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Ted Cummings, Suzanne Schmidt face off in 4th Legislative District race

A moderate Republican has emerged as the likely front-runner in the race to fill former Rep. Bob McCaslin’s seat in the 4th Legislative District, a heavily Republican area once represented by far-right politician Matt Shea.

Republican Suzanne Schmidt, former CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors Inland Pacific Chapter, will face Democrat Ted Cummings, a Kaiser Aluminum employee, in November for the 4th Legislative District, Position 1 seat.

In the August primary, Schmidt finished with 35.9% of the vote while Cummings took 36.5%. Another Republican, MJ Bolt, finished with just over 27% of the vote.

The winner of the November general election will fill the seat left by McCaslin, who announced earlier this year he would be retiring from the Legislature to run for county auditor.

Cummings has focused his campaign on criticizing the Republican Party, which he says is a danger to democracy, while Schmidt has focused her campaign on working on both sides of the aisle in what she calls “a stalemate” in Olympia.

Schmidt said she is running because she wants to work on legislation that will specifically benefit the 4th district.

“I think that’s something we haven’t been real aggressive about in the past,” she said.

Schmidt mentioned securing funding for the new Spokane Valley performing arts center, expansion of the HUB Sports Center and ensuring federal funding for projects like the Pines Road railroad crossing is used appropriately.

Cummings said he is running because he does not want a Republican to run unopposed, criticizing far-right Republicans who he said have advanced conspiracy theories on election fraud and COVID-19 vaccine validity.

“It’s all dangerous,” he said.

When it comes to his opponent, Cummings said he believes Schmidt has “common sense and moderate views on things,” unlike some of the representatives the district has had before. The heavily Republican 4th district is where former Rep. Shea served for eight years before a House Republican caucus investigation found he engaged in domestic terrorism. McCaslin aligned himself with Shea during his time in the Legislature.

Schmidt said she believes Cummings is sincere in his thoughts about vaccines and mandates, but that there’s “another side to that.” Cummings supported Gov. Jay Inslee in his vaccine and mask mandates and criticized those who pushed back against getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Schmidt said she believes, like many in the Republican Party, that people should have a choice whether they want to be vaccinated or wear a mask.

On the 2020 election, Schmidt said there may have been some fraud and errors across the nation, but in Spokane County and Washington, she said the election process is secure.

“I think there’s extremes on both sides, whether it be the Republican side or the Democratic side,” she said. “If I win the election, I’d like to focus, rather on how far apart we are, where we have some common ground, where we can work together.”

McCaslin and state Rep. Rob Chase had endorsed Bolt in the primary to fill McCaslin’s seat.

Schmidt has yet to receive the endorsement of McCaslin, Chase or Bolt, but said she has talked with Bolt to learn more about how the two can work together.

“I think that it’s time we support each other and make sure we keep this Republican seat in the 4th district,” she said.

On the issues

The candidates have differing views on a number of issues, including housing, public safety and abortion.

Cummings criticized Schmidt for her views on labor. Cummings, who is active in the United Steelworkers in Spokane and the Washington State Labor Council, said Schmidt does not support the right for people to organize.

Cummings said unions are constantly under attack. He said unions could help lessen an income gap and help raise wages as the price of homes and gas continue to go up.

“To me, to say that unions are outdated or not needed anymore is just naive,” Cummings said. “I would make the case we need more unions across the country.”

Schmidt, who has worked with the Associated Builders and Contractors for almost 20 years, said she has worked mostly with open-shop, nonunion contractors. She said those employees are treated well and are safe.

She said it should be up to an employer to decide what kind of relationship they want to have with their employees.

“I am not anti-union, but I am very pro open-shop,” she said. “And I believe there’s room for both.”

On housing, Schmidt said she wants to look at ways to build more, especially for people who can’t afford their current property or can’t afford to buy a first home.

She said she wants to create a task force or committee to work with the city, the county and the state on creating long-term solutions in the next two years as well as the next 10 years.

“I certainly don’t have all the answers,” she said.

In an interview in June, Schmidt said she has heard from people who feel unsafe in their homes and 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.

On public safety, Cummings said he is not well-versed in all of the police reform laws passed in the Legislature in the past two years, but he said policing should come down to “common sense.”

He said he wants police officers to come home safely every night and that they have his respect and admiration. The reforms, however, are a reaction to abuses that are coming to light, he said. They are designed to protect human life and make sure police act appropriately.

“We need to work together, and we need to address the root causes for our problems,” he said.

On the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Schmidt said there should have been more input from the Legislature. Instead, it felt like there was “one-person rule” during the state of emergency.

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

Cummings, on the other hand, applauded Inslee’s handling of the pandemic. He said he doesn’t think the governor’s emergency powers should be reformed. There shouldn’t be more than one person trying to make the decisions in an emergency situation, he said.

On abortion, Cummings said he believes it is a woman’s right to choose and that those rights are being eroded by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Schmidt said she does not support Washington’s current law, which allows for abortions up to the point of viability, often 24 weeks gestation. She said she would support legislation proposed that would limit access to abortion, but declined to give her stance on when abortion should be prohibited. She supports exceptions to allow abortion in the case of rape or incest.

Endorsements

Schmidt has received the endorsements from a number of local and state politicians, including 6th District lawmakers Rep. Mike Volz and Sen. Jeff Holy, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward, Spokane City Councilmember Jonathan Bingle and Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner.

Cummings has received the endorsement of the Washington State Labor Council and the Spokane Regional Labor Council.

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.

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