Jonathan Bingle tops Spokane GOP’s scoring in race for Congress

Gun Rights

A week before the state Republican Party considers endorsing a candidate for Congress in Eastern Washington, Spokane County GOP has ranked the nine Republican choices.

In the race to represent Eastern Washington in Congress, Spokane City Councilman Jonathan Bingle received the party’s highest ranking, scoring 94.8%, while retired law enforcement officer Jody Spurgeon was ranked significantly lower than the rest with a 46.8% score. The party, however, refrained from making an endorsement in the race last week.

“Because Cathy McMorris Rodgers retired so late in the vetting process, we voted to postpone that endorsement until mid-June,” said Rob Linebarger, a member of county party leadership. “It’s not a hesitation to endorse any one of these candidates, it’s that these candidates really haven’t had enough time to introduce themselves to the people.”

McMorris Rodgers announced in February that she would retire at the end of her term after 20 years in Congress.

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The evaluations offer voters an early insight into the priorities of the grassroots local party members and how they perceive the candidates who hope to take the mantle of the Republican Party. The county party was inspired to compile a ranking and vetting system by neighboring Kootenai County Republican Central Committee. Next weekend, the state Republican Party will decide whether to endorse one of the candidates at its convention, which will be held in Spokane.

In addition to interviews with a vetting committee, candidates submitted responses to a questionnaire indicating their positions on abortion, constitutional originalism and more. Between the interviews and questionnaire responses, the party committees scored candidates and noted their “highlights” and “lowlights.”

The committee highlighted Bingle’s passion, “strong convictions,” good communication skills and willingness to buck the establishment, listing as his lowlights only that he is “on the city council.” Bingle believed that the committee was saying that electing him to Congress would mean that the Spokane City Council would lose one of its few conservative voices, not that him being elected to that office was a black mark on his campaign.

Medical Lake Mayor Terri Cooper, one of the last candidates to jump into the crowded field, was given the second-highest score of 91.1%. The committee highlighted Cooper’s leadership in the wake of the devastating wildfires that ripped through her community last year, calling her principled, dedicated, serious and “a judge.” That last statement is technically wrong: Cooper was not a judge but served instead as a court commissioner, presiding over some criminal and civil cases to ease the caseload of judges.

Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner recently has argued that his impressive early campaign fundraising and numerous endorsements by elected leaders in the state mark him as the race’s clear front-runner. For the members of the county GOP, at least, he’s in third place, getting a score of 89.3%. The vetting committee praised his experience in government and good communication skills, acknowledging that he “looks great on paper.” The committee, however, said Baumgartner “seems to polished but not genuine,” apparently misspelling the word “too.” The rankings originally also said he has a “trust issue with holding to the platform and constitution,” and “voted for cap and trade.” On Saturday, the party removed the part about cap and trade.

That party’s original statement about cap and trade was simply untrue, Baumgartner said in a Friday interview, sounding confused.

“I don’t support cap and trade, I wasn’t even in the Legislature when it passed,” he said. “That’s just factually inaccurate.”

Baumgartner downplayed the importance of the support of a county party in winning the election and argued that the county party’s leaders, many of whom were newly elected in 2022, simply didn’t know him well.

“I think they’ve been more motivated by politics in just the last five years,” he said. “I think many got motivated in the COVID era, and I think one of the reasons that Bingle scored relatively high is because they know him from refusing to wear a mask at the City Council, and they identify with that.”

Bingle didn’t dispute that his activism opposing COVID restrictions early after he was elected had gained him some fans among local Republicans.

“But it’s not a one-trick pony situation,” he added.

Ferry County Commissioner Brian Dansel wasn’t far behind Baumgartner, scoring 89.2%. Dansel’s relationship with former President Donald Trump was highlighted, having served as an adviser to the National Economic Council and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Trump administration. The committee also believed he was principled and experienced.

Talk radio host Rene Holaday, who calls herself an expert on the United Nations, has previously claimed that organization wants to eliminate property rights, implement global communism and establish a one-world government.

The committee believed “her understanding of the U.N. which affects everything else” was a highlight of her campaign and gave her a score of 86.9%. While the committee noted she has no elected experience and struggles to “get her point across quickly,” it praised her as a principled fighter.

Former state employee John Guenther got an 85.2% score, with the committee highlighting his passion and convictions, but noting that he also had little experience in politics.

State Rep. Jacquelyn Maycumber, who, after Baumgartner, has more elected experience than any of the other candidates, was scored seventh out of the nine Republican candidates ranked by the county party. Despite the committee acknowledging her experience, “great voting record” and solid conservative bonafides from the National Rifle Association, Conservative Ladies of Washington and the Freedom Index, its members were “not sure we can trust her convictions” and questioned if she was “possibly buying influence.”

Maycumber believed that the latter criticism was a misunderstanding that she thought had been clarified during the interview, after she noted that she is a prolific fundraiser who had spread money from her campaign to help elect other Republicans across the state.

“I personally surplused the most money in the last election cycle to get Republicans elected,” Maycumber said. “It’s really important to get other Republicans elected, and in the House we’re one vote away from losing our majority.”

Regarding her “convictions,” Maycumber believed that had to do with her endorsement of former U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert for governor. The Spokane County GOP is strongly in support of the other major Republican gubernatorial candidate, Semi Bird, having endorsed him last summer.

Cattle rancher Michael Schmidt, who has not otherwise announced his candidacy for Congress, received a score of 79.2%. While he was called sincere and a good organizer, the committee also felt like “it seemed like he was out of his league.”

Spurgeon was far and away the lowest-scoring candidate up for consideration, receiving around half the score of anyone else. The committee called him passionate, but said he lacked conviction, was a subpar communicator and lacked elected experience.

Political positions

The nine candidates for Congress were asked a number of broad, largely philosophical questions about what guided their politics, including where they believed the rights of citizens came from, whether they identified as a Constitutional originalist or believed it was a “living document” that should be amended over time, as well as their stances on abortion.

All nine candidates said that life begins at conception, and most emphasized that the government had a duty to protect a fetus from that point. Spurgeon and Schmidt were the only ones who wrote they believed there should be some circumstances in which abortion should be allowed; for Spurgeon, that was in at least the first six weeks after conception, while Schmidt argued that abortion should be allowed if a pregnancy risked the life of the mother.

In almost every case, the candidates said that the rights of Americans came from the Christian God, in some cases adding that these God-given rights were enumerated by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Spurgeon was the only exception, naming only the Constitution as the source of American political rights.

Every candidate also called themselves an originalist, meaning they believe the rights of the U.S. Constitution should be understood today exactly as they would have been when the document was written. Some added that they believed that some amendments were acceptable, with both Spurgeon and Cooper pointing to the end of legalized slavery in the United States through the 13th Amendment.

Bingle called himself an originalist, but added “the meaning of words does evolve at times, and something we understand it to be now is not what they would have meant at the time of writing.” Schmidt argued that the Constitution could be amended so long as it still adhered to its original principles.

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