Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Andy Rathbun didn’t wake up Friday expecting to file to run for Spokane City Council. But with only hours left before the deadline, he decided that it was time.
With Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson and former business owner Kim Plese the only two candidates to file before him, Rathbun said he had to get in the ring.
“Just the fact that Betsy was going to get out of the primary, that wasn’t good in my book,” he said. “Let’s make her squirm a bit.”
The decision might have been made at the last minute, but Rathbun took no time to come out swinging. In a Friday interview, he said he was running to take on the “gang of five that’s been ruining all of Spokane politics,” referring to the City Council’s left-leaning supermajority, of which Wilkerson is a member.
He criticized Wilkerson’s role in the city’s controversial 2022 redistricting process, referring to it as “sponsoring gerrymandering,” and accusing her of a campaign finance violation. Staff at the state Public Disclosure Commission confirmed that a complaint had been filed by prolific campaign finance activist Glen Morgan, but could not confirm the details of the complaint pending review.
Rathbun also went after Wilkerson for asking for a search warrant before turning over security camera footage from a group home she owns during an investigation into a nearby killing.
This is not Rathbun’s first foray into electoral politics. He ran unsuccessfully in 2019 for a seat on the Spokane City Council representing the northwest district, narrowly losing to Councilwoman Karen Stratton.
Rathbun lives in a West Central home that was built over a century ago, surrounded by track sprinklers – he estimates that he owns 50 or 60 – and filled with a dozen clocks or more – grandfather, cuckoo, Gilbert, anniversary – which he has collected in his world travels.
He grew up in Richland, attending Richland High School, home of the Bombers, an on-the-nose foreshadowing for Rathbun’s 32-year career in the Air Force. He attended flight school in California, where he said he performed well enough to get his first pick for base assignment. He chose Fairchild, arriving in the area in 1989.
For the first couple years, he said he was “sitting alert to fly World War III,” sleeping out by his airplane every third week so that he could be airborne within 12 minutes. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Rathbun flew fuel tankers in various conflicts, including wars in Croatia, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, which he described as a time of adventure and excitement. He was initially stationed in Pisa, Italy, he said.
“We were at a beach hotel, and we had cars and we could go explore everywhere,” he reminisced. “I have a wine cellar with about 1,500 bottles, I still have some wine that I brought back, because the KC-135 is like a cargo plane, so I had my own personal cargo plane to bring back cases and cases of wine.”
But “the best war ever” was the 1999 bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, he said.
“We were bombing Belgrade back to the stone age, and we did it with airpower alone,” Rathbun said. “And we were living in a hotel on the river, a five-star hotel. In the garage were BMWs and Mercedes with Belgrade license plates.”
“We were eating breakfast in the morning with the people that had the means to leave Belgrade, and we flew at night,” he added. “After we would fuel (other planes), we would adjust so we were watching the fireworks go off. It was awesome.”
During his 32-year career with the Air Force, about half of which was spent as a lieutenant colonel, Rathbun slowly began purchasing Spokane residences, including a number of properties near his current home. But after 30 years of being a landlord, Rathbun said every one of his homes in Spokane County has either been converted to an Airbnb or sold off – more technically, he said he swapped them for Arizona properties through a reduced-tax process called a 1031 exchange.
“Over the last four years I’ve taken nine rental units out of the Spokane marketplace,” he said. “That’s why I’m running, because of all the laws that these guys – they have a war on landlords.”
Being a landlord is one of the few ways for a middle class American to mitigate federal taxes, Rathbun said, noting that he was often able to go years without paying federal income taxes due to writing off losses on his rental properties. But with changes in laws, Rathbun said he feels that the climate is no longer economically amenable.
“I’m an economic engine, and I’ve got my foot one door out of Spokane,” he said. “Which is why I have to do this. This group of five, they’ve done so many things, we’re going backwards now in the downtown core, we’re losing businesses left and right, and we’ve got to fix this.”
If elected, Rathbun said he wants to roll back the policy choices that have put him out of business. In particular, he criticized laws that make it difficult to evict problem tenants, as well as anti-discrimination laws that force landlords to accept Section 8 housing vouchers.
“They were my worst tenants, and I’m not going to take it anymore,” Rathbun said. “I help out tenants all the time. I’ve helped tenants buy houses, but when a tenant goes south on you and becomes a drug addict, you’ve got to be able to get rid of them.”
Rathbun said he converted several rentals into Airbnbs, one of which he noted was not legally registered, because it allowed him to avoid landlord-tenant laws, many of which come from the state, not the city. But he also criticized the taxes and fees that he is required to pay by registering them, and questioned where those funds go.
Rathbun also said he would work to criminalize panhandling and going after those who graffiti, saying that trail cams and other surveillance technology could be used to capture those marking up the city. Once caught, he said offenders should be required to perform community service, including by cleaning up graffiti, and that this could lead into a full-time cleaner job with the city.
Rathbun wants Spokane to more closely mirror his perception of Arizona, he adds.
“Down in Arizona, they don’t have crime,” he said. “Everything’s beautiful, there’s no trash. It’s like heaven on earth. Nobody panhandles, because they don’t allow them.”
More broadly, Rathbun said that the Spokane City Council should go on a “lawmaking diet.”
“Before we make another law, we need to pull two of them off the books,” he said. “Let’s make things simpler. Let’s cut all the red tape so we can build some stuff in this city.”