Jim West was a Washington State Senate majority leader, a Washington State Senate minority leader, and served as mayor of Spokane from 2003 to 2005. At age 28 he became the youngest person ever elected to the Spokane City Council. At 31 he was elected to the State House of Representatives as a Republican in the sixth district. He served four years in the House and then another 17 years in the state Senate for the same district. In 2003 he was elected Republican Senate majority leader. Later in 2003, he achieved what he called his "life's dream" when he was elected mayor of Spokane (Johnson). However, in 2005 he became entangled in a scandal involving gay sex. Later that year, in a nearly Shakespearean downfall, he was recalled by Spokane voters. Seven months after the recall, West died of cancer.
Star-Struck with Politics
James Elton (Jim) West was born on March 28, 1951, in Salem, Oregon, to Jack E. West, a postal inspector, and Claire L. West, a housewife. When Jim West was a boy, the family moved back to Spokane, where both parents had been raised. He attended Rogers Elementary School and Grant Elementary School and later referred to himself as a "kid from Grant School, the lower east side of Spokane" (Johnson). He attended Spokane's Lewis and Clark High School.
During his senior year, his family moved to Reno for a job, but Jim West wanted to stay at Lewis and Clark High School, so he lived with family friends Bob and Margelene Franks. The Frankses loved to talk politics and were friends with a former mayor. The young West was star-struck and began his lifelong fascination with politics.
Growing Up Fast
He graduated from high school in 1969. That September, he enrolled at the University of Nevada at Reno, majoring in education. He joined the ROTC and Phi Sigma Kappa. However, his time at the university was brief because of his inability to manage his tuition money.
"At registration for his freshman year at the University of Nevada, he paid only half the $400 his parents had given him for tuition," according to a 1990 newspaper profile. "When the balance came due two months later, he'd blown the remainder at a craps game. Because his mother refused to give him another $200, West was expelled" ("Maturing West Still Does the Unexpected").
He stayed in Reno, working for a time at a movie theater, but because he had lost his student deferment, he was soon drafted. West said that in retrospect, his mother's refusal to bail him out "was probably the best thing that ever happened to me" ("Maturing West Still Does the Unexpected"). "The army made me grow up fast," West said ("Maturing West Still Does the Unexpected").
In November 1971, he entered the U.S. Army at Fort Ord, California. He served in North Carolina with the 82nd Airborne Division as a personnel specialist and a paratrooper. He loved being a paratrooper -- later in his life, he would still list "parachutist" as one of his hobbies. During his time on active duty, he also attended a six-week training course in diving at Key West, Florida, and acquired another lifelong sport, scuba diving. He would later own a scuba diving business.
Law Enforcement Years
In 1974, Specialist Fourth Class West received his honorable discharge from the army and returned to Spokane to pursue a new career in law enforcement. In January 1975, the Medical Lake Police Department, just outside of Spokane, hired the 23-year-old army veteran as a patrolman. While working in Medical Lake, he graduated from the Spokane Sheriff's Academy. In December 1975, Spokane County hired West as a deputy sheriff. He continued to take college-level criminal justice classes, and graduated from Gonzaga University in 1978 with a B.A. in criminal justice.
On April 9, 1978, as West was pursuing a burglary suspect, he drew his pistol in order to "intimidate" the suspect, and then tried to return it to his holster ("Candidate Reveals Suspension"). The gun "discharged accidentally when he was returning it to his holster" ("Badge Beckons 3 Lawmen"). The bullet hit the ground and nobody was injured. West reported the incident to his superiors and received a two-day suspension, signed by Spokane County Undersheriff Larry V. Erickson. The suspension went unpublicized at the time.
Running for Sheriff
A month later, on May 7, 1978, West resigned from the sheriff's department in order to run for Spokane County sheriff against Erickson. West was 27 years old and had been a deputy for a little more than two years. He ran on a platform of making the sheriff's department more efficient and more responsive to the community's needs. He said his experience as a patrolling deputy put him in better touch with the community. The campaign took a surprising turn just a few weeks before the general election when the suspension story finally came out. He told The Spokesman-Review that he wanted to "bare his soul" about the incident, but called it "really minor" and said it had nothing to do with his decision to leave the force and run against Erickson ("Candidate Reveals Suspension").
Erickson handily defeated West by a 58 percent to 31 percent margin on November 7, 1978. West said the results were "very encouraging," because six months ago, "nobody knew who I was and now I have been accepted by one of the major parties and received 25,000 votes" ("Sheriff Lists Priorities").
