much it will cost.
“I’ve got to make sure we’ve got the dollars to be able to sustain (it),” she said.
The two candidates have used different rhetoric when talking about homelessness. The number of homeless people in Spokane County has risen 13% in the last two years, according to the latest Point-in-Time Count, an annual homelessness survey.
Kuney emphasizes that the county financially supports homeless services in Spokane. She has pointed out that the county contributed $2 million to the Salvation Army’s Way Out shelter, for example.
During a Tuesday commissioner meeting, Kuney voted in favor of suing the Washington State Department of Transportation over Camp Hope, the homeless encampment along Interstate 90 in east Spokane.
Noble has said governments should only help the homeless when it improves public safety.
“I think the churches should be doing more to address homelessness,” he said in June. “I think nonprofits should be doing more.”
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