OLYMPIA — We’ll soon know where Rep. Matt Shea will be assigned to sit in the 2020 legislative session.
How long the Republican lawmaker will keep his seat on the House floor is, for now, less certain.
Shea, you recall, is an ordained rabble rouser from Spokane Valley accused in a House-sanctioned investigation of engaging in an act of domestic terrorism, intimidating political enemies and training young adults to fight a Holy war.
That report penned by a former FBI special agent and a former Houston cop sketches a damning portrait of the six-term lawmaker as a diviner of divisive thought whose political and spiritual activism sow among his followers a deep distrust of authority and open, and sometimes armed, discord with those with whom they disagree.
“Although this investigation found no evidence that Representative Shea presents an imminent direct threat to any individual or group,” the authors begin in their conclusion, “it is more probable than not that Representative Shea is likely to plan, direct and engage in additional future conflicts that could carry with them significant risk of bloodshed and loss of life. It is the professional opinion of the investigators, that on a more probable than not basis, Representative Shea presents a present and growing threat of risk to others through political violence.”
Many of the 57 House Democrats — including incoming House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, — read the report and concluded they wanted to see Shea expelled. But to kick out a sitting member requires a two-thirds vote of the chamber. That means getting at least nine GOP colleagues to join in and that’s unlikely any time soon.
Shea declined to be interviewed for the report and has vowed to not resign.
His presence will test Jinkins’ talents as speaker and try Rep. JT Wilcox’s continued reign as leader of the House Republican Caucus.
Jinkins is the first House speaker not named Frank Chopp in a generation. She reached this pinnacle of power with a promise of openness and the backing of minority, progressive and LGBTQ members of the Democratic caucus, some of whom have been vocal on wanting Shea out.
Nothing’s decided on what to do, Jinkins said Tuesday. “I need to have a conversation with my caucus,” she said.
There are options. A committee could hold a public hearing on the report and its findings.
Democrats could vote on expulsion. If it failed they could at least claim to have all 98 House members on the record. Democrats could pass a measure to censure Shea since it would only require a majority.
Several Democratic lawmakers may hold a news conference in the session’s early days to call publicly for expulsion.
“We are not demanding anything. Our caucus is not divided on this,” said Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo. “Our statement is more to make sure that everybody he attacked, spoke out against or sought to limit their rights, knows that our caucus says it is not okay. If there are not the votes, we don’t do it. There are plenty of other consequences.”
Ortiz-Self is willing to vote on expulsion even knowing it won’t succeed.
“What concerns me is if we don’t act, if we don’t make a statement and if we don’t stand up for everyone he’s attacked,” she said. “That concerns me.”
On the Republican side, Wilcox is dealing with his own Shea-related headaches.
On the day the report came out, Shea got booted from the caucus, stripped of his committee assignments and ousted from his seat on the House floor amid the rest of the Republican members. There’s even been a cleansing of ties to the caucus on his legislative web page. The suspension was handed down by the caucus eight-person leadership team.
At the time, Wilcox said Shea “absolutely should resign” and his role as a House Republican “is over.”
Political supporters of Shea are pushing back. They contend the report isn’t fair or balanced. They want the lawmaker reinstated to the caucus and a few are petitioning to get Wilcox replaced.
Some GOP lawmakers contend their caucus leaders acted too fast in punishing Shea and are distancing themselves from the decision.
“Rep. Matt Shea was punished by my House leadership team. NOT the House caucus team, but the house leadership team. Was that fair?” wrote Rep. Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls, in a Jan. 5 Facebook post “Was due process afforded Rep. Shea? I for one do not feel it was fair, nor was Rep. Shea afforded due process. That’s my opinion.”
In an interview the following day, Sutherland said he’s not opining on the merits of the allegations. “I just feel the process was rushed. I think we need to give him a reasonable amount of time to respond before acting,” he said.
Sutherland, who is in his first term, said he has no plans to push for the full caucus to reconsider the suspension.
“I have voiced my opinion,” he said. “I think other representatives are now concerned that we didn’t know anything.”
House Republican leaders aren’t likely to walk back their action. Nor are they inclined to support expelling Shea absent new revelations, or actions by a law enforcement agency. (The report was forwarded to the FBI.)
“I don’t sense a large amount of dissension within our caucus,” Wilcox said. “I do think it was important for House Republicans to express our sense that the things detailed in the report do not reflect our values as a caucus.”
Lawmakers convene a 60-day session Monday. Conversations on Shea could carry on the entire time.
We know, at least on Day One, Shea will have a seat somewhere.