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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane County Democrats investigating incident at Pride between chair Naida Spencer and Legislative candidate Natasha Hill

Natasha Hill is running for state representative in Washington’s 3rd Legislative District.  (Natasha Hill campaign)

The Spokane County Democrats are investigating a heated exchange during the June 7 Spokane Pride Festival between the party’s chair, Naida Spencer, and Natasha Hill, a local attorney, activist and interim editor of The Black Lens who is running for a state House position as a Democrat.

Hill and Spencer were involved in a nearly hourlong scene in front of the county party’s booth at the event.

Some who witnessed the incident said Hill yelled disparaging remarks about her Democratic opponent, Ben Stuckart, and accused Spencer of racism for attempting to intervene and causing passersby to join the quarrel.

Hill and her supporters say the candidate only was attempting to campaign at the event and draw factual distinctions between herself and Stuckart. In an interview, Hill said things got heated after Spencer tried to control what she was saying and eventually threatened to call security, but at no point was she disparaging Stuckart or being inappropriately hostile to party members.

“I don’t think they liked that I was using my voice,” Hill said.

Hill and Stuckart are running for state House Position 1 in the 3rd Legislative District, which represents central Spokane. The seat is being vacated by Rep. Marcus Riccelli, who decided to run for state Senate.

Though a Republican, Tony Kiepe, is also running in the race, the reliably blue district could come down to which of the two Democrats come out on top in the August primary. Stuckart and Hill have been endorsed by the county party.

Spencer declined to provide an account of the incident, citing an investigation involving collecting written accounts and commentary from people present during the exchange and giving them to a third-party who was not involved.

Miguel Valencia, who is a member of the county party’s executive board and is running for a state Senate seat in the 4th Legislative District, which includes Spokane Valley, was also manning the booth alongside Spencer and other volunteers. According to Valencia, Hill started giving a stump speech in front of the booth, saying that “Ben Stuckart doesn’t care about renters; he’s not for rent stabilization.”

Hill said she was referring to statements Stuckart made during an endorsement meeting with the county party. Stuckart wrote in a statement to The Spokesman-Review that he supported rent control only if it was temporary and tied to development goals, arguing that increased housing development was the best way to help renters long term.

At some point, Stuckart’s campaign manager, Haley Turner, and two volunteers walked into the area where Hill was. Turner said that Hill saw them in their campaign T-shirts with Stuckart’s name on them and began yelling the same toward them, as well as “Ben Stuckart doesn’t support Spokane.”

Hill denied saying this or anything about Stuckart, beyond repeating “what he had said himself.”

Spencer attempted to intervene, asking Hill to either move away from the booth or stop personally disparaging her Democratic opponent, given that both candidates had been endorsed, Valencia said. At this point, Hill began yelling at Spencer, he added.

“As soon as Naida told her that, Natasha responded with, you basically just want to silence a Black woman,” he continued. “I’m an Army veteran, and I was in shock at the aggressiveness with how Natasha responded to that.”

Hill acknowledged that the conversation escalated at this point and was “loud” due to the Pride festival environment, but denied mentioning her race and expressed in the interview that it was “interesting to hear how scared and threatened” Spencer and others felt. She told The Spokesman-Review that she had offered to move.

In response to the argument, Spencer removed Hill’s signs from the county party’s booth and said she would call security if Hill continued. Valencia claimed that Hill responded by saying, “I (expletive) dare you.”

Hill denied cursing.

“I said, are you really going to call police on a Black woman?” Hill said.

Due to her activism and involvement with The Black Lens where she has “reported on (the Spokane Police Department) being the second-deadliest police force in the country,” Hill said she believed local police would be prejudiced against her.

The Black Lens receives some volunteer production assistance from current and former members of The Spokesman-Review newsroom, but the publication is independent from The Spokesman-Review. As reported before the relaunch of The Black Lens in February, Gonzaga University has donated office space to the publication, which it moved into earlier this Spring. The Black Lens also is independent from Gonzaga, with its editor reporting directly to the newly formed 501(c)(3)’s board of directors, which includes members of founding editor and publisher Sandy Williams’ family.

Hill relaunched The Black Lens this year, but her role as interim editor will end June 30. April Eberhardt will take over the position on July 1.

The threat of “using state authority on someone who did not comply” was egregious, Hill said, though she also acknowledged that Spencer had threatened to call the Pride festival’s security, not police.

At this point, Hill began addressing people in the festival crowd.

“Natasha kept yelling, ‘The county party wants to shut up a Black woman, they don’t want to hear from voices like me,’ kind of building a crowd of supporters that would stop by and hear her talk,” Valencia said. “A few people were surrounding Naida and calling her a racist and white supremacist, and someone said this is an example of American colonialism.”

Valencia added that someone in the crowd turned to him and the others in the booth and said “those three white (expletives) over there are going to stand there and let this happen.”

Hill said that she wasn’t aware of what others were allegedly saying to Spencer.

“Some people did get angry because it was a white woman who threatened to call security on a Black woman,” Hill said.

Around this time, Bob Maureen, a Hill supporter who owns and operates Coaching Leaders and among other courses leads sessions on racial healing alongside Hill’s sister, Lacrecia, arrived with a few others.

“(Hill) was yelling, ‘They don’t want you to know the truth,’ ” Maureen said. “Natasha just kept saying, ‘She’s threatening to call security,’ and she said, ‘I’m the only candidate that supports rent control.’ ”

Maureen said party leaders acted inappropriately toward Hill.

Matthew Danielson, the executive director of Spokane Pride, which organizes the annual event, said he was walking around when he noticed the exchange. Hill turned to him and was “talking heatedly” about how the party had responded to her and about her support for last year’s Pride event. He tried to get Hill to lower her voice and told her, “This is not what Pride is about,” Maureen said.

Danielson denied getting involved and said he intentionally kept himself out of the situation.

“I hate hostility at Pride,” Danielson said. “I literally think Pride is the most loving weekend downtown Spokane has, and I just hated that prominent figures in the community were spreading hostility there.”

“Pride is about peace and love, not whatever the hell that was,” he added.

Hill said she was surprised to hear Danielson’s description of what occurred.

“It’s unfortunate that was his perception of a white woman threatening to call the police on me, or security, whatever you want to call it,” she said.

Maureen also believes that Danielson acted inappropriately in that situation, and that Hill’s anger was a justifiable response to the party’s actions.

“Matt should have recognized that Natasha’s response was appropriate for the situation at hand and should have been telling the party, put the signs back up and deal with your complaint process later,” Maureen argued. “Instead, they dug their heels in like they wanted the angry Black lady to back away.”

In an interview, Hill said that she believes distinguishing herself from her opponent on the issue of rent control is important this election, but particularly for LGBTQ+ residents of the district who may face greater housing instability.

“Spokane cannot afford more unhoused community members,” she said.

Spencer later apologized for threatening to call security. Valencia and others said the interaction had a significant emotional impact on the party chair.

Stuckart was not present during this exchange, having left the event sometime after marching in the parade with the Spokane County Democrats. Hill was also invited to march with the party, Spencer said, but only Stuckart did so. In a text, Stuckart said that he didn’t take issue with Hill’s characterization on his position on rent control, but with her alleged statement that he did not support renters or the city of Spokane, where he previously served as City Council president.

Spencer said in a Wednesday interview that the results of the investigation likely would be released sometime this week after the Spokane County Democratic Convention, which was at the time scheduled to occur last Saturday. The convention, however, was postponed after Spencer, who was already experiencing an unrelated medical issue, was hospitalized Friday, according to Christin Crowder, second vice chair of the county party.

Crowder said Friday that the investigation may take longer than initially expected.