Two good things – and I use the term “good” with a bucketful of irony – seem to have come out of the abject disaster that is the Trump presidency.
One is that American voters are now paying more attention to the less-than-tolerant views held by some of their (usually Republican) elected officials.
The other is that the Democratic political universe is standing up and loudly saying “no” to the reelection of people who espouse positions antithetical to the American ideals of tolerance, inclusivity and equality for all.
Case in point: Washington State Representative Matt Shea, first elected in 2009 to represent the Evergreen State’s 4th legislative district in the Spokane Valley along the state’s eastern border.
Throughout his decade in office, reports Washington State Democrats’ “Cancel Matt Shea” website, Shea “has used his influence as a legislator – and his weekly Patriot Radio show on American Christian Network (ACN) – to spread his dangerous, extremist ideology throughout Washington State.”
Shea, Wikipedia reports, promotes the use of firearms as part of a “return to patriot principles.” He readily combines that perverted sense of patriotism with calls for “Christian warfare.”
Wikipedia identifies Shea as co-founder and director of the Washington Family Foundation, a socially conservative advocacy group, and as a board member of the anti-same-sex marriage group Protect Marriage Washington.
He’s a founding member and current chairman of the Coalition of Western States (COWS), who traveled with other members to Burns, Ore., in support of the 2014 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by right-wing militants.
He organized the Spokane chapter of ACT! for America, an anti-Muslim organization identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
And he introduced two House Memorials, in 2015 and 2017, calling for the establishment of a new State of Liberty, to be carved out of what is now eastern Washington State.
At an August 2018 gun-rights rally, Shea called journalists “dirty, godless, hateful people.” And he re-labeled the Spokane Spokesman-Review, his district’s major newspaper, the “Socialist-Review.”
In October 2018, Shea published a manifesto, “Biblical Basis for War,” listing strategies that a “Holy Army” might employ in fighting for an end to abortion, same-sex marriage and communism. The manifesto so concerned Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich (a Republican), reported Rolling Stone, that he alerted the FBI to its existence and declared its statements “consistent with a racist, anti-Semitic and white supremacist ideology known as Christian Identity, which seeks to establish a ‘white homeland’ in the U.S. Northwest.”
In April 2019, The Guardian published a four-person online chat in which Shea participated, that called for surveillance, intimidation and physical attacks on political enemies. In that chat, Shea offered to conduct background checks on three Spokane residents, who he named.
And in August, The Guardian published an email thread that linked Shea to Team Rugged, an organization that seeks to train young men for “biblical warfare.”
But none of these extremist alliances seems to have tarnished Shea’s reputation among his fellow Republicans. He’s been a leader in the Washington GOP Caucus since his 2008 election, and was elected caucus chairman in 2017.
Groups start fighting back
That’s when corporate and PAC contributions to Shea’s campaign became a focus of attention for Washington Democrats.
It’s one thing, the Washington Democratic Party asserts, for residents of the state’s most conservative region to choose a representative who reflects their political beliefs. But it’s another thing altogether when major corporations and political action committees start supporting an extremist politician who espouses violence and hate, simply because he holds a legislative leadership position.
“The ‘Cancel Matt’ effort,” explained Washington Democratic Party communications director Will Casey, “is trying to draw attention to institutional donors to his actions and statements. They haven’t done their due diligence since he became…caucus chair. Corporate donors give to all sides to ensure access for policy discussions…so he’s gotten money because of his role, not because of who he is or how he votes. We want those donors to consider who he is.”
But “Cancel Matt” isn’t the only challenge to Shea’s political power. On July 29, the state House hired the Rampart Group “to investigate whether a member [Shea] has engaged in, planned or promoted political violence and to determine the extent of his involvement with groups or people involved with such activities.” Rampart Group’s preliminary report was due to the House on Sept. 30, and its final report will be submitted by Dec. 1.
Washington House GOP Leader J.T. Wilcox explained to the Columbian that his caucus had initiated a preliminary investigation after the Guardian’s April report but suspended its work once the Rampart Group investigation was announced. “I think it’s appropriate to investigate threats of political violence so you can determine whether there is or there isn’t.”
Even if the Rampart investigation finds that Shea advocates violence, it’s unlikely he’ll be expelled from the House by fellow legislators. As Crosscut reported, “state lawmakers have voted to expel one of their colleagues…only once before [following a 1933 statutory rape conviction], though they have tried and failed to do so on other occasions.” Removal would require a two-thirds majority vote in the House.
Regardless of the outcome of that investigation, Shea is being challenged at the polls.
His 2018 Democratic challenger, Ted Cummings, says he’ll run again. “I lost to a fascist – what can I say?” he told Rolling Stone, adding that he thinks constituents “are having a hard time believing what’s been reported on Shea. ‘They think this nice Christian man is being smeared by the media. I’m not going to let my home be a haven for hate and white nationalists. I’m not going to ever stop until he’s a private citizen back in his basement worried about aliens. He’s just batshit crazy…I’m not going to sugar coat it. He’s a coward and a bully and an embarrassment – and I hope you put that in print’.”
For its part, the state Democratic Party isn’t taking sides as a number of possible 2020 candidates test the political waters. “Winning there…it may not be a mainstream Democrat, and that’s just fine,” said communications director Casey. “We don’t want to pick a candidate – we’ll let the locals sort that out. The candidate just needs to have an issue profile that fits the district.”
And, it’s safe to assume, not be an advocate for hate, fear and violence.
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