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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Congressional candidates of both parties face off in North Central High School debate ahead of 5th district primary

The 5th Congressional District debate was hosted Tuesday at the North Central High School Auditorium and moderated by North Central student Daisy Tuter, Spokesman-Review city hall reporter Emry Dinman and Inlander staff writer Nate Sanford.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Nine congressional candidates faced off Tuesday night at North Central High School – in a debate with questions culled from the high school student body.

Hosted by the Spokane-area high school, the debate was sponsored by The Spokesman-Review, the Inlander and Spokane Public Radio.

Republicans on the debate stage included former Trump administration official Brian Dansel, state Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber, Spokane City Councilman Jonathan Bingle, Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner and radio host Rene Holaday – a previous legislative aide to former state Rep. Matt Shea.

Based on her low fundraising totals, Holaday did not qualify to appear on Tuesday night’s debate stage. But after noting an invitation had been offered before it was rescinded, Holaday threatened on social media to join the stage and disrupt the event.

The school decided to allow Holaday to participate, rather than force her to leave.

Democrats in the debate included Carmela Conroy, a retired U.S. consul general; Dr. Bernadine Bank, an OB/GYN; Matthew Welde, a Kootenai County deputy prosecuting attorney; and small business owner Ann Marie Danimus.

Two other candidates who have filed, including Republican Rick Valentine Flynn and Democrat Bobbi Bennett-Wolcott, were disqualified and not invited.

TikTok ban

High school students first wanted to know the candidates’ positions on banning TikTok.

The social media app popular among the nation’s youth was the target of recent legislation by Congress that either forces a sale of the Chinese-owned app or a ban on the app in the United States.

All Republicans on the stage were supportive of the forced sale of TikTok, while Democrats were lukewarm on the proposed bill.

“We’re giving a foreign country – a foreign entity an upper hand and that’s what I’m against,” Maycumber told the students. She asked them to ask themselves if they are a “participant” of the platform or a “victim” of Chinese data mining and undue influence.

Bank called the proposed ban “disingenuous,” while Welde said the bill did not meet the burden needed to take such a drastic action.

2020 election

Dansel and Holaday were the only candidates to definitively claim President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected in 2020.

“I totally believe that the election in 2020 was not legitimate,” Dansel said. “I just don’t believe that. People can and people have told me that I’m out of my mind for that. But because of all the fraud and mail and voting, I don’t believe it.”

Maycumber said she had “grave concerns” over the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

Republican Bingle definitively opposed Trump’s claims that voter fraud cost him the last election.

“I believe Joe Biden has been an absolutely terrible president, probably the worst president of my life. I don’t believe it’s anywhere close,” he said. “But if Donald Trump had a legitimate case, he would have won in court.”

Baumgartner said Biden was legitimately elected but that current election rules like mail-in voting “build a sense of unfairness” in the voting system.

All Democrats on the stage said Biden was legitimately elected.


One of the most heated exchanges in the debate centered on immigration. Republicans argued in favor of finishing former President Trump’s border wall, while Democrats said they would support bipartisan immigration reform shot down earlier this year by some House Republicans.

That bill would have given the president authority to temporarily prohibit individuals from seeking asylum when the system is overwhelmed, attempt to streamline the immigration process and provide funding for border security.

Conroy said Republicans abandoned the bipartisan bill because giving Biden the accomplishment would have hurt Trump’s 2024 bid.

“Republicans in the House of Representatives turned it down because, ironically, a convicted felon told them not to,” she said , referring to Trump’s recent felony convictions.

Several candidates touted their recent visits to the southern border. Baumgartner said he saw abandoned and rusting parts of Trump’s unfinished border wall .

“That was the most disturbing thing I saw,” he said.

Holaday said Biden’s inaction on the border has caused an invasion in the country.

“It’s not immigration anymore; it’s an invasion. And this has to be seen for what it is,” she said , also suggesting that 100,000 “military agents” of the Chinese Communist Party have come into the United States through the Mexico border.

Aid to Israel

Democrats Welde and Danimus said military aid to Israel should be conditioned upon humanitarian concerns over civilian casualties in Gaza.

“We should condition military aid to Israel and on the Netanyahu government using a less indiscriminate approach to conducting the war that takes more into account civilian harm and casualties and allows for more aid to make it to innocent civilians,” said Welde , who also suggested Israel was “carpet-bombing” Gaza.

Danimus said “all military aid should be conditional” on countries following international human rights.

A former diplomat, Conroy said removing U.S. aid would not be in the interest of United States national security.

“The United States withdrawing its security umbrella from Israel would result in a regional conflict and far more death and destruction than what we’re seeing now,” she said.

All Republicans on the panel said aid to Israel should not be conditional.

Dansel also suggested protests on college campuses against that aid were “fitting for Nazi Germany in 1942,” and urged school administrators “to put an end” to protests.

Gun rights

Dansel said there should be “absolutely no restrictions” on the Second Amendment “whatsoever.”

Bingle said because of crime in Spokane he carries a firearm “everywhere he goes.”

“I’m not taking any chances down there. I carry in buildings, I carry when I walk places, I carry everywhere because I have three young children and I’m not leaving them without a father,” he said.

While stating “gun bans don’t work,” Bank added that there are some firearm restrictions that are common sense.

“We have to get away from bumper sticker logic and look at the facts. Waiting periods do work, tightening loopholes and strengthening background checks work,” she said.