West added that he was "flat broke" and had used his pension money and sold his boat and guns to finance his $13,000 campaign ("Sheriff Lists Priorities"). He said he'd "be in the poorhouse" if he didn't find a job soon ("Sheriff Lists Priorities").
Valuable Contacts at the House
As it turned out, West landed a job suited perfectly to his political ambitions: assistant sergeant-at-arms in the state House of Representatives during the 1979 Washington State Legislature session in Olympia. The job was a political appointment, providing security for the House and its related office building.
"The people the Democrats have hired in the past have looked like escapees from a reformatory," said Sixth District State Representative Richard M. Bond, a Republican from Spokane who backed West for the job. "We're going to take a different approach" ("West in Line for House Job").
West's assessment of the previous Democratic appointees was no more flattering. They "were your basic longhairs" who played Frisbee in House offices during the wee hours, said West ("House Job"). He said he'd like to see "the force get a little closer to the Ivy League and away from Berkeley" ("West in Line for House Job").
West clearly saw the job as a way to become closer to the political establishment. As he prepared for the job, he predicted that he'd "be making valuable contacts," and that, depending on how the experience went, he might think about a legislative race in the future ("West in Line for House Job"). He also said he was planning to attend law school in the fall.
Spokane City Council
After the 1979 legislative session ended, West returned to Spokane and filed for the Spokane City Council seat of incumbent Marilyn M. Stanton (1925-1994). On September 18, 1979, he came in second out of five candidates, earning a place in the general election against Stanton. West earned 2,403 votes in the primary, well below Stanton's 4,384.
However, in the general election West came out punching. He accused Stanton, an associate professor of biology at Gonzaga University, of being "a monkey wrench in the system" ("Election Talk Familiar"). Stanton countered by accusing West, 28, of being inexperienced and unprepared.
"I studied a long time before I became a candidate," said Stanton. "Jim West doesn't know beans about the job" ("2 Council Seats Remain in Doubt"). West promised sardonically that he would "do my homework before I came to class" ("Election Talk Familiar").
When the ballots were counted on November 6, 1979, West became the youngest person ever elected to the Spokane City Council. "I think Spokane likes fresh, young blood," said West ("Winners and Losers Do Not Mince Words"). The margin was stunning: 57 percent for West, 43 percent for Stanton. West said "to be honest -- I was surprised" ("Winners and Losers Do Not Mince Words").
The council job paid only $4,500 per year and was supposedly part-time, but in 1980 West told a reporter that he had little time to devote to his other job, real-estate salesman for Spokane Properties, Inc. The story noted that West still made time to be the scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 345, based at Hamblen Elementary School, a position he had held since at least 1978. The story also noted that he was 29 and unmarried.
In 1981, after Bair decided to step down after one term, West announced that he was running for mayor. He was one of five candidates in the field, three of whom, including West, were city council members who would retain their council seats even if they lost. After a relatively low-key primary campaign, West finished fourth out of five candidates with 3,101 votes compared to 9,983, the highest number of votes that went to James E. "Jim" Chase (1914-1987). Chase would go on to win the general election and become Spokane's first African American mayor.
Washington State Legislature
In May 1982, West ventured into the statewide political arena. He announced he would seek the sixth district House seat being vacated by Republican incumbent Mike McGinnis. West, who now worked as a real-estate salesman for James S. Black and Co., said the more concentrated time demands of the state legislature would allow him to devote more time to his real-estate practice. He also contrasted his personal situation with that of McGinnis, who was quitting the legislature to spend more time with his young children. He said, "The fact that I don't have a family makes it easier for me to leave" ("Jim West to Run for Legislative Seat").
His Democratic opponent was Mary Springer, who surprised Spokane political observers by getting 46 percent of the primary vote in a conservative legislative district that typically went strongly Republican. The Spokesman-Review editorial board endorsed West, saying that he "has demonstrated a sense of fiscal responsibility on the council and merits promotion to Olympia" ("SR Legislative Picks"). In the general election on November 2, 1982, West hung on amid a general Democratic wave to win his first state legislative seat by 13,866 votes to Springer's 12,788. This would mark the beginning of what would be a 21-year career in the Washington State Legislature.
The freshman legislator was assigned to the Judiciary, Social and Health Services Committee, and the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee. He declared himself to be in favor of tax reform, but staunchly opposed a personal income tax. Other than that, he just wanted to get used to his new position and study the issues. "I'm no Don Quixote," said West. "I'm not going to tilt at every windmill that comes down the road. I'm just going to do a good job" (Goodman).
