Spokane’s mayoral and city council candidates have addressed a wide variety of issues during this fall campaign, from homelessness to land use.
On Wednesday evening, the topic of the day was one that some of the candidates don’t even consider a local issue: climate change.
The group 350 Spokane, which pays particular attention to climate change, sponsored this forum. Four of the 10 candidates for mayor and city council skipped it. Mayoral candidate Ben Stuckart made sure the audience noticed.
“I encourage you all to take a picture of this vacant area and post it on social media because it’s not acceptable when you’re running for a public office to not show up, even when you don’t agree with the issues or you think you’ll be in a hostile crowd. That’s part of leading a community," he said.
Stuckart and the other candidates considered to be progressives, Breean Beggs, Karen Stratton and Lori Kinnear, were there as were two considered to be conservatives, Michael Cathcart and Tony Kiepe.
The first question proferred by 350 Spokane co-founder Brian Henning got right to the point.
“Do you believe that global warming is caused mostly by human activities and second, what, if any, are your concerns about global warming’s effects on Spokane, the Inland Northwest and the world?” Henning asked.
Most of the candidates answered, yes, they believe in climate change and that humans are responsible. They offered a variety of concerns, including hotter summers and greater impact from wildfires.
Cathcart was part of that group, but...
“It’s not something I really think about every single day, to be perfectly honest with you," Cathcart said. "As I’m knocking on doors and talking to my constituents in District 1, it’s not an issue that’s brought up to me. In fact, I’ve had only one individual whose door I knocked on bring the issue up.”
And then all eyes turned to Tony Kiepe.
“I don’t believe in global warming.”
But there is a twist.
“I put solar panels on my house last year.”
Kiepe said he didn’t do it to make an environmental statement. He did it because it made economic sense. His utility bills are much lower and, with the available incentives, he’s getting rebate checks every year in the mail.
“We need everybody to do their part and I don’t believe the government should say you have to do this, but let’s do marketing, let’s do strategies," he said. "I’m a good example. I can tell everybody what it’s done for me and my wife just by having the solar panels. So why don’t more people have them on their house?”
Kiepe’s admission seemed to take some of the tension out of the room. Candidates still disagreed on some issues, for example, government regulation versus incentives, especially when it comes to reducing greenhouse gases.
But on other issues, there was some agreement. Cathcart, who formerly worked for the Spokane Homebuilders Association, says Spokane must be smarter when making decisions about how to solve its housing shortage.
“I would like to see us, as some have mentioned, push for more density in our centers and corridors. That’s really important. We can support our employers that way. We can build more units. We can start to see more affordable housing options that way," Cathcart said.
Speaking of options, Breean Beggs said the city, through the centers and corridors strategy, is working to give folks more options for getting around the city.
“If you want to drive a car, you can choose. But if you want to ride a bike with good bicycle infrastructure, if you want to ride a bus with other people, a community, it’s easier and cheaper for you than a car, that’s what you will have the choice to do, and so, all of our incentives should be going in the direction of density," Beggs said.
In one other bit of common ground, Cathcart said the city could do a better job promoting bicycling if it would build barriers on streets to physically separate cars from bicycles, as is done in other nations. That was a popular suggestion with the audience.