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Q&A: Council President Candidates Answer Questions About Faith, Ethics

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By Brooklyn Popp

As City Council President Ben Stuckart continues his campaign for Spokane mayor, the race to take over the seat he leaves behind is heating up.

Cindy Wendle and Phillip Tyler, who wold be new to Spokane City Council, are keeping up their campaigns alongside Mike Fagan and Breean Beggs, two candidates who currently serve on City Council as district representatives.

Wendle, whose government experience falls short of the two councilmen, has introduced to the Palouse the Washington Trust Bank and has more recently been involved with property management issues in Spokane. Tyler, who also comes from a limited political background, is the previous NCAAP president and currently works in Campus Security at Gonzaga University.

The four candidates were asked to participate in SpokaneFAVS Q&A. Tyler and Wendle did not provide responses after multiple attempts to reach them.

Responses have been edited for length.

1. Do you think the local churches’ role in helping the homelessness population is crucial to keeping people off the streets? Should the city and religious institutions of Spokane remain separate or can the two units come together to better aid in battling homelessness?

Breann Beggs
Breean Beggs

Beggs: Faith-inspired services to the homeless are a huge part of solving the problem.  Government and all non-profits (including faith-based) providing services should, and most of the time are, working together.  There are some legal limits on sharing government resources directly with programs that incorporate faith practices directly into their services.  I was raised in the church and have often worked with church affiliated programs to provide services to the homeless.  I have visited and engaged with both Catholic Charities and Union Gospel Mission and have an understanding on how they both play an important role in providing housing and recovery services.  There are particular faith (or non-faith) practices by some groups that are objectionable to other groups, but I try to focus on the common ground.  As long as there are sufficient services at all locations, people should not feel coerced into adopting a practice they don’t feel comfortable with in order to receive services.

Mike Fagan

Fagan: If we had a smaller government and they were focused on the priorities of government, then here is what I think is supposed to happen: the whole community comes together. We come together and we say OK – House of Charity, the faith community, faith non-profits – what services can you bring to the table? Where is it that your expertise lies? How much resources do you have at your disposal? Then equate the resources to how many people can they treat, counsel, or casework for. Once we sit down at the summit table and we all learn what it is that we can bring to the party. The Faith community needs to step up. The non-faith, non-profit service community needs to step up.

2. How would you balance between helping the homeless and enforcing local law to keep Spokane safe?

Beggs: I don’t see those choices in conflict as long as we ensure that there are sufficient beds each night for those who are homeless.  I am a strong proponent of holding people accountable for any actions that actually threaten people or property.  I do not support arresting people just because they look like they might threaten people or property.  Under current federal law, the city can’t enforce bans on camping in public places or lying down on the sidewalk unless there are sufficient shelter beds open to them.  In order to follow the highest law in the land, the city is required to honor that restriction.  But the main answer is to supply sufficient actual beds- including storage and shower facilities.

Fagan: My first inclination is to round up the bad element that has infiltrated the addicted homeless population. Since we don’t have the facilities to lock them up, let’s start a conversation with a neighboring county to contract jail space. Back in the Mayor Verner days, the city was very close to inking a deal with Benton county. Now we need to jump start the discussion and proposal for a new incarceration method. We also need to work at the state level on sentencing guidelines, to make penalties higher to act as deterrent, and ask the legislature to providing funding for property crime offender supervision programs like they did for auto thieves. On the police function in the city, we need to get better at responding to all reports of property crime and any other the public perceives as a nuisance even if it is only a call back to say sorry, but after further review the solvability of this car break in or garage break in is very low so we will not be coming out. We need to close the loop with complainant/victim always.

3. Would your personal faith play a role in any laws or ethical decisions you make as City Council president?

Beggs: My personal faith certainly shapes my values, including compassion for all, equal voice and a place at the table for the marginalized…  However, I am a strong proponent of acting on behalf of all community members regardless of their faith so go to great lengths to avoid imposing my theology or allowing anyone else to impose their theology on government practices.  This isn’t generally a problem since most faiths (and non-faith) share common values and usually get caught up in conflict more on the language than substance.  If you wanted to classify me I would consider myself a member of the Sermon on the Mount Cohort and do my best to advance that teaching.

