At the Candidate Climate Change Forum, Spokane City Council and mayoral candidates were invited by Gonzaga’s Environmental Studies Department, 350 Spokane, the Lands Council, Spokane Riverkeeper, Community Building Foundation and Futurewise.
The event provided an opportunity for all municipal candidates to share with voters their views on the climate crisis and how they will uphold their beliefs and those of the voters during a potential term.
“I’m glad to see so many chairs, and I hope they’re all full,” said Lesley Herrmann, a Spokane resident at the forum on Oct. 2.
Herrmann was not let down. Not only did high schoolers, college students and residents of Spokane fill the seats, but the number of attendees demanded additional chairs be brought out.
Of the 10 candidates remaining in the race, six attended the forum. Mayoral candidate Ben Stuckart and City Council president candidate Breean Beggs were at the forum table in the first session. The following session included City Council representative hopefuls Michael Cathcart of District 1, Tony Kiepe and Lori Kinnear of District 2, and Karen Stratton of District 3.
The candidates who did not attend the forum were mayoral candidate Nadine Woodard, City Council president candidate Cindy Wendle, District 1 City Council representative candidate Tim Benn and District 3 candidate Andy Rathbun.
“I am very disappointed that both of our opponents are not here,” Stuckart said while seated next to Beggs. “It is unacceptable when you are running for a public office to not show up, even if you don’t agree with the issue.”
Stuckart and Beggs are not only believers, but environmental activists. The two sat unopposed on the stage, as they advocated that their term as locally elected officials would be dedicated to fighting human-caused global warming.
“In City Council in the last seven years, I’ve taken climate change very seriously and I’ve led the passage of more resolutions and ordinances than any other council member ever in the city of Spokane,” Stuckart said.
Stuckart also shared his successful history in environmental action, from his experience in resolving the coal train threats to the six months he spent working on urban farming, where he learned the benefits of eating local foods and supporting local growers.
Beggs has also been an active fighter for environmental justice.
“The city is well positioned to do it,” he said. “Not just for Spokane, but in leading the state and leading the nation.”
Last summer, Beggs earned the support of Avista and Spokane City Council on an ordinance that committed the city to the goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2030. He also created the city’s first Sustainability Action Committee, which was also charged with creating the city’s first Climate Action Plan.
Mayor David Condon vetoed this ordinance but was overridden on a 6-1 vote of City Council. The ordinance passed, and Spokane became the first city to get a private utility to agree to a renewable electricity plan. Soon after, Washington state followed this action and implemented efforts to move toward renewable electricity.
Unlike the first session, the City Council representative candidates’ table experienced more tension.
Even though Cathcart contributed to an organization in opposition of the Sustainability Action Committee created by the 2018 ordinance, he responded “yes” when GU professor Brian Henning asked if he as a member of City Council would follow the ordinance passed.
However, Cathcart does have hesitations.
“We need to make sure we are not costing ourselves really badly-needed jobs,” Cathcart said. “Especially in my district, we have some of the most poverty-stricken areas of our city. In fact, we need to make sure we are focused on growing good paying jobs.”
“There is so much opportunity for green jobs that I don’t look at it as we’re going to be losing jobs, I look at it as we are going to be gaining jobs that are going to be essentially good for the community,” Kinnear, running for District 2 representative, said in response to Cathcart.
Stratton believes in human-caused climate change and believes Spokane has a leading role in conservation and climate change action.
Among many promises, Stratton said that as City Council representative, she hopes to bring educational materials to neighborhood events and celebrations to inform voters on the urgency of global warming.
“We need to keep doing that, it’s those little steps that go a long way,” she said.
Kiepe seemed to toggle between prioritizing and putting climate change action on the back burner.
When Henning asked if Kiepe believes climate change is happening and if it is human caused, Kiepe said, “I believe God created the Heavens and Earth, and I believe we should be good stewards while we’re here on the Earth. And that means no pollution, let’s keep our rivers clean.”
Henning interjected Kiepe’s response to repeat his yes-or-no question. Kiepe responded with a simple “no.”
Even though Kiepe began the night declaring his disbelief in human-caused global warming, he reiterated that, “I’m here tonight because I want to learn. I want to be educated on what is going on.”
Organizations other than the sponsors came as resources to the audience.
Sally Phillips came with the League of Women Voters with voter registration papers in case the forum inspired the citizens to participate in the elections, and to tell GU students they have a choice in which city elections they vote in.
“They have a choice,” Philips said. “They can register here and have their residency be here. Or they can register at their home address.”
Phillips also shared that voters have until eight days before the elections to register.
Complete video footage of the forum can be found at www.gonzaga.edu/college-of-arts-sciences/departments/environmental-studies/events/past-events.