The brash young legislator made news on March 31, 1983, when the Democratic House Speaker Wayne Ehlers (b. 1938) ordered the sergeant-at-arms to escort West off the floor of the House when West refused to vote on a bill. House rules specify that members must vote if they are on the floor. West was participating in a larger protest and stalling tactic used by several other House Republicans earlier in the day, but West took it further than the others by refusing to vote when ordered to by the speaker. West relented as the sergeant-at-arms approached and finally cast his vote, narrowly avoiding being the first House member in a decade to be removed by a sergeant-at-arms. Both Ehlers and West were irate about the confrontation.
"I was furious," said West. "He tried to use coercion. ... I should have let the sergeant-at-arms cart me off the floor. That would have been interesting" ("West Nearly Expelled from Floor for Refusing to Vote"). Ehlers said of West, "I don't dislike the man, but today I think he was rather bullish, rather stubborn. ... Every time [West] behaved like that, it was another bill we wouldn't get to" ("West Nearly Expelled from Floor for Refusing to Vote").
The Spokane Chronicle later chastised West for engaging in "sophomoric antics" ("Vote Refusal Poor Tactic"). This issue failed to disturb voters in the sixth district, who in November 1984 voted by a 58-to-42 percent margin to re-elect him to a second term. He stressed his experience during the campaign -- yet he was only 33.
West pushed no bills through the Democrat-controlled legislature that session. In his second session, he introduced a law toughening child pornography laws and joined other Republicans in co-sponsoring a bill that would have barred homosexuals from working in schools, daycare centers, and some state agencies (House Bill No. 1969). The bill, which defined same-gender sex as "deviant sexual behavior," went nowhere.
The State Senate
In February 1986, West made a surprise announcement: He planned to run for the state Senate seat in the sixth district against Republican incumbent Sam Guess (1909-1989), one of his own political mentors. He said he had a "great deal of respect for Sen. Guess," but that he had received a great deal "of broad-based interest" ("West to Challenge Guess"). Guess had held the seat since 1962, and said he intended to win the primary. However, in May 1986, Guess announced that he would not seek another term.
"I thought he was just an upstart," said Guess. "I had protected the guy. I had tried to educate him. I felt it was ingratitude" ("Abortion Issue Sends Guess to the Sidelines").
West, for his part, said the idea of running against his former mentor had "tied my stomach in knots" ("Abortion Issue Sends Guess to the Sidelines"). Guess's withdrawal meant that West could concentrate on his Democratic opponent, businessman and restaurant owner Tony Anderson. On November 5, 1986, West squeaked out the narrowest of victories over Anderson, pulling clear only after the absentee ballots were counted. During a nervous election night, West said he did not want to be remembered as the "young upstart" who lost Sam Guess's Senate seat (Camden, "Republicans").
Scuba Diving and a Tragedy
When not serving in Olympia, West was operating his own scuba-diving shop, Down Under Divers, and teaching scuba classes through Gonzaga University. On November 27, 1988, West took three Gonzaga students diving in 90 feet of water at Lake Coeur d'Alene, as part of their advanced certification requirements. While West and another student were assisting another diver, he lost track of sophomore Peter Boyce, 19, of Wenatchee. Less than two minutes later, they saw Boyce floating facedown on the lake surface. West administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but Boyce was pronounced dead a short time later at the Kootenai Medical Center.
The cause of death was an air embolism, probably caused when Boyce surfaced too quickly from a depth of 80 or 100 feet. A Kootenai County Sheriff's Office investigator said, "You can't really blame anyone for something that happened in 100 feet of water that nobody saw" (Oliveria). However, Boyce's mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 1989, claiming "negligence in the way the class was supervised and the dive was conducted" (DeFede). The case was eventually thrown out of court, since Boyce had signed a consent form.
Sex and Marriage
In the state Senate, West began to forge a reputation as a skilled organizer and important member of the Republican caucus. He was chair of Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee, a key post in the ongoing abortion debates. West, along with most members of his party, opposed abortion. He also made national news for two unrelated events in early 1990, both of them involving -- in a way -- love and marriage.
