In a few short weeks, pieces of paper will be mailed to voters in Spokane that will determine who controls the levers of power in City Hall. Voters will hear from candidates beckoning them to fill out and turn in their ballots. But some of these candidates haven't always followed their own urgings.
In Spokane County, voting participation rates generally fall into a pattern of less than half of voters turning in ballots in the primary election and usually more than half (80 percent in 2012) participating in the general.
A review by the Inlander of Spokane County Elections Office records going back three years shows that several candidates have fallen into patterns not unlike the people they hope to represent.
Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan is easily the council's most conservative member, often casting the sole dissenting vote on a range of issues. He's also arguably the council's most controversial member, nearly losing his seat earlier this year on the board overseeing the Spokane Regional Health District after making comments questioning the safety of vaccines and linking outbreaks of measles to immigrants.
His political foes are hoping that Randy Ramos, a volunteer recruiter for the Spokane Tribal College and life-skills coach at the Healing Lodge of the Seven Nations drug treatment center, will topple Fagan from his seat representing northeast Spokane. Ramos has received the endorsement of Spokane County Democrats. He's also raised $6,144 to Fagan's $3,620.
But Fagan says his opponent hasn't been adequately involved in the district, which he says is reflected in Ramos' voting record. According to county records, Ramos cast his first-ever vote in Spokane in the April special election after registering in February.
"Randy needs to be made to understand that he will be voting every Monday night [during city council meetings]," says Fagan. "Is he up for that? He just recently got registered, and it's his first election. So where is the concern for the community? If he is a concerned member of the community, he would be an active voter."
Ramos, who won the Inlander's Peirone Prize in 2014 for his work at the Spokane Tribal College, says that his situation as a single working father who didn't have time for politics is common in his district. He's hoping that his arc from apathy to engagement will be equally common.
In some ways, Ramos has been a prodigal son. After growing up in Spokane, he spent time in Seattle, San Diego and Phoenix. He's grappled with a gambling addiction, and ended up impoverished on the Spokane Indian reservation before returning to the city in 2012. He says his outlook changed last year while working for the college and the drug treatment center.
"I started to realize that you need to speak up," he says. "You need to have your voice heard if you are going to change your position and create a better quality of life."
Fagan's other opponent, Ben Krauss, a crime analyst for the city of Spokane, voted in the 2012 general election but has skipped every other election for the past three years, according to records. Krauss, who has raised no money, did not respond to a request for comment.
Evan Verduin, an architect and member of the Spokane Plan Commission, is hoping to unseat Karen Stratton, who was appointed last year to finish out the term of Steve Salvatori, whose district encompasses northwest Spokane.
Verduin has received endorsements from Mayor David Condon, developer Jerry Dicker and former council members Salvatori and Nancy McLaughlin. Since filing to run in May, he's quickly raised money. As of press time, he's raised $23,630 to Stratton's $21,428.
But Verduin says that his mind hasn't always been on politics, which is reflected in his voting record. In the past three years of elections, Verduin has only voted in the general elections in 2012 and 2014.
"If he didn't take the time to vote, how is he going to take the time to understand the issues?" says Stratton of Verduin. "I think that before you ask people for your vote, you should take the time to vote. That is just fundamental."
Verduin says that he didn't vote in primary elections because he wanted to see how things would shake out before casting his vote in the general election.
He also sat out the April special election where voters narrowly turned down a sales tax increase that would have been used by the Spokane Transit Authority to maintain and enhance bus service. Verduin says he supported the concept, but not the funding mechanism, so he decided it was best not to vote.
"Honestly, between raising my family and running my business, I didn't vote, but I should have," says Verduin, the father of three little girls.
Stratton, whose parents both held elected office, has voted in every election since August 2013, as has her other opponent, West Central neighborhood activist Kelly Cruz.
In other races, candidates have been more diligent about voting. All candidates for mayor and Spokane City council president have voted in every election since August 2012.
Lori Kinnear, a legislative aide to Councilwoman Amber Waldref, and downtown business owner John Waite, both of whom are running to replace the outgoing Mike Allen, have voted in every election since November 2012. Perry District business owner LaVerne Biel, who is also running, missed the primary election in 2012.
Waldref isn't on the ballot this year. However, when she was running for reelection in 2013, she didn't vote for herself or anyone else in the August primary. She also didn't respond to a request for comment.
In April, the Spokane City Council passed a resolution expressing support for a ballot proposal that would increase a sales tax to support and improve bus service provided by the Spokane Transit Authority. Although Councilwoman Candace Mumm voted in favor of the resolution, records show she didn't vote in the election.
Mumm says she made the mistake of not putting her ballot in the mail in time for it to be counted.
"I was very disappointed," she says. "And I will be taking it to the [drop box] at library in the future." ♦