Fagan: I have been a Christian now for eight years. As a basis for ethics and morals, I’m a firm believer in the tens. What I mean by that is the Ten Commandments and the first Ten Amendments of the Constitution. Being a Christian has really deepened my roots in ethics and morals and that gives me that basis. My heart says that my faith drives my ethical behavior and my moral behavior. I see it as a basis for my values. The values and principles that I have are things that I glean through life’s travels and are being affirmed through my new faith, and I mean really being affirmed. This whole campaign has been amazing, it’s been supernatural. The things that have popped up, the winds that have been handed to me, the blessings that have been bestowed. That makes me a bit stronger in my faith.

4. Do worshipers have a right to host services outside of Planned Parenthood? Is there a way to allow religious practices there while maintaining respect for those who are visiting Planned Parenthood for service?

Beggs: Opponents of Planned Parenthood should have the same rights as any other group to express their views in the public right of way as long as they aren’t disruptive.  There is a current state law that prohibits noise above a certain level within a certain number of feet from a health care facility in order to preserve calm and quiet for patients seeing their doctors while they obtain needed health care.  I visited Planned Parenthood during last month’s opposition rally and inside could clearly hear loud noise during health care clinic hours.  This was mainly due to the protestors using amplified sound above levels allowed under city ordinance and state law.  That practice should be ended immediately since it interferes with patient health and protestors have other avenues to express themselves other than interfering in the actual delivery of health care.  Patients at all health care facilities deserve the chance to enter and receive healthcare without being harassed or stressed, especially when their reproductive health is at issue.  I have known many people who believe that birth control violates their faith and don’t question their intentions, but in a civil society that doesn’t advance one faith over another, medical services need to remain accessible and non-stressful.

Fagan: I am about the sanctity of life. I can tell you six years ago when Council Member Candace Mumm came on the Council, the first thing she did was she ripped out an ordinance and made it illegal for Pro-Life people to approach a car that is in the driveway of Planned Parenthood. Trying to recreate a law that had existed over on the East Coast but that had since been challenged, and I believe it was overturned by the Supreme Court. I did not agree with that. As far as Pro-Life folks standing on either side of the street to be met by protesters , that is one of the reasons I was in the military. I bled, sweat, and cried on the flag. I’ve lost people just like a lot of folks did, but the primary reason I did it was to preserve our freedoms. It’s a value, it’s a principle of mine – free speech, I believe in it. I believe in the right to bear arms, I believe in due process. There are a lot of occasions in my city work where I will be confronted with issues where due process was as at fault, and things like this.

I don’t see how I could put myself in the shoes of a young lady who has just pulled up to Planned Parenthood, I don’t know her mindset. So, as far as extending respect, I wouldn’t know how to go about it and I would have to take each individual contact differently dependent upon what type of reaction I’m met with. I would have to answer by saying it would be my preference that whatever contacts are being made amongst individuals, pro or con, that they would be dignified conversations and they would be respectful conversations, and they wouldn’t be other than that. Because, again, not knowing what a woman’s mindset would be – is she really backed in to a corner, is there really nowhere else to go? Is she getting outside pressure? Is she doing this willingly and happily? I don’t know until I can make that contact and have that conversation. It has got to be dignified and it has got to be respectful, and anything other than that I would have to reject. What’s the definition of politics? It is the art and science of influencing hearts and minds. So, you got to know your audience, or at least know means with which to get to the heart of your audience as quickly as possible so you know who you’re talking to.

5. How can the city better its criminal justice system?

BeggsI co-founded Spokane Smart Justice, which has numerous ways of improving criminal justice and I have led the way towards implementing many of these reforms- but sadly there is a long way to go.  The fundamental change needed is to customize rehabilitative services for offenders while they are being held accountable for their behavior and to refrain from torture and revenge as part of the criminal justice system.  I am currently the City Council’s lead on this issue and meet regularly with the county officials who have the primary jurisdiction to make these changes.  We are making substantial progress but it needs to be quicker in order to save lives of potential victims and perpetrators and reduce the 73% of county revenues currently devoted to a failed criminal justice system.  I have spent over 27 years representing crime victims to help them get justice, but I have learned that the key to helping victims is actually helping the perpetrators out of their untreated mental health and addictions with pro-social approaches.