The first was for an AIDS education bill he sponsored, which included a provision that would make all "sexual contact" -- even heavy petting -- illegal for anyone unmarried under 18 (Matassa). It was quickly branded the "No-Sex-For-Teens Bill" on the front page of The Seattle Times (King, Rhodes, Tizon). The Seattle Times ran a mocking editorial headlined, "Get A Life, Sen. West! -- Lightweight Thinking on Heavy Petting" ("Get A Life, Sen. West! ..."). West would quickly abandon the bill, but it received plenty of tittering attention from publications as diverse as The New York Times and National Lampoon.
He earned much better publicity just weeks later for the unusual way he proposed marriage to Ginger Marshall, 27, a Spokane health-care executive. Marshall, who had been dating West for about six months, had come to Olympia on February 7, 1990, by bus with the Junior League of Spokane, expecting to simply watch the legislature in action. When she was sitting in the gallery above the Senate floor, a page delivered a note to her. It was from West and it read, "Will you marry me?, Love Jim" (A Hidden Life). She nodded vigorously and mouthed the words, "I do!" to West.
West rose on the Senate floor and said, "I just sent one of the young ladies in the gallery a proposal of marriage and she accepted" ("Sen. West Gets 'I Do' at Session"). His fellow senators rose for a standing ovation and rushed to congratulate the couple. West said he did it because "I had to embarrass her into saying yes" ("Sen. West Gets 'I Do' at Session"). West said that later that day he got calls from reporters as far away as New York and London.
The wedding date was set for late November, because in the meantime, West had another re-election campaign to get through. Despite the teen-sex debacle, many state political observers believed that West, at age 38, was beginning to mature into a responsible and independent legislator. "I just didn't think he was ever going to make it as a legislator," said his fellow Spokane-area legislator, Democrat Lois Stratton (b. 1927). "I thought he was arrogant. But I found out that Jim would listen and take advice. The change I see in him ... is just amazing" ("Maturing West Still Does the Unexpected").
Moderating and Maturing
Many believed his staunchly conservative beliefs had moderated, in keeping with the evolving, less-conservative nature of the sixth district. Yet not everybody was impressed. Ehlers still called him a "wise guy" and Sam Guess's widow, Dorothy Guess, still had not forgiven him, saying, "You just don't need to stick somebody in the back like that" ("Maturing West Still Does the Unexpected"). His Democratic challenger, Jan Polek (d. 2012), was certainly not amused by the teen-sex bill, which she said had made the sixth district "look foolish" ("Maturing West Still Does the Unexpected"). Polek was a middle-of-the-road Catholic mother of two. However, she was staunchly pro-choice on the abortion issue and she hammered constantly on West for his anti-abortion stance.
Even West's fiancé, Ginger Marshall, was pro-choice. "We both respect that the other had certain opinions of the subject of sexuality," said Marshall. "Those opinions may differ, but that's okay" ("Maturing West Still Does the Unexpected").
During the campaign, West said he favored letting the voters decide the abortion question through an initiative vote. He campaigned on his accomplishments, including pushing through a mandatory helmet law for motorcyclists and being named legislator of the year in 1989 by the Washington State Medical Association for his work on several health-related bills. Polek criticized him for his proposal to merge Eastern Washington University and Washington State University. The Spokesman-Review editors endorsed him, writing, "He's learned. And he's matured" ("West's Voice Needed"). On November 6, 1990, West won a second Senate term by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin.
West and Ginger Marshall married in Seattle on November 24, 1990. In the legislature, West was named the chairman of the bipartisan Eastern Washington caucus. It proved to be the first step of a decade-long move up the Republican leadership ladder. He also became a foe of Governor Booth Gardner's (1936-2013) plan for statewide health care, blocking key portions of it as chairman of the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee. The plan was staunchly opposed by the Washington State Medical Association. West called it a bureaucratic nightmare.
Scoffing and Name Calling
In March 1995, West called for the impeachment of Democratic Governor Mike Lowry (1939-2017) over allegations that Lowry had sexually harassed a female aide. Even his fellow Republicans were unenthusiastic about the impeachment idea, and West was dressed down by his own Republican caucus for acting on his own. West scoffed at the party leadership, saying, "The leadership of the House aren't red meat eaters" ("West Seeks Lowry's Impeachment"). Not long afterward, West engaged in a name-calling spat with fellow Republican Senator Pam Roach of Auburn over a campaign fundraising issue. He called her a "nit-picker" and "royal pain" ("Illegal Campaign Money Already Spent").
