Call it Politics 101.
If you have questions about running for office – from the color of your campaign signs to filling out paperwork with the Spokane County Elections Office – the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce and former Spokane Valley Mayor Mike DeVleming are here to help.
Back in 2005, the Valley chamber introduced an educational opportunity for aspiring politicians in preparation for the first election after the incorporation of Spokane Valley in 2003. Around a dozen signed up for the first class, which included presentations by Liberty Lake Mayor Steve Peterson, state Sen. Brian Murray and other local dignitaries. Attendees included candidates for the Spokane Valley City Council as well as other regional offices.
“The discussion is about what it’s like to be an elected official,” said Eldonna Shaw, CEO of the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber. “If you’re interested in running for office in Spokane County, this is a good class.”
Peterson, who will be back on the ballot as a mayoral candidate this year, said he spoke to attendees about “the philosophical approach” to serving in leadership roles.
“In office, you learn pretty quickly that everyone is not going to be happy with you all the time,” Peterson said. “But it’s important to form a platform based on principle and realize that’s going to be your guide as you face decisions.”
This year’s rendition of Candidates School will be held on Wednesday, April 13, from 1 to 5 p.m. in the chamber’s Business Center conference room. Cost is $25 and includes refreshments and a handy notebook containing the basics for any campaign such as a reading list for governmental research, procedures on filing for office and other helpful materials.
The class itself will cover topics like dealing with the media, running an effective campaign and advice on staying informed about community issues. Shaw said the chamber decided to offer the syllabus again partly as an incentive “to encourage people to run for office.” After a five-year hiatus, the class was offered last year, but called off because of low turnout – even though Shaw pointed out that several people applied to attend the event at the last minute after the cancellation.
Shaw, who has emphasized that the class “is about providing information not about the chamber endorsing candidates,” expressed disappointment with the lack of participation in recent Spokane Valley City Council elections. In November 2009, eventual winners Tom Towey and Gary Schimmels ran unopposed while Bob McCaslin and Brenda Grassel each faced off against a single challenger. Only the race ultimately won by Dean Grafos over three opponents featured more than two candidates.
“It’s been disappointing,” Shaw said.
While the interest level has improved recently – last month 10 hopefuls applied for the council chair vacated by Rose Dempsey in February – the general enthusiasm over a chance to serve on Spokane Valley’s governing board has leveled off since the first election leading up to incorporation eight years ago. That class included 50 candidates vying for seven council bids.
By the primary election of 2005, incumbents Rich Munson, Diana Wilhite, Dick Denenny and Schimmels each stood alone on the ballot.
Mike DeVleming, Spokane Valley’s first mayor, defeated Howard Herman that November, earning 59-percent of the vote. He attended the chamber class in 2005 and remembers it as something “of absolute value.”
DeVleming, who stepped away from municipal government at the end of 2007 but has remained involved in the community as a volunteer and board member, will be one of the featured speakers at the April 13 chamber presentation. The former mayor also launched his own rendition of a candidate’s school at the Spokane Valley Library last month. The two-part class wrapped up on April 6.
“We’ve covered everything from building a team to the campaign calendar to what kinds of questions you get at council meetings,” DeVleming said.
In the class, DeVleming relates his own experience as a candidate, from an aversion to negative ads – “There’s no value in pointing fingers at each other” – to the value of a competition on the ballot – “this community can only benefit from more people paying attention and running for office.”
DeVleming has been critical of the current City Council, ushered in on a wave of self-proclaimed “Positive Change” in 2009. Grafos, Grassel and McCaslin defeated incumbents Ian Robertson, Diana Wilhite and Munson, respectively, to give the group a majority at the dais.
“The goal is to that the issues facing Spokane Valley get discussed and debated,” DeVleming said of the upcoming election. “This group didn’t have much competition last time. I would be shocked to see uncontested races in the next election.”