Fagan: We have our problems over here – homeless, property crime, public safety, no police contract, the jail, hybrid correction facility – there is no closed loop communication with victims. What happened to victims’ rights? We spend more time working with the subject and the suspect than the victims. And that is something else in the public safety realm we have to change. We don’t have jail, not in Spokane. What we have is a double and triple capacity facility where we’ve already seen eight or nine deaths in the last 18 months. It’s created an unsafe, very crowded situation, where we’ve got prisoners that are violent, that are mentally ill, that have drug addiction, all in the mix together. It’s one of the fallacies and drawbacks to this overcrowded situation. Our jail was renovated to hold 465. We have been averaging over 900 prisoners in jail since I had been in office. Through counseling inquiry, administering inquiry, direct from the chief, direct from the jail staff – only the people that deserve to be in jail are in jail now. Everyone else gets written a ticket to go to court and you’re out on your own recognizance. This is one of the reasons why you might hear of a 22-time felon who hit the revolving door and he’s out, but the reason he’s out is because none of his other 22 felony convictions were violent. We got to pull the trigger now – it’s time to execute. Quit being dragged down into the analysis paralysis of whether or not we’re going to build a 2,500-person capacity new jail or are we going to engage in a three-to-four story tall hybrid correctional facility which is going to be located right behind the public safety building. Quit talking about it. Let’s move forward with one or the other or both, and let the people decide what we’re going to do.

6. Do you believe in climate change? If so, how do you think the city should play its part in environmental policies and practices?

Beggs: My review of the science (and the weather over the last 20 years) is that climate change is real and caused by humans.  I currently lead the City’s Sustainability Workgroup and we are developing creative approaches for both city operations and the entire community.  Last year I negotiated an agreement with Avista to provide 100% renewable electricity to the entire community by 2030.  Sustainability done right creates jobs and saves taxpayer money but the most effective approach is pragmatic.

Fagan: I am going to have to reserve my decision on whether or not climate change is actually occurring only because the proponents of global warming and climate change have shown me that they are not honest. The IPCC Hockey Stick, which is driving this whole conversation, is based on lies. So, to me, if it’s happening, show me the science, show me the data. I look at the Spokesman-Review day to day, week to week, and this week they’re going to say, “Oh my God! Antarctica’s icebergs are melting!” but next week they’re going to go “Oh my god, we got record icebergs!” Make up your mind, what is it, are we getting to hot or not? Give us the right data if we are seeing global warming and climate change, OK, but don’t do it and perpetuate this thing based on a lie. Lots of people get rich on this. This is immoral, this is unethical. They’re driving policy, they’re hurting people, they’re creating homelessness and poverty based on fox-carbon tax programs. Now, let’s get to the environmental aspect of Mike Fagan. Mike is a conservative, and at the heart of conservative is the word conserve. I don’t go out and dump garbage all over the place. I go out and look at things, I recycle, reuse. I come from a generation if something is broke you try to fix it, I’m not in the disposable frame of mind. This global warming and climate change thing – we conservatives care about the environment. We’re green, but in a commonsense way, by keeping up with technology advances and getting into the 21st Century.

7. Is there anything else you would like to add about religion, faith or ethics as it pertains to your campaign? 

Beggs: I come from a family of pastors, including my father, grandfather and uncle.  But the greatest lessons I learned on faith and civil society was from my maternal grandmother who helped raise me.  She first sought to serve and only later would discuss theology with people.  I think that is the right order of engagement in my personal life and even more appropriate in the government sphere.  I don’t pretend to know the absolute truth about anything but I am willing to share my personal truth with anyone who asks.  Thanks for gathering this information and creating the FaVS space.

Fagan: I hate to use this adage, but it goes something like “it takes a village.” In this case, it takes a community, it’s going to take the whole community to come together. And I think I’ve got what it takes to help foster that kind of a meeting, that kind of a summit. But we all need to come to an agreement as to what kind of direction we’re going to take this city. And it’s going to take all of us. It’s like I said, at the end of the day, we work for you. We see the pain on your face and we’re asking you to help us take care of this problem. That means we’re going to have to come together as a community and see what everybody else can do, and then we’ve got to get in there like a symphony conductor and orchestrate it.

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Tracy Simmons

About Tracy Simmons

Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 15 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. Currently she serves as the executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She is also a Lecture of Strategic Communication at the University of Idaho.

She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and for the Religion News Service.

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