By the summer of 1995, West's marriage had fallen apart. Ginger West filed for divorce in June 1995. It was granted in September 1995. In 2003 she would say, "Marriage for us probably was not meant to be. We were good friends and continue to be good friends" (Johnson). When a reporter asked West in 2003 what broke up the marriage he first responded, "I have no idea," but then added, "Me being away, the legislative life" (Johnson). In a 2002 email sent to one of his old army buddies, West wrote, "I wanted kids and she wanted a big powerful career. Oh well" (West email). Later, West would say that the marriage faltered after Ginger had a miscarriage (A Hidden Life).
During the 1996 legislative session, he lived in a leaky 35-foot El Dorado motor home, to save money. Later that year, he took the same motor home on a statewide campaign tour to small towns all over the state, because he was running for the open position of lieutenant governor. He was one of a field of 14. The job paid far more than a state senator's salary. West said the duties were "self-defining," but the most important thing is "to be ready to step into the governor's office" ("Lt. Governor's Position Worth More than Spit"). "Planes crash, and people have heart attacks," said West, who had made no secret about his ambition to be governor one day ("Lt. Governor's Position Worth More than Spit").
In September 1996, West finished second out of five Republicans in the primary, and was routed by Ann Anderson (b. 1952), a Republican state senator from Whatcom County, 132,041 votes to 72,203. West returned to his new job as director of Camp Cowles, the region's Boy Scout summer camp. In 1997 he also returned to his post as state senator, and was named the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which decided how state government raised and spent money. He became the Senate's budget chief and budget writer.
A Powerful State Senator
West wielded more power than any state senator except the majority leader, according to a 1998 newspaper profile. Dick Thompson, Locke's budget director, said that West fought fair, always gave accurate information, had a thorough command of the budget, and didn't let disagreements get personal. Thompson later said he would "jump out the window of the sixth floor if he [West] told me it would be OK" (Johnson). Locke even called West "very thoughtful" on budget issues (Welch).
Others said West was known in Olympia "as much for ambition as for vision" (Welch). One former colleague on the Spokane City Council said, "He'd like to be king of the world. But I'm sure he'd settle for governor" (Welch). Former state representative Todd Mielke said West's personality was misunderstood. "My daughter is 5 years old and he tries to be gruff and she just laughs at him," said Mielke (Welch).
That gruffness landed him in trouble when an angry West phoned up lobbyist Tom McCabe and left the following voice message: "McCabe, you son of a bitch, you better get me, cause if you don't, you're dead" (Welch and Camden). West was charged with two counts of misdemeanor harassment and intimidation, and later settled the case by paying $500 to an Olympia charity and apologizing to McCabe.
Voters in the sixth district seemed unfazed. On November 4, 1998, West won his fourth term in the state Senate, narrowly beating Registered Nurse Judy Personett by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent. West was elected minority leader for the 2000 legislative session.
Campaigning and More Campaigning
Yet soon West set his sights on a different office, one that he later called his lifelong goal: mayor of Spokane. On May 11, 2000, West announced his candidacy for mayor, under the city's new "strong mayor" form of government. It was a full-time position and it paid more than state Senate. He ran in the primary against incumbent mayor John Talbott and lawyer and political newcomer John Powers. All three candidates slugged it out in heated debates throughout the summer. A poll a few weeks before the September 2000 primary showed all three candidates bunched closely together. One political observer noted, "You've got three big-time serious candidates. Anybody can win" ("Talbott, West, Lead in Poll"). West ended up drawing the short straw -- he finished third with 26 percent of the vote, and was knocked out of the general election. Observers noted that his campaign had seemed "oddly lackluster" (Staley). Powers would go on to win the general election over incumbent Talbott, and West would return to the state Senate.
In November 2002, West found himself locked in another tight race, this time to retain his Senate seat. His opponent was Democrat Laurie Dolan, a school district administrator. It was the most expensive Senate campaign in state history at that time, partly because both parties knew it could decide control of the Senate. West raised more than $243,000 and Dolan raised more than $195,000. The two candidates traded barbs constantly. One campaign ad accused West of planning to run for Spokane mayor again in 2003. West responded, "I thought my opponent was going to play fair, but now her surrogates are attacking me," and said he had no plans to run for mayor in 2003 (Cannata). On November 5, 2002, West won a squeaker of a race by the final margin of 24,015 to 22,708.
