Republicans fend off Democrats running for Spokane County Commission

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County Commissioner Shelly O'Quinn glided to re-election. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • County Commissioner Shelly O'Quinn glided to re-election.

Ever since Todd Mielke left the Spokane County Board of Commissioners in January, the Spokane GOP’s main priority was keeping a Democrat from taking the seat come November.

While there are ballots yet to be counted, it appears that they succeeded, though without the candidate they initially thought would win the seat. Republican Josh Kerns is beating Democratic Spokane City Councilwoman Candace Mumm by a roughly 52 to 48 margin, according to preliminary results Tuesday night.

“I’m thrilled and I’m humbled by the support from the voters of the county,” Kerns said Tuesday night.

Mumm did not expect Kerns to be her opponent in the general election. In February, Spokane County GOP precinct committee officers appointed former Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin to fill the seat vacated by Mielke. The thinking, for many, was that she would have the best chance to keep the seat in November. Kerns, a legislative aide for state Rep. Jeff Holy, was the precinct committee officers’ second choice at the time.

But McLaughlin, facing a challenge from Mumm on the left and Kerns on the right, lost in the primary election — a result that stunned many, including Mumm, who said she was surprised that someone with “no political or elected experience would be my challenger.”

Before Tuesday, Kerns employed the same strategy against Mumm that he used against McLaughlin: challenging her record as a city councilwoman. He criticized Mumm, who portrayed herself as a moderate Democrat, for supporting a sick-leave ordinance requiring businesses to pay for up to five sick days each year, and for helping pass a resolution to put a measure on the ballot to fine railroads for sending oil and coal trains through Spokane. (She later voted to take it off the ballot.) Mumm, meanwhile, questioned Kerns’ relationship with far-right Spokane Valley state Rep. Matt Shea, specifically how Kerns would support law enforcement as Shea and Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich continue their years-long public feud.

Kerns, who made bringing jobs to Spokane his priority, says he can promise that he will not support the same regulations as the city that, he says, hurts businesses.

“I am going to be someone who’s out there making sure we keep Spokane County as business-friendly as possible.”

Mumm, while not yet ready to concede the election Tuesday, guessed Kerns’ strong numbers may reflect the strength shown Tuesday for Republicans in the rest of the county. And while her campaign focused, in part, on coordination with the county and city of Spokane especially when it comes to land-use issues, and smarter planning for development of neighborhoods, she doesn’t think a loss kills that goal.

“I think I can still accomplish that whether I’m on the city council or on the county commission,” Mumm says.

With Kerns leading by just under 5 percent Tuesday night, the other Republican on the ballot for county commissioner, Shelly O’Quinn, celebrated a much wider margin of victory over challenger Andrew Biviano.

Tuesday’s results had O’Quinn leading Biviano with a 21-point margin and 60 percent of the vote, mirroring her win over Biviano in the primary. She expected a slightly tighter race in the general election.

“I didn’t expect it to be that high, but I’ll take it,” O’Quinn says.

She credits some success to not taking the election for granted and not making assumptions.

“[O’Quinn] should feel good about the fact that people seem to think she’s doing a good job,” Biviano says.

Biviano, an attorney, pushed for faster criminal justice and mental health reform in the county, arguing that his experience in those areas is greater than O’Quinn’s. He hopes that the county will have more urgency in addressing those issues in the future.

O’Quinn, who won her seat on the county commission in 2012, has touted her ability to save the county millions annually through lean management practices. She says she’s worked hard over the past four years, and she’s looking forward to what she can accomplish in the future:

“I have a couple great projects — I’m definitely looking forward to taking all of the work in the criminal justice system to the next level.”