Spokane GOP Takes a Hard Right Turn--Again
There is a lesson in this
A month ago, on Saturday, December 12, at the Valley Assembly of God church in Spokane Valley, Steve Bannon scored a notable victory. Bannon wasn’t present in person, but the success of the “precinct strategy” that Bannon promoted was on display as the Spokane County Republican Party (aka SpokaneGOP) chose new leaders in a series of votes. We should all be paying attention.
Background—Nuts and Bolts
Like it or not, the two biggest political parties in this country are still the main organizations through which people seeking election to public office establish their candidacy. As a result, it matters in our small-d democratic lives how these parties are organized and run.
Bannon recognized that the way to control a major political party is to quietly take over its governing structure. In Washington State in even numbered years you might have noticed a contest on your ballot for a Democratic and/or Republican “Precinct Committee Officer (PCO)”. You also might not have noted such a contest because 1) they only appear on the August primary ballot (a voting opportunity that many ignore) and, 2) unlike uncontested races for judges, for instance, PCO contests don’t appear on the ballot at all unless there are two people for the same seat (something that rarely occurs these days for PCOs).
To one degree or another, our lives can be indirectly shaped by these people, so it behooves us to pay attention. In a sense, Precinct Committee Officers represent the basic building blocks of our political system and, as a result, our governance. By force of law in Washington State (See RCW 29A.80.030) PCOs comprise the “central committee” of each “major party” in each county. Every two years this “central committee” elects a party chair and vice-chair “of opposite sexes” to run the party in that county.
The strategy for party takeover should be coming into focus for you: Find one like-minded person in every voting precinct that you can, convince them of the strategy, and help them through the process of becoming a PCO (it’s not very challenging). With a bit of diligence, by December of any even-numbered election, voila!, your faction might gain majority voting power in your Party’s county governing structure. (If you want a chilling example of how this is done check out this article and/or this phone conversation recording of a far right Republican operative in Kootenai County [next door in Idaho] attempting a PCO strategy to take over and destroy the Kootenai County Democratic Party.)
Fact: In recent years citizens have drifted away from participation in party politics—partly because many of us are completely unaware of how it all works. According to Colin Teirnan in an excellent article in the Spokesman:
Two years ago, the Spokane County Republican Party had about 190 PCOs following the primary election. This year, the number soared to about 250. For comparison, the Democratic Party’s PCO count went from about 150 in 2020 to 110 after the August primary.
For reference, Spokane County is now divided into (following the redistricting process) 439 voting precincts every one of which should have a PCO from each “major” party to send to county party meetings and vote.
Steve Bannon, for all that he is the embodiment of conniving evil, is not dumb. The playbook for taking over the leadership of a major political party in this country, the “precinct strategy” was written and popularized by Dan Schultz, a man you’ve probably never heard of, an Arizonan without even so much as a wikipedia entry. In February 2021, Bannon invited Schultz on his podcast, a podcast avidly followed by Trump Republicans. Based on subsequent events it is a fair bet that a group on the far right wing of the local Spokane County Republicans listened to that podcast and read Schultz’s material. Then, sensing opportunity, they worked diligently over the next year and a half recruiting far right individuals to run for mostly uncontested PCO positions that, because they were uncontested, wouldn’t even appear on the August 2022 primary ballot. The members of this group who took up the Bannon/Schultz banner and spearheaded this PCO takeover are not speaking up.
When there is a competitive race for a PCO position that, therefore, does appear on the ballot, the contest is often so sleepy that all it takes is a wee bit of quiet diligence in knocking on doors and using the telephone to win the seat—combined with an incumbent who doesn’t quite perceive the threat. Thus, Beva Miles, a stalwart Republican who has served as chairwoman for the Republicans of Spokane County, a relatively moderate wing of the county Republicans, lost her PCO seat (and her voting rights as a PCO in the larger party structure) in just such a contest.
The new lineup of local Republican Party officials is revealing. I refer you to another excellent article by Colin Tiernan in the Spokesman for much more detail. Pastor Brian Noble of the Valley Assembly of God church is the new chairman of the SpokaneGOP, winning the chairmanship with 128 PCO votes against the 62 votes garnered by the former vice-chair of the SpokaneGOP, Susan Schuler. (A total of only 195 votes were cast, suggesting that 55 Republican PCOs did not show up to vote. Did they not sense that something was up?) Just three months ago in the November 2022 general election, Pastor Noble, the new chairperson, lost to incumbent County Commissioner Mary Kuney 42.5% to 55%, respectively. In that race Pastor Noble’s strongest monetary and rhetorical supporters included Caleb Collier and Matt Shea, local far right wing political activists formerly associated with Pastor Ken Peters Covenant Church, The Church at Planned Parenthood (TCAPP), and still associated with the Liberty State movement—which would carve Washington State in two. Matt Shea, forced out of his Washington State House seat after exposure of his document, “The Biblical Basis for War”, now is the self-appointed pastor of the politically active “On Fire Ministries” in Spokane. Such are the new Spokane County Republican chairman’s allies…
MJ Bolt became vice-chair. She was the only nominee. She ran last August in the primary for the LD4 (Spokane valley to Mt. Spokane) State House seat that election-denier Bob McCaslin was about to vacate. She ran with his expressed endorsement—and lost out in the August primary, coming in third with only 27% of the vote.
Matt Hawkins, a strong ally of Bob McCaslin and a fervent devotee of election denial conspiracy theories, will remain the county party’s state committeeman. He retained his seat by a voting margin almost exactly the same as Pastor Noble’s—suggesting a PCO voting block. Hawkins is the same man who, last August, received a vote of no confidence from the folks who at the time made up the Spokane County Republican Party’s executive board—many of whom have now been replaced.
This takeover did not happen by accident. The local Republicans claim a “big tent”, but their leadership has, once again, shifted to the flapping fringes of the right, a place similar to where they found themselves under the chairmanship of Cecily Wright. You may recall that Wright had to resign from her position after her Northwest Grassroots organization welcomed avowed white supremacist James Allsup to speak.
Meanwhile, as a matter of slight encouragement, local Republican and independent voters are hinting at movement in the opposite direction: Mary Kuney bested Brian Noble for a place on the Spokane County Commission; Leonard Christian knocked off incumbent election denier state Representative Rob Chase in LD4 (Spokane Valley to Mt. Spokane); and enough independents and Republicans supported incumbent Democrat Vicky Dalton for Spokane County Auditor to send former State Rep. Bob McCaslin, election denier and Matt Shea ally, back to teaching elementary school.
Those glimmers of hope aside, this post should be a wake up call for people who fully or generally support the Spokane County Democratic Party. There are roughly 330 open Democratic PCO seats at this moment (439 total minus 110 filled). Every one of those seats could have a say and a vote in how the county party is led and run. We need, as citizens, to get informed, pay attention, and get involved before we wake up and find ourselves essentially stripped of our small-d democracy.
Keep to the high ground,
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