Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Sunday, November 11, 2007

"Republicans narrow down District 9 choices; Several county commissioners will pick replacement Nov. 26"

I had a chance to chat some yesterday with Dean Ferguson, the political reporter for the Lewiston Tribune. Nice guy, and pretty funny. His article in today's Tribune is a very accurate account of what happened.
COLFAX - Republicans from six eastern Washington counties spent a democratic Saturday morning choosing three finalists for the open 9th Legislative District seat.

Former Rep. David Buri, R-Colfax, made the rare gathering in downtown Colfax necessary when he resigned Nov. 1 to take a job at Eastern Washington University.

The 49 precinct captains chose three men: Palouse Mayor Michael Echanove, Colfax farmer Joe Schmick and LaCrosse farmer and teacher Tedd Nealy. County commissioners from Garfield, Adams, Franklin, Asotin, Whitman and Spokane counties will choose one Nov. 26.

Washington State Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser oversaw what amounted to three elections. Next week he'll lead Legislative District 18 in the same process to replace Rep. Richard Curtis, R-La Center, who resigned Nov. 1 after a sex scandal.

The Colfax gathering was the culmination of two to three weeks of campaigning.

"Everybody sent e-mails, some personal calls and mailings," Asotin County Republican Party Chairwoman Alice White said.

In a district that sprawls across a huge chunk of eastern Washington, the candidates had their work cut out introducing themselves.

It mattered.

In White's case, she was glad Schmick and Nealy won, having known them from previous elections. But White didn't know much about Echanove and voted against him based on his speaking style, she said.

The meeting ran smoothly and partisan humor kept the mood light.

During one of several rounds of paper ballot voting, Esser asked White why it was taking so long to hand out ballots.

"I missed a whole row and I want them to vote twice," White quipped.

"Well, Alice, you're a Republican, not a Democrat," Esser jokingly replied.

Retired Rep. Don Cox, R-Colfax, took a few minutes to remind the crowd the day's long-range implications.

Washington's Democratic leaders are probably trying to recruit a top-tier candidate to exploit the weak position of a new legislator who cannot legally campaign or raise money 30 days before or 30 days after the legislative session that starts Jan. 14, Cox said.

"A potential opponent can be raising money and they can't," Cox warned.

If Democrats find a good candidate, they'll send money and activists to the district, he said. So, the Republicans need to embrace whoever wins.

"If they're not your three people, do get over it quickly because there's a lot worse people to have than anybody on this list," Cox said.

The three finalists have experience with area politics.

Echanove, 49, lost a bid for Buri's seat in 2004. As Palouse mayor since 2001, he touted his revitalized town and his work with statewide groups such as the Washington Association of Cities. He is a Washington State University systems programmer.

Echanove, who also owns a restaurant, said he knows it's tough for small businesses.

"I live and breathe economic development," Echanove said.

Nealy, a 60-year-old LaCrosse farmer, lost to Rep. Steve Hailey in 2006.

As chairman of the Whitman County Planning, Nealy said he knows how to handle government agencies. As a teacher, he understands challenges such as dealing with gang members and non-English speakers, and he said he can reach out to Democrats.

"I am able and willing to work with the majority," Nealy said.

Schmick, 50, who also lost to Hailey in 2006, railed against increased state spending and new taxes. As a farmer and owner of a vending machine business, he said he understands fiscal responsibility. Schmick said the state needs to protect property owners from eminent domain laws.

"The Kelo decision opened a whole new can of worms," Schmick said, referring to a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that angered property rights advocates.

The three candidates who didn't make the final cut included WSU Veterinary School worker Darin Watkins, WSU Finance Director Jeff Phelps and Cheney Mayor Allan Gainer.

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