Senate Majority Leader
The Republicans won a majority in the Senate, and the Republican caucus rewarded West by electing him Senate majority leader. The Associated Press called West a "tough-talking former deputy sheriff," and quoted him as saying, "I want to lower the partisan tenor of the place" (Ammons). West was considered, even by Democrats, as "not an ideologue" and more of a "policy wonk" ("Race to Lead Spokane").
Meanwhile, West was earning a reputation as an effective organizer and manager. A profile of West in The Olympian called him "the most powerful Republican in state government," and "known for being an excellent strategist" (Shannon). The profile quoted a Republican colleague as saying he had seen "a maturing in West over the years" and had changed the caucus to be "more collaborative" and to have "high integrity" (Shannon). West said he had learned innovative management skills during a three-month-long trip to Japan in 1999. The Democratic minority leader, Senator Lisa Brown (b. 1956) of Spokane, said West was adept in two political areas -- policy issues and strategy -- but was less skilled in the "people area" (Shannon). Early in the session, West engaged in another public spat with fellow Republican Senator Pam Roach, who called him a "depraved, power-hungry jerk" ("West, Roach Feud Simmers").
Coming Down with Cancer
The Olympian profile noted that West appeared "slouched" at his desk and had "circles under his eyes," which the reporter attributed to another long day on the Senate floor. In fact, there was a more serious explanation. On April 23, 2003, West's office announced that he had been diagnosed with colon cancer and would undergo surgery. Flowers and cards poured into West's office from both Republicans and Democrats. "He's not just their leader, but he's really about half of the institutional knowledge of the Senate Republican Party," said Democratic Party chairman Paul Berendt ("West to Stay in Olympia Through End of Session").
In May 2003, surgeons removed about 20 inches of his colon, his gall bladder, and 20 lymph nodes. He returned to Olympia a week later in good spirits and proclaiming, "I'm in the game" ("West Back In Senate"). A few days later, he said, "I've placed a lot of faith in the Lord and in good friends and in good medical folks. Basically, I'm putting my life in their hands" ("Dolan Takes On an Even Bigger Foe").
Running for Mayor
Cancer treatment certainly didn't affect West's political appetite. On August 1, 2003, West announced that he would run again for Spokane mayor, "because I've always wanted to be mayor, and I think I can do a good job" ("State Sen. Jim West Enters Mayoral Race"). He was one of five contenders in the primary, including incumbent John Powers, who had defeated West three years earlier. West ran on a platform of experienced leadership, saying of Powers, "They tried an amateur and it didn't work" ("State Sen. Jim West Enters Mayoral Race"). He said his health was good and that his cancer diagnosis actually spurred him on to the decision. "It's been my life's dream to be mayor of Spokane," said West. "When you think life is short, you do what you really want to do" (Johnson).
He said cancer had also brought him closer to God. He considered himself a Christian, but even then didn't attend church regularly. However, he believed that other people's prayers had helped him and he imagined a God, flooded with prayers, saying, "Get me an angel. I need to know who this Jim West guy is" (Johnson).
When asked about his private life, he said, "My private life? It's public. I don't have much of a private life" (Johnson). He lived alone. He liked to play golf. But he said he regretted not having children.
In the primary, West finished first, well ahead of TV journalist Tom Grant in second place, who would also advance to the general election. Incumbent John Powers finished third and was bounced out of the race. During the general election campaign, West continually hammered on the themes of experience, management expertise, and economic development. The Spokesman-Review's editorial board endorsed him, saying he "understands the workings of government" ("Editorial Board Endorsements"). In the general election on November 4, 2003, West drew support across party lines and defeated Grant with 53 percent of the vote.
It meant he would have to leave the legislature where he had served for 21 sessions. He had plenty of accomplishments to point to. He had played a key role in the bill that created the state Department of Health; he had helped build several state budgets; and he had crafted legislation to create the Spokane Public Facilities District, owner of the Spokane Arena and the Spokane Convention Center. But he said that mayor of Spokane was the only job he wanted more than Senate majority leader. "It's where his heart is," said state Senator Pat Hale, the No. 2 Republican. "He'll have the opportunity to really direct the government. In the Legislature, you're one of many" ("Race to Lead Spokane").
Mayor of Spokane
West was sworn in on December 23, 2003, during an emotional ceremony at Grant Elementary School, which West and his late mother, Claire West, had both attended. He called it a "great day for me" and was given two standing ovations that lasted nearly a half-minute each (Prager).
