Gig Harbor legislator calls for GOP unity. He should be calling out domestic terrorism

By the time Washington’s 2020 legislative session begins Monday in Olympia, every member of the House Republican caucus likely will have seen a letter sent by state Rep. Jesse Young of Gig Harbor.

The “Statement of Republican Unity” implores each GOP House member to stand together on issues such as defending gun rights and fulfilling the will of voters for $30 car tabs.

The 26th District representative is not a caucus leader. But after six years in the Legislature, he apparently appointed himself de facto field marshal of the minority party, urging the troops to march lock-step on a handful of concerns near and dear to his heart.

Unity is a hard thing to achieve anywhere these days. Of all people, a swing-district legislator like Young should know that Washington Republicans (and Democrats) come in a variety of flavors.

It’s unusual for a member of the Legislature to encourage colleagues not to debate and discuss issues. After all, it’s what lawmakers are paid to do. Debate. Discuss. Legislate. Repeat.

Rep. Jesse Young, D-Gig Harbor, represents the 26th Legislative District Photo courtesy Washington House Republicans

Young wasn’t available to talk to us. But It seems clear the real motive behind his letter was to muster support for Rep. Matt Shea, a Spokane area lawmaker on the hot seat after an independent investigation unearthed troubling revelations related to domestic terrorism.

Most troubling of all: Shea’s participation in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge takeover, a 41-day armed occupation in Oregon in 2016.

Buried in Young’s statement of unity was a call to oppose legislative action against Shea, a leader of the Patriot Movement who won’t go down without a fight.

Despite condemnation from both sides of the aisle, Shea remains adamant he won’t resign; he’s using social media to call the House report “a sham investigation meant to silence those of us who stand up against attempts to disarm and destroy our great country.”

Young’s letter was the flare sent up to ensure his colleague won’t be fighting alone.

Shea should follow the example of former Rep. Graham Hunt of Orting, another disgraced member of the House Republican caucus. Hunt resigned his seat in 2016 when it was discovered he embellished his military record.

We commend House minority leader J.T. Wilcox of Yelm, who called for Shea’s resignation after receiving the 108-page investigative report. Wilcox also suspended Shea from committee assignments and caucus business.

This banishment doesn’t just affect Shea; unfortunately, his 127,000 Spokane area constituents will suffer, too, since their interests are now in the hands of a muzzled representative.

Young claims Shea is being denied due process rights, but Wilcox assured a member of our Editorial Board there’s no reason to question the integrity of the Rampart Group report. “The only deficiency,” Wilcox said, “was that Shea didn’t participate.” By his own choice.

It doesn’t take a degree in political science to understand Shea isn’t fit to serve. As recently as fall 2017, he communicated via email with three men who wrote of taking violent action against people with opposing viewpoints, according to the report.

Contents of those chats include talk of grabbing a “fist full of hair,” face slamming and shaving one female protester bald with “a K-bar USMC field knife.”

Shea listened in and volunteered to do background checks on private citizens, writing: “Ok. What BG checks need to be done. Give me the list.”

The House should use its constitutional authority to expel Shea, an act that requires a two-thirds majority. Expulsion is rare, as it should be. The last Washington House member booted from the Legislature was Seattle’s Nelson Robinson in 1933, after he was tried and convicted for sexually abusing a girl.

It’s disappointing that Wilcox rejects the idea wholesale, saying “it’s our job to pay deference to the voters.” In most cases, yes. But Spokane Valley voters shouldn’t have to wait another year to get an effective leader.

Wilcox acknowledges that Shea crossed a line, saying, “I wouldn’t vote for him.”

Majority Democrats would have a role in expulsion, too. New Speaker of the House Laurie Jinkins told the Tacoma City Club on Wednesday that she hasn’t taken the option off the table. “It’s why the writers of the state Constitution gave us that right and responsibility.”

Meanwhile, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich is advocating tough action, saying: “I believe there’s enough to charge Shea with domestic terrorism, if not treason.” The sheriff acknowledges concern that arresting Shea could lead to an armed standoff.

This is a watershed moment for our state. There’s no mistaking how it mirrors ugly divisions in the other Washington, where a president fights against impeachment while supporters rally to his defense under the banner of party unity.

But if there’s one thing that Republicans (and Democrats) should unite behind, it’s giving no quarter to domestic terrorism.