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New Spokane County Democratic chair wants to move on from past, look to future

Carmela Conroy gives the keynote speech to students at the University of Washington's Jackson School of International Studies' Convocation 2018.
Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies
Carmela Conroy gives the keynote speech to students at the University of Washington's Jackson School of International Studies' Convocation 2018.

Carmela Conroy, the newly-minted leader of the Spokane County Democratic Party, says it’s time to put discord aside and work on fielding qualified candidates in this election year.

Conroy, a former prosecutor and diplomat, took over the leadership role in February, at a fractious time for Spokane County’s Democratic Party. Press reports indicated discord among people active in the local apparatus, which Conroy characterized as a possible generational divide between the ideas and priorities of older party stalwarts and younger activists. Those disputes should be in the past, Conroy says.

“I’ve had lots of conversations with people on both ends of the generational divide,” Conroy said. “But even people who either had been identified, or self-identified as part of that friction before said that they really wanted to pull the party together.”

Conroy and her staff won’t have much time to reach their goals of electing more Democrats to office in Spokane County. This year, for the first time, county commissioners will be elected only by the people living in their district – not countywide, as had previously been the case. That change, plus new district boundaries drawn in 2021, open up at least one Spokane County Commission seat that Democrats could pick up.

Conroy says she spent much of March in “listening mode,” meeting with stakeholders, members of the community, fellow party members, and even people drawn to get involved by the reported controversy within the party.

“I think Democrats need to communicate what we’re about,” Conroy said. “The Democratic party is a party that supports the Constitution. Progressive Americans are patriotic Americans. That we are the party of fiscal responsibility, and that we’re about caring for people.”

Messaging is one of the challenges Conroy faces. Getting candidates on Spokane County ballots is another. The mid-May filing period for contenders is drawing near.

“One of the things I’ve noticed the last several years, there are an awful lot of places where we have Republican incumbents and no Democrats running against them at all,” Conroy said. “So top of mind is filling the ballot, top to bottom.”

April 3, former Spokane County criminal justice reform administrator Maggie Yates announced her bid to unseat incumbent Republican Al French in a reconfigured county commission district that includes the West Plains, Airway Heights, Cheney and part of Spokane’s South Hill. But as of the first week of April, two incumbent Republican Spokane County commissioners – Mary Kuney and Josh Kerns – had yet to drawn any Democratic challengers.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.