West's first year as mayor was complicated by city budget woes, which required cutting $17 million from the 2005 budget and eliminating 154 positions. Yet West's handling of the budget crisis earned praise and he was widely credited with bringing a new efficiency into City Hall. West also settled key portions of the River Park Square parking garage dispute, a controversy that had been raging for many years in Spokane. He also convinced previously reluctant Spokane voters to pass a $117 million street bond project. Ratings of "standard" and "poor" upgraded the city's bond rating several steps. Spokane City Council president Dennis Hession said that West's administration had been "upbeat and forward-looking" (Graman). People in Spokane were speculating that West might become the first mayor in decades to serve more than one term.
West's Gay Sex Scandal
Then, on May 5, 2005, a newspaper bombshell changed everything. The Spokesman-Review ran a package of investigative stories that essentially outed West as a closeted gay man who had trolled for dates on a gay chat and dating website. More seriously, the stories aired accusations from two men who said that West had molested them as boys more than 20 years earlier. The first sentence of the main story read, "For a quarter century, the man who is now Spokane's mayor has used positions of public trust -- as a sheriff's deputy, Boy Scout leader and powerful politician -- to develop sexual relations with boys and young men" ("West Tied to Sex Abuse in '70s...").
The child molestation allegations came from two convicted felons and drug addicts recalling incidents from the 1970s. West categorically denied them, saying, "I didn't abuse them. I don't know these people. I didn't abuse anybody, and I didn't have sex with anybody under 18 -- ever -- woman or man" ("West Tied to Sex Abuse in '70s...").
The allegation that he trolled for dates on a gay website came from a Spokane man who said he went on a date with West. The allegation that he offered city internships to prospective dates came, more controversially, from a computer forensics expert who The Spokesman-Review hired to verify West's online identity. The expert, posing as a young man with the handle Moto-Brock, engaged in coy sexual banter with an older man with the handle RightBi-Guy (who later switched to the handle JMSElton). Moto-Brock eventually got the older man to admit that he was the mayor of Spokane. West admitted to these relationships but said they were between consenting adults.
"The Gay.com thing has only been, I can't recall, but it hasn't been very long," West told the newspaper. "I can't tell you why I go there, to tell you the truth ... curiosity, confused, whatever, I don't know. ... I wouldn't characterize me as 'gay'" ("West Tied to Sex Abuse in '70s...").
The stories were particularly volatile because of West's past record on gay rights. The Spokesman-Review pointed out that West had backed the 1986 bill that would have barred homosexuals from working in schools, day-care centers, and some state agencies. The stories also noted a 1998 vote for banning gay marriage and West's notorious "no-sex-for-teens" bill in 1990. One Democratic political consultant said West's preference for men was "the worst kept secret in Washington politics" ("West's Public Policy Conflicts with Private Life").
The day after the stories came out, West vowed to stay in office, even though some on the city council called for him to step down. He called the editor of The Spokesman-Review and said, "I'm being destroyed because I am a gay man, which is fine. I've been in public life, I can accept that. Because I am a gay man, because of this double life, it has been hell" ("Mayor Says Sex Act Happened at Home..."). On May 9, 2005, he announced he was going to take a 10-day self-imposed leave to prepare a defense against "false accusations leveled against me" (Prager and Steele).
Meanwhile, more allegations surfaced. One was from a 24-year-old openly gay Spokane man who said that West appointed him to the city's Human Rights Commission and then made a series of sexually explicit online advances toward him, including an offer of "$300 cash if I'd swim naked" with West ("Mayors Offer of Posts, Sexual Advances..."). The young man spurned all advances and finally resigned from the commission after West had "hounded me for months, telling me I was cute, and asking me out on dates" ("Mayors Offer of Posts, Sexual Advances..."). The FBI launched a public corruption investigation and seized West's computers to determine whether West misused his office by offering jobs and internships to gay men in exchange for sex. Pam Roach weighed in, claiming that West once made an inappropriate sexual comment about her teenage son.
The Spokane City Council had no power to dismiss the mayor -- that could be done only through a recall election. On May 9, 2005, a single mother and florist named Shannon Sullivan filed a recall petition, saying, "I teach my son to accept responsibility for wrongdoing ... . Mayor West needs to accept his and step down" ("West Takes Leave"). As the controversy dragged on, the Spokane City Council joined the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Spokane Area Economic Council and other voices asking West to resign. West refused, saying he did not misuse his power for personal gain. He pointed out that the internship he discussed with Moto-Brock was unpaid. However, he admitted that he had disappointed his city and his constituents in other, more personal ways.
