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Open 4th Legislative District Senate seat draws six candidates

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(The Center Square) – Voters in the Spokane Valley based 4th legislative district will have a half dozen candidates to choose from in August’s state senate primary. Four Republicans and two Democrats have filed for the open office.

In addition to Spokane Valley, the 4th legislative district includes the cities of Millwood and Liberty Lake, and extends north to the Elk area. Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, is retiring after serving for 14 years in the senate and 15 years in the state house of representatives.

Padden has endorsed businessman Mike Kelly, one of the four Republicans who filed for the office. Kelly was appointed to the Spokane Valley Planning Commission in March and identified local control as his motivating issue.

“We need to keep Olympia out of our business as much as possible,” said Kelly. “People just want to be left alone, raise their families and do it affordably.”

He cited parental concerns about curriculum, city council concerns over local planning control and business concerns about economic competitiveness.

“So many people are going to Idaho to buy gas, and while there they’re shopping and dining. As a senator for the 4th district I want to see that money stay here for the benefit of our businesses.”

Kelly is up front about his personal experience with the criminal justice system and his gratitude for the opportunity to get his life on track.

“My past is not the centerpiece of my campaign, but it’s a key part of my life story. It strengthened me, it enlightened me, it humbled me and it gave me an appreciation of liberty, freedom and the functioning of the institutions we have put in place,” he said. “The justice system is there to hold people accountable and do it in a fair way.”

Two Republican candidates are currently serving on the Spokane Valley City Council. Mayor Pam Haley, who nominated Kelly to the Planning Commission, has served on the council for eight years. Public safety, parental rights and economic development are the concerns at the top of her list.

“Parents deserve a choice in what their kids are taught and parental rights are important,” said Haley. She sees her experience working on bipartisan issues and her role as mayor as complementary to serving in the legislature. “I can still Zoom in to council meetings.”

Al Merkel is one of the newest on the Spokane Valley City Council, having won his first election in 2023. He jumped into the senate race because he sees funding for public safety as a key state issue affecting municipalities. Second priority is reformatting the Growth Management Act.

“How we grow, where we grow and quality of life are something I’ve been focused on,” said Merkel. He also cited parental rights and tax burdens as concerns.

His brief service on the council has been marred by a months long investigation into accusations of intimidation of staff. An independent investigator cleared Merkel of legal wrongdoing in May. He calls that experience “not replicatable at the state level but I think I have stood strongly on the reasons I was elected.”

The district’s conservative history has not discouraged the two Democrats in the race, both newcomers to politics. Democrat Paige Scott was born and raised in the area and said she wants to make a difference for everyone and not just one group. In an email, Scott listed affordable housing, criminal justice reform and veterans support as her top three issues and said “while doorbelling I’m learning every day what’s important to individuals like me.”

Democrat Miguel Valencia originally planned to run because he felt Padden needed an opponent and voters needed another option. “None of the four Republicans running strike me as people who would represent the working class,” said Valencia. “I’m just a regular 25 year old middle class dude and I get what families are going through, I don’t have to try to understand it because I’m living it.” About his outreach to Republican voters, Valencia said “I do support LGBT rights and women’s right to choose but they’ll look at you if you’re going help them afford health care and avoid medical bankruptcy. I think they’ll make the right choice.”

Rep. Leonard Christian, R-Spokane Valley, is seeking to switch his service from the House to the Senate. “I’m just kind of an average guy, never the rock star, but every time an opportunity comes along I’ve said I’ll step up and do my best,” said Christian. Public safety is a top concern he’s heard in the district, followed by parental rights and cost of living issues. “I was blown away on a tour of Second Harvest recently, shelves were empty and the director said as soon as food comes in it’s right back out the door. More first time families are asking for services as costs are going up and employers are cutting hours.”

Padden ran unopposed in both the 2012 and 2016 elections, and defeated former Spokane County Commissioner John Roskelly (Democrat) by a 25 point margin in 2020.

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