Although counting in the Spokane city elections continues, delayed first by a possible terrorist scare and then by a state holiday, patterns in the partial results seem clear and align with past trends.
Northeast Spokane, which has a long history of supporting Democrats for state and federal offices, is likely to support conservative candidates with populist leanings in city races. South Spokane, once a reliably conservative Republican stronghold, is now a solidly liberal progressive base.
Municipal elections are nonpartisan in Washington, so candidates aren’t listed as Democrats or Republicans on the ballot or campaign signs, even though some have been identified with one party or the other for years
In city races, it’s probably more correct to identify them as leaning toward positions that are conservative or populist, and those leaning toward liberal or progressive positions. Even when candidates shy away from such labels – promising to represent all their constituents and be open to good ideas from all parts of the ideological spectrum – the source of their financial backing tends to put them in one camp or the other.
In the Spokane mayor’s race, the lines were clearly drawn early. Incumbent Nadine Woodward, who had never run for office before winning the seat in 2019, was clearly the more conservative candidate in the race, with backing from key business groups. Challenger Lisa Brown, a former Democratic legislator and department director for the current Democratic governor, was the more liberal, with support from labor organizations and progressive groups.
The council president race could be similarly defined, with incumbent councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson in the liberal progressive camp and Kim Plese, a former Republican candidate for county commission, in the conservative business camp.
The council races provided similar matchups, although the candidates ran separate from those in other districts or those running citywide. In District 1, incumbent Michael Cathcart was clearly the business conservative, having headed one pro-business group, Better Spokane; worked for another, the Homebuilders Association; and collected campaign money from others. His opponent, Lindsey Shaw, has been active in several city, community and campus organizations, and had the backing of Sharon Smith and Don Barbieri of the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, FUSE Washington and the teachers union.
In District 2, Paul Dillon was the clear progressive, a longtime spokesman for Planned Parenthood and a Democratic precinct officer with contributions from Sharon Smith and Don Barbieri. Katey Treloar, a former teacher who founded and operated Executive Function Coaching LLC, received backing from business groups.
In District 3, Kitty Klitzke, who has worked for the Lands Council and Futurewise, and served on a variety of local and regional transportation commissions, had financial support from Smith and Barbieri as well as the firefighters union. Earl Moore, a longtime respiratory therapist and member of the Spokane Human Rights Commission, had support from the Washington Realtors PAC and other real estate and development interests.
Jobs, memberships and donations don’t completely define any candidate, and their success or lack of it is often affected by other things like a strong campaign organization or a key issue.
But in this year’s Spokane elections, the general alignments seemed clear: Woodward, Plese, Cathcart, Treloar and Moore versus Brown, Wilkerson, Shaw, Dillon and Klitzke.
The vote count as of Friday seems to bear that out. Although thousands of ballots remain to be counted, results to date from the five races show a definite pattern that probably won’t surprise close observers of Spokane city politics.
As they have for several election cycles, conservative candidates did best in District 1, the precincts generally located east of Division Street and north of Interstate 90. This despite the fact that those precincts made up a significant portion of the legislative district that sent Brown to Olympia for some 20 years.
Progressive candidates did best in District 2, which encompasses most of Spokane south of I-90 and along the Sunset Highway.
District 3, which has voters west of Division from the north city limits to part of downtown, is more of a tossup. The voters south of Francis were more likely to cast their ballots for Brown and other progressives. Those north of that arterial were more likely to vote for Woodward and Plese, but in the council race supported Klitzke.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this column incorrectly attributed personal contributions from Sharon Smith and Don Barbieri to three council candidates as being from the Progressive Fund that has their name. The story was changed on Nov. 13, 2023.