One of the surprise results from the August primary in Spokane County came when a political newcomer, Democrat Robbi Katherine Anthony, defeated longtime incumbent Republican commissioner Al French. Anthony won about 55% of the vote. They’re facing each other again in the general election.
Robbi Anthony is a transgender woman who operates two companies in downtown Spokane. There’s Praxis Coworking, a place in the Holley-Mason Building where entrepreneurs can rent space and other business-related amenities, and Firedove Technology, a web design and marketing firm.
“I’m running because I want to bring a sense of fiscal responsibility to the county,” Anthony said.
Anthony points to the county’s need to cut several million dollars to balance its budget this year. She also complained about the condition of some of the county roads.
“One of the things I think is happening is there’s a lot of group-think," she said. "I want to bring a different voice to the board of commissioners, which will, hopefully, with that diversity of ideas, we can come to more comprehensive and effective solutions.”
Though Anthony has no experience as an elected official, she believes her time in the private sector qualifies her to serve in government.
“I’ve been creating enterprises for the last 10 years. I’ve certainly been very industrious. I’m a quick learner. I try to balance all obligations and really listen to people, learn how to delegate effectively, learn how to hear all the different voices on the table," she said. "I think I have a much greater willingness to go into this job, to go into this office, not trying to impose my own will over what the decision is.”
Anthony says, as a transgender woman, she has a keen interest in how government treats people.
“My ability to enlist in the military got temporarily barred and I believe it’s still working through the courts. On the state level, there were a couple of initiatives that people tried to pass through, commonly and colloquially known as the ‘bathroom bills.’ I’m not saying the county commission has taken anything away from me, but that is the genesis and the origin of feeling compelled to want to be part of government to make sure that it helps everyone," she said.
Anthony acknowledges her detractors may accuse her of having a political agenda.
“If the agenda is that making sure everyone gets a fair shake at life, I’d say that’s something that just about anyone can rally behind," Anthony said. "My whole campaign is about bringing objectivity, bringing someone that’s impartial to a political career. We’re not taking money from PACs, from unions, from anything, so we’re not tied down to anything.”
Robbi Anthony’s opponent is the two-term incumbent Al French. French has also served on the Spokane city council. He’s an architect and developer by vocation.
When asked to list his accomplishments, French said the county has reduced the size and cost of government.
“We’ve undertaken a number of measures to streamline processes, to eliminate departments, to make sure that we’re getting the taxpayers full value for the dollar and making sure that government works efficiently and effectively for them. To make sure that our courts and our prosecutor and sheriff and jail have the resources necessary to make sure that we can keep our public safe,” he said.
French says he’s been good at helping to bring new business to the county.
“The rate of growth on the West Plains has been greater in the last seven years than it was in the previous four decades. We got Caterpillar, we’ve got Odom, Wemco, corporations that located out there,” he said.
French is the chairman of the county Law and Justice Committee. He says, despite facing a several million dollar shortfall last year, the county managed to keep the sheriff’s department budget stable. And he says the county is involved in programs designed to find opportunities for people who have paid their debt to society.
“We have worked with Associated General Contractors to have an apprenticeship program provided to inmates in the Geiger Correctional Facility so that they’re learning a construction trade so that when they get out of jail, they have the opportunity for economic advancement by employment, as opposed to having to go back to a life of crime. Our recidivism rate has been reduced dramatically as a result of that program," French said.
As for the county budget, the commissioners chose not to go to voters last year to seek more than a one-percent increase in property taxes. For now, he says, the county can manage with what it has.
“Quite frankly, the economy is doing very well right now and we’re bringing in some good businesses. We’re creating new revenue through business expansion, not expansion of taxes and so I think we’re going to be fine for another year or two and we’re going to continue to work the legislature," French said. "Our biggest obstacle is the state legislature forcing unfunded mandates onto us and forcing our local taxpayers of dollars that they want to spend on local priorities and the state is spending it on state priorities.”
French is a vocal opponent of a new state law that will require Spokane County to expand its board of commissioners from three to five in the year 2022. It’s a law he says targets Spokane County. He has talked about suing to stop it from being implemented.
Though Robbi Anthony won the primary, their race only counted votes from their district. The general election will include voters from the entire county. Al French believes that will benefit him.