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Valley councilman challenged by veteran politician for his seat

Spokane Valley City Councilman Tim Hattenburg is running for re-election against former Washington state Rep. Rob Chase.
Photos courtesy of Doug Nadvornick/SPR and Washington State House of Representatives
Spokane Valley City Councilman Tim Hattenburg is running for re-election against former Washington state Rep. Rob Chase.

Spokane Valley City Councilman Tim Hattenburg is an anomaly. Though the council is officially non-partisan, Hattenburg is a Democrat serving in elected office in a strongly Republican city.

Now he’s seeking a second four-year term. But to win re-election, he must defeat a well-known former state legislator and Spokane County treasurer, Republican Rob Chase.

TIM HATTENBURG

Tim Hattenburg talks about his childhood growing up in the Spokane Valley when it was still mostly rural and agricultural. He was 11 when he began picking fruits and vegetables.

“My older sister and four of my older brothers worked the fields and I wanted to work and, of course, child labor law, you’re supposed to be 12. She goes, ‘Just tell them you’re 12. They won’t check.’ And so I did. That’s how I started in the strawberry fields. And I ended up working in the orchards as well,” he says.

Hattenburg says he picked fruit near Wenatchee for a few summers to put himself through Washington State University. He went on to a long career as a history teacher, coach and athletic director at Central Valley High School. After he retired, he served for 10 years as a member of the Spokane County Library District board. Now he’s finishing his first four-year term on the Spokane Valley City Council.

He says, during his first two years on the council, he and three moderate colleagues often worked together with a 4-3 majority. He’s especially proud that the council voted to buy two pieces of land that will be turned into parks. One is a 47-acre parcel on the north side of the Spokane River near Flora Road. He says the city is exploring whether it might develop a cross-country course there that could be a draw for collegiate regional and national-level races within the next few years.

After the 2021 election, the council became more conservative and Hattenburg doubts that will change in November, even if he’s re-elected. Still, he says the council functions well most of the time.

“We’re not going to agree on everything, however one of the reporters pointed out, the first two years I was on the council, the seven of us at that time and now, voted 92% the same way,” he said. “It’s not what you see on the national level or partisan politics.”

As proof of that, Hattenburg says the mayor appointed him in March to serve as one of the city’s representatives to the committee that’s exploring whether to create a countywide agency to address homelessness on a regional basis.

“It’s a work in progress, but now we, after about six months, have decided where we’re going to start and we can all buy into it. It’ll help,” he said.

Hattenburg says, on its own, Spokane Valley has dedicated resources to helping about 130 people who are living on the streets and devoted a team of four to the problem.

But he believes a more coordinated regional approach will pay off in the long run.

“It’s a challenge for everybody and I think the public realizes that. When I first got on council, people would say, ‘Can’t you do something about this?’ Now they realize all of us are, whether it be city of Spokane or Spokane Valley. The last meeting we had I believe there were at least 25 people there from around the region, sharing their thoughts and ideas and that’s what it’s going to take,” he said.

ROB CHASE

Hattenburg’s challenger is Republican Rob Chase, who has a broad range of political interests include moving the U.S. government back to a national gold standard. Many of his views align with the limited-government Libertarian Party, but his two elected gigs came when he identified as Republican. Chase served one term as a state legislator, losing his seat in 2022 to fellow Republican Leonard Christian. Before that he worked for eight years as Spokane County treasurer.

“People would come to my office and they would say, ‘Can I make payments on my property taxes?’ And I said, ‘No, we’ve got a state law that says I have to collect the entire amount. Nothing less.’ They said, ‘Well, even the IRS will take partial payments.’ I agree with you. We should, but if you want to come to Olympia with me and we’ll work to get that changed. And we did. It took three years. Now it’s up to the county treasurers to take payments, any amount, any time.”

Chase counts that as his biggest legislative accomplishment. He said he looked forward to doing more in Olympia, but the voters didn’t give him that chance. Many criticized him for his political alliance with controversial former Republican legislator Matt Shea.

Now he’s turning his sights to local government, where he feels he can have more influence. His top issue?

“Trying to stop the blight that’s coming in,” he said. “Seattle is dying. Spokane is right behind, so we’re trying to prevent that from happening. If we start early, maybe we can mitigate those problems.”

Chase says Spokane Valley isn’t immune from crime and homelessness and is, in fact, developing a reputation as a place that’s becoming less safe.

“Some of my friends from the valley have moved to Idaho,” he said.

On homelessness, Chase diverges from Hattenburg in that he’s skeptical about a regional approach.

“Local decisions are better,” he said. “Being close to the problem and talking to the neighbors.”

Fiscally, Chase says Spokane Valley is doing well, thanks to its conservative approach to budgeting and aversion to raising taxes. If that’s true, why should they spurn Hattenburg and vote for Chase instead?

“It’s non-partisan, but you know which machine is behind which person,” he said. “I’m more conservative, less likely to raise taxes as he might be in some cases.”

Chase says he hadn’t planned on running, but former state Rep. Bob McCaslin dropped out of the race and ran for county auditor instead. Chase said councilmembers Rod Higgins and Pam Haley asked him to step in and run.

“I think one thing I can add to it is I have county experience and legislative experience and I’ve been an activist out there too,” he said.

The Hattenburg-Chase race is different in tone than some of the city of Spokane races, where candidates and outside interests are spending tens of thousand dollars to take shots at each other. In contrast, Hattenburg and Chase are running a friendly, low-key, low-budget campaign. As of the first week of October, Hattenburg had raised about $16,000 and spent less than $1,500. Chase raised $4,000 and spent about $800.

Voters in the city of Spokane Valley will see Hattenburg’s and Chase’s names on the ballots that are due to be mailed during the third week of October.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.