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Recapping Washington (and Spokane County) Primary Election

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To use a sports analogy, the match-ups are set for Washington’s 2017 general election. Voters this week narrowed the field of candidates in the primary election, setting up some interesting races for local offices.

In the city of Spokane, two incumbents fared well in winning on Tuesday.

    ?    In the Northwest district, council member Candace Mumm will face Matthew Howes.
    ?    And in the South district, council member Breean Beggs will be challenged by Andy Dunau.

There is no incumbent in the third race, in the Northeast. Amber Waldref is ineligible to run again, so two newcomers are facing off: Kate Burke and Tim Benn.

In that race, Burke touts her experience as an aide to state Senator Andy Billig. Benn runs a daycare with his wife. Both candidates say improving the infrastructure in their district is among their most important issues.

“We see our community over in northeast Spokane with a lack of infrastructure, lack of roads, lack of construction, lack of sidewalks, lack of crosswalks and I think, if I can just focus on those basic needs, the quality of our life will just get a little bit higher. I’m not saying that’s the end-all, be-all. But I sort of want to focus on that first," Burke said. "Door knocking out there, every person says the only thing they want the city to do better is streets, roads, sidewalks, crosswalks, public safety. So those are the hot button issues.”

“We have a lot of industrial land that’s underutilized where there could be family wage jobs. We’ve lost companies that wanted to place up there but the city’s not ready with the proper infrastructure. I think those are great opportunities," Benn said. "There’s a big void right through the center of District 1, the footprint of the North-South, what I like to call the North-South economic corridor because I think the North-South Freeway can bring opportunity and prosperity and jobs and housing. But it can also be a method to just pass Spokane by.”

In the South district, the challengers complained that the city council’s focus is often on issues more important to people outside the city, for example, trains that move through Spokane carrying oil or uncovered coal, or climate change. Council member Breean Beggs disputes that, saying the current council has been effective on a variety of core issues.

“Roads, we’re spending more money on roads than we ever have. We have more construction value investment in this town in the last couple of years than we’ve ever had. Essentially since the new council took over in 2014, business investment in this town is going up, unemployment is going down," Beggs said. "Since I have been on the council, crime is going down. So we are doing the people’s work, but if people want a change they focus on one thing out of context essentially.”

Challenger Andy Dunau runs a company that manages three non-profit organizations with environmental roots. He says the council needs someone who can advocate for a clean environment in luring new workers to Spokane.

“That means you need to have a really good balance between green infrastructure, whether it’s parks, river access, and gray infrastructure, the roads, bridges and so forth," Dunau said. "Finding that balance is critical because, otherwise, people who can live anywhere they want or join any company they want, we are going to lose the labor war and that is going to be bad for our economic development.”

In the Northwest, council member Candace Mumm stresses her work in helping to develop new infrastructure in the city, especially more effective siting of crosswalks. Mumm is a former city Plan Commission president who says she’s excited about new projects in her district that have come about because of changes in the city’s comprehensive plan.

“I’m excited to see the neighborhoods come together, the Northwest neighborhood and the Audubon-Downriver neighborhood, come together to work on a new plan for Shadle Center. Not necessarily just inside Shadle Center, but what happens around it," Mumm said.

"We’ve got Shadle High, Glover, other schools in the area. We’ve got transit moving through. That’s a great shopping center, it’s very busy, but boy, we could really help out in making it safer to walk and bike and park. And what can we do to support, you know, when people are going to the baseball game at Shadle, let’s see what we can do to make it a little safer there and the library as well,” she said.

Mumm will run against Matthew Howes, a small business owner who lists building the tax base, not increasing taxes, as one of his top priorities. In his campaign literature, he also lists prioritizing spending as a concern and he wants to limit marijuana advertising. Howes didn’t respond to our request for an interview.

In the Spokane School District, board member Michael Wiser won an easy victory with 57% of the vote in a four-way race. It appears he’ll face Jennifer Thomas, who has about 19% of the vote, in November.

At an election night gathering, Thomas acknowledged Spokane’s graduation rate is increasing, But she says 16% still do not qualify for their diplomas and that’s too high.

“We need to make sure that education is not just about testing, that education is about becoming a learner," Thomas said. "So learning to read and then reading to learn. That students can become engaged in their own education process and not continuing to use the same broken system that we’ve had for over 150 years that tells students here’s what you need to know, pass the test, move on.”

We will try to work to get the local candidates in our studio in late September and early October before the general election ballots are sent out.

Though the odd-year election is usually reserved for local races in Washington, the November election will have a huge impact on next year’s legislative session. When Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond) died of cancer last year, it left the Majority Coalition, which consists of Republicans and one conservative Democrat who reliably votes with Republicans, with 24 members. Democrats also have 24 members.

In the primary in that district in Seattle’s eastern suburbs, the Democratic candidate, Manka Dhingra, defeated Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund by about nine percentage points. The two will square off again in November in what could be one of the most expensive campaigns in Washington legislative history.

There’s one other Senate seat up for grabs, in northeast Washington’s Seventh Legislative District. But if Tuesday’s results are an indication, that race will be much less competitive. Sen. Shelly Short (R-Addy) won more than 67% of the vote in her bid for re-election. Short was named to fill that Senate seat during the session after her predecessor resigned. Short’s challenger, Democrat Karen Hardy, will get a second chance in November.

Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber (R-Republic), who was named to fill Short’s House seat, won nearly 66% of the vote in defeating Democrat Susan Swanson. The two will face off again later this fall.

Maycumber was Short’s legislative aide when she was named to fill the House seat.

At an election night gathering in Spokane, she said she was pleased that the first bill she introduced became law. It was a measure that helps rural people made homeless by wildfires. It also allows authorities to call in reinforcements for wildfires instead of waiting for the state.

“In Pateros when you wait 24 hours, a 10,000-acre fire can go to 100-thousand," Maycumber said. "So it allows your local districts to fight it right away. And it also allows DNR to provide equipment and DNR has already started giving equipment to our local districts to allow them to fight it right away. It’s the first response that we really need in our areas and it’s already gone in and we’ve already had fires in our areas and they’ve already been able to tackle them. So it’s a really good situation.”

The statewide voter turnout was about 24%. Spokane County's turnout is 22%. Lincoln and Ferry counties had two of the highest turnout rates; Lincoln nearly 45%, Ferry 36%.