Two political newcomers are battling to represent western Spokane on the Spokane County Commission.
Democrat Chris Jordan, 33, is a lawyer with the Washington state attorney general’s office who specializes in child abuse cases. Republican Kim Plese, 60, owned a Spokane printing and marketing business for more than three decades before selling it earlier this year.
The liberal and the conservative hope to become the first representative for Spokane County Commission District 1, which covers most of Spokane’s western half.
Spokane County is transitioning from three to five commissioners to comply with a law the state Legislature passed in 2018.
From now on, voters will elect five commissioners, each of whom will represent one district, not the entire county. The new structure likely will allow Democrats to win one or more commission seats for the first time since 2006.
Based on past election results, Jordan heads into the general election as the heavy favorite. He took home 55% of the vote during the August primary, compared to 45% for Plese. The area represented by District 1 has been reliably blue in recent years.
Jordan’s endorsements include a long list of unions, all five of the Spokane City Council’s liberal members and his boss, Attorney General Bob Ferguson. He also has the backing of 3rd Legislative District Sen. Andy Billig and the legislative district’s representatives – Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli.
Plese has the support of Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, all three of the Spokane County Commission’s incumbents, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward, the Spokane City Council’s two conservatives and former Mayor David Condon.
Jordan said improving access to child care would be one of his top priorities if elected.
“Child care is the labor shortage that causes other labor shortages,” he said. “If people don’t have safe, affordable, quality places to send their kids, sometimes they can’t enter the workforce.”
Plese has said she’d focus on homelessness if elected. She and Jordan said the county should take more of a leadership role in addressing homelessness. Spokane County sends millions of dollars that it receives from the state and federal government to Spokane, but largely allows the city to decide how to spend the money.
“There definitely needs to be more accountability on what the county gives the city for homeless services,” Plese said. “What are you doing with all this money? Where are you spending the money?”
Both candidates said they believe public safety is one of the biggest issues facing the county, but they offer different ideas for reducing crime.
Plese said her main goal would be adequately funding the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and ensuring sheriff’s office deputies receive adequate training. Jordan is advocating for expanded access to mental health and drug addiction treatment, which he says will help address the root causes of crime.
The candidates differ completely on whether Spokane County should build a new jail.
Politicians have argued about the Spokane County Jail for over a decade as repeated inmate deaths have plagued the facility. They generally agree the jail is crowded, dangerous for inmates and that the status quo can’t continue.
They disagree on how to fix the jail’s problems.
Many conservatives say a new jail with more cells would be in the best interest of inmates, public safety and taxpayers. Many liberals say a new jail would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and wouldn’t improve safety. Instead, progressives argue the county should put its dollars toward mental health and drug addiction treatment that can help people avoid jail.
Plese said she wants a new jail but believes voters should be able to make the decision directly at the ballot box.
Jordan said he thinks a new jail would be wasteful, especially at a time when families are struggling economically. He said he believes it probably couldn’t be done without raising taxes and added that he thinks there are better ways to reduce crime.
“A large portion of our system I think is dedicated to responding really to drug and mental health issues, which are health problems,” he said. “I’d like to see more focus on root causes; diversion where appropriate. I think that would help us actually prevent people from re-offending.”
Both candidates believe racial disparities within the county’s criminal justice system need to be addressed.
According to a 2017 analysis by the JFA Institute, Black people in Spokane County are 13 times more likely to be jailed than white people and Native Americans are 6.5 times more likely to be jailed.
Jordan said he believes county leaders need to do more to reduce those disparities.
“I see a dragging of feet,” he said. “I think we need people who accept we need to do better.”
Plese, whose sister is Superior Court Judge Annette Plese, stressed that she believes disparities within the county’s criminal justice system aren’t the fault of the judiciary.
“The Legislature sets the mandates for guidelines for sentencing,” she said. “I think really that needs to be part of the Legislature coming down to say they need to take that into account more.”
Jordan and Plese agree completely on one Spokane County criminal justice issue. They both support adding a 13th Superior Court judge.
The Legislature in 1997 authorized Spokane County to add a 12th and 13th Superior Court judge. The state pays half of the judge’s salary while the county pays the remaining half along with the salaries of the judge’s staff.
In the last 25 years, Spokane County has gained an additional 140,000 residents, but the number of Superior Court judges hasn’t budged.
Plese said she knows county judges already have too much work to handle.
“They actually need two to three more judges, with their caseload,” she said.
Jordan said he believes adding another Superior Court judge could help speed up the county’s legal system.
The two politicians also agree that the Spokane Regional Health District’s Board of Health should include a medical doctor.
The county commissioners last fall reorganized the health board, in response to a law the Legislature passed in 2021. The new board had to include an equal number of elected and unelected representatives.
Two of the commissioners’ decisions caused controversy.
First, they removed Spokane and Spokane Valley’s dedicated seats. Second, they appointed a naturopathic doctor to serve as the board’s lone medical provider and public health representative. Multiple medical doctors applied for the position.
“I think it would be advantageous to have an MD,” Plese said.
“I want the health board to have the most qualified folks on it,” he said. “I think it’s just common sense.”