"I think for many people I let them down," West said, "They knew me, but they didn't know everything -- sitting at home, being bored, getting online and chatting with people instead of watching TV or reading a good book or whatever. You know, not very proud of it. So, that's wrong. And then chatting with 'motobrock' who was an 18-year-old -- started out fairly innocent, but went where it shouldn't have. And that was wrong" ("Even the Mayor Wonders: Who is the Real Jim West?").
In the aftermath, he swore off both sex and the Internet, he said. He increasingly blamed the newspaper for what he called a "brutal outing" ("Ex-Mayors Demand West's Resignation"). The story attracted national attention. Jay Leno joked about West on the Tonight Show. Jon Stewart of The Daily Show quipped, "The mayor called it 'a brutal outing' while everyone else called it 'perfect irony'" ("Spo-Cain Makes the Monologues").
On May 31, 2005, West appeared on NBC's Today show to say that he believed the investigations would clear him. He took issue with host Matt Lauer, who implied that West was hypocritical for being an anti-gay legislator. West said he had never been "an advocate" or "leader of the charge" in anti-gay legislation and that he simply voted the way every other representative and senator from his district had voted (Geranios).
Meanwhile, the most serious allegations of long-ago pedophilia remained unproven. The statute of limitations had long expired and no charges were ever filed. West told The Seattle Times that The Spokesman-Review aggressively searched for more victims and failed to find any. "Where are they?" he said. "Pedophiles don't abuse just one person" ("Even the Mayor Wonders: Who is the Real Jim West?").
A Hidden Life
The controversy spread beyond West's behavior. The nation's gay community debated whether West was a self-hating hypocrite or a gay man being persecuted for his sexual preferences -- and whether outing a closeted gay man was justified. The nation's journalists debated The Spokesman-Review's reporting tactics, especially over whether it was justified to create a fictional persona in pursuit of a story. This debate came to a culmination on November 14, 2006, when the PBS show Frontline aired a documentary about the West scandal called A Hidden Life, which questioned the paper's methods, calling it a "sting operation" (A Hidden Life). A New York Times review of A Hidden Life said the show portrayed West "as the victim of a contemporary line of Kafkaesque persecution and in the end an almost wholly sympathetic figure. So this is how a life gets destroyed" (Heffernan).
The recall drive gained momentum. Sullivan turned in more than 17,000 signatures on a petition, more than enough to spur a recall vote. West filed appeals, but in the end a recall vote was scheduled for December 6, 2005. West staged a campaign aimed at rejecting the recall, but was hampered by lack of money and the fact that he was once again undergoing treatment for cancer. The recall vote was based solely on the charge that West had used his office for personal benefit by offering to help a student (actually the fictional Moto-Brock) to obtain an internship and by discussing dating and sex. West's official response reiterated his contention that he had never used his office for personal gain. He said he had apologized for errors in his private life and asked forgiveness.
On December 6, 2005, voters swept West from office by a vote of 65 percent to 35 percent. West looked at the numbers and said, "My God, that's huge" (A Hidden Life). On December 15, 2005, West walked out of his City Hall office for the last time. He said he was "at peace with everything" and embarked on a new life, selling ads for a local magazine ("Voters Recall West").
David Ammons, an Associated Press political reporter, called it "absolutely Shakespearean -- I would say he was the most important Republican in the state for while, and now he's exiled in disgrace" (A Hidden Life).
A Mob Mentality?
Yet the story was not over. On February 16, 2006, the FBI announced that it would pursue no charges against West. Its investigation had "uncovered no evidence" that the mayor had provided "city hall jobs or internships in exchange for sex" (Department of Justice).
"A review of records reveals that virtually every person who applied for an internship with the city was offered a position," said the FBI. "There was no indication that West had improperly assisted any potential employees or interns" (Department of Justice).
The FBI specified that its investigation was narrowly defined and did not "address whether Jim West's activities were ethical, moral or appropriate" (Department of Justice). Still, West took it as vindication and said his recall had been caused by "a mob mentality created by the local newspaper" ("Former Mayor Speaks Out After FBI Drops Investigation").
At the time of the FBI ruling, West told reporters that he was feeling fine. However, the cancer had spread. Seven months after the recall, on July 22, 2006, Jim West died at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. He was 55.
At his final press conference he had said, "This has probably been the best two years of my life. I have no regrets as far as being mayor. I'm not angry at all. I'm at absolute peace" (Camden, Prager, Roesler).