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

Cooper out in race for Congress, Riccelli gains challenger for state Senate

By Emry Dinman and Nick Gibson The Spokesman-Review

Candidate filing week has come to a close, bringing with it a few surprise last-minute candidates jumping into crowded and highly competitive races.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day, however, was one missing name in the race to represent Eastern Washington in Congress: Medical Lake Mayor Terri Cooper, recently ranked highly by Spokane County Republicans, had not filed by the deadline, according to the Office of the Washington Secretary of State.

Cooper did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The field, one of the most crowded in the state this year, is no thinner for Cooper’s absence, however, with the late entry of birth doula Bobbi Bennett-Wolcott, a Democrat from Pullman who has not otherwise announced her candidacy to the news media. She joins six Republicans and four other Democrats who have filed for the Fifth Congressional District seat, which is being vacated by the retiring Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

There was conversely an explosion of late entries in neighboring Fourth Congressional District, representing Central Washington, whose candidates doubled Friday. Mary Baechler of Zillah, Jane Muchlinski of Richland and Barry Knowles of Yakima all filed as Democrats Friday, while John Malan of Ephrata filed as a “MAGA Democrat.” They join the three Republicans in the race, including incumbent Rep. Dan Newhouse, Trump-endorsed Jerrod Sessler, previously failed Senate candidate Tiffany Smiley and Independent Benny Garcia III.

There was also some movement in state legislative elections within the region Friday.

State Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, now has a competitor for his bid to take the state Senate seat being vacated by state Sen. Andy Billig. Ericka Lalka, who ran for Spokane School Board last year and lost to incumbent Mike Wiser, will run as a Republican to challenge Riccelli.

More candidates have filed to serve in the 4th Legislative District than in any other, with five throwing their hat in the ring for the state Senate seat, and nine vying for the two state representative positions.

The race for the state Senate seat soon to be vacated by Sen. Mike Padden appears to have maxed out at five. Conservatives Pam Haley, Mike Kelly, Al Merkel and state Rep. Leonard Christian, and lone Democrat Miguel Valencia, filed earlier in the week.

Kristopher Pockell, a machinist who unsuccessfully ran for a Spokane Valley Fire Department commissioner seat in 2015, is the one of two candidates who’ve filed to challenge incumbent Rep. Suzanne Schmidt for the Position 1 seat. Pockell filed without a party affiliation, but filed as a Libertarian in his 2015 campaign.

Kitten Wildes Beeler, owner of the Spokane rage room Rage Xscape, filed as a Green Party candidate for the Position 1 seat Friday. She is a Whitworth University alum, according to her LinkedIn page.

Valley business owner Stephen T. Major filed for the Position 2 seat, bringing the total number of conservatives in the race to four. Former Spokane Valley City Councilwoman Brandi Peetz, fourth -generation Green Bluff cattle rancher Michael Schmidt and former Spokane County Treasurer and state Rep. Rob Chase filed earlier in the week.

Major owns and operates Extreme Expeditions Northwest, a tour company that takes interested parties to the backwoods of Alaska and Canada to search for proof of Bigfoot. He unsuccessfully ran for McMorris Rodgers’ seat in 2020, and has intermittently served as a Republican precinct committee officer in the Valley since 2006.

Ed Wood, former chair of the Spokane County Democrats, filed for the Position 2 seat Friday. Wood resigned from his role in 2020 after members of the party filed complaints against him and other party leaders for stifling inclusivity. Wood said diverse voices were incorporated under his leadership and cited issues in the way the state party’s chairwoman had dealt with a complaint as reasons behind his resignation in an interview with The Spokesman-Review at the time.

This article has been corrected to describe the business owned by Kitten Wildes Beeler.

Reporter Nick Gibson contributed to this article.