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Washington Governor Signs Five Commissioner Bill for Spokane County

Washington governor's office/House Democratic Caucus

Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed into law today (Wed) a bill that will require Spokane County to expand its board of county commissioners from three members to five. This bill was unusual in that most of the area’s legislators, from both parties, sponsored it and each of the three Spokane County commissioners opposed it.

The bill is dubbed the Responsible Representation Act. It applies to non-charter counties with populations of at least 400,000. The only county to which this applies is Spokane.

The new law not only adds two commissioners, it also requires them to be elected by district, not at-large, beginning in 2022.

The bill had strong bipartisan support from the representatives who serve at least some people in Spokane County, including Democrat Marcus Riccelli.

“We are the largest county in the state that does have more than three elected officials running our county. If you look at all the large counties in our state, they all have forms of government that have more representation," Riccelli said. "I think this will bring democracy closer to the people and make elected officials more accountable to the constituents.

Spokane’s county commissioners had sent a letter to the governor, urging him to veto it. Commissioner Al French says the county’s voters said no to five commissioners in a ballot measure than failed in 2015.  

“The legislators, our legislators, both Rs and Ds, ignored the will of the voters and put forward a piece of legislation that’s actually even worse than what was on the ballot two years ago,” French said.

Commissioner Josh Kerns says he worries about the cost of adding two commissioners. He estimates a one-time cost of a half-million to install the new system and then another 550-thousand per year to support it.

But he says the bill is more than adding two commissioners. He says, just as important, the new Voting Rights Act signed by the governor earlier this month may have forced a change in the way commissioners are elected.

“I don’t think it’s any stretch of the imagination to believe that if this bill hadn’t gone into effect that we wouldn’t see a push under what is now laid out in the Voting Rights Act to district-based voting,” Kerns said.

French believes there will be a legal challenge to the new law, either brought by Spokane County or the Washington Association of Counties on behalf of the county.