In Spokane, Washington, the inventory of available housing stock is at its lowest point ever in city records; housing prices have seen double-digit increases in recent years; and apartment vacancy is below 2%. In the midst of the crisis, the Spokane Association of REALTORS® recognized an opportunity to tackle the barriers to creating more housing: they championed a challenger to the mayor’s office, as well as five candidates for the City Council, hoping to dislodge the long-entrenched incumbent politicians who were decidedly anti-growth. With help from the REALTOR® Party, they ran six independent expenditure campaigns, winning four – including the mayoral race.
Tom Hormel, a Spokane REALTOR® who is the current Washington state RPAC Committee Chair and incoming president of Washington REALTORS®, was spokesperson for the efforts. “NAR’s help was instrumental in the recent success in the mayoral race in Spokane,” he says. “They not only provided monetary assistance, but the polling and planning help they provided made a huge impact. We could not have been as successful without their assistance.”
For Darin Watkins, Spokane REALTORS®’ Government Affairs Director, it was trial-by-fire. After only a few months on the job early last year, his Association Executive, Rob Higgins, had suggested he attend the AE Institute, where he learned about all the various programs and resources of the REALTOR® Party. “They really are interested in affecting politics at the local grassroots level,” he says. “They understood the reality that, in places like Spokane, there isn’t a single social issue that doesn’t involve housing, from job stability to the public schools.” A single conversation with NAR staff set the plan for the independent expenditure campaigns in motion.
Watkins received great support from the state association, which handled all the disclosure filings and made sure that the Spokane Association was in compliance with all the rules associated with independent expenditure campaigns–which can be complicated. He is especially grateful for advice from Nathan Gorton, the state GAD, who urged him to draft talking points early on. “These became our playbook, because the campaigns were about ideas and issues, not about candidates.” In fact, the candidates backed by the REALTORS® were from both sides of the aisle, and were carefully vetted by a bipartisan team of Spokane REALTOR® interviewers. Nadine Woodward, the successful mayoral candidate, had actually attended the REALTORS®’ Candidate Training Academy a few years earlier. “When asked how she would solve the housing crisis,” reports Watkins, “she said she didn’t have the answers, but she would form a task force and wanted REALTORS® to be on it. That was what we needed to know.”
Support from the REALTOR® Party began with polling to devise strategies and develop messaging, then extended to creating mailers and digital advertising, all of it positive. When some of their candidates’ opponents began crying ‘foul’ over a national organization being involved in local elections, the REALTOR® Party quickly produced a cartoon counter-ad, strategically placed in local media to address the negative messages directly. Ground teams of door-knockers and email and text-alert campaigns helped drive voters to the polls.
“There’s no question, it was a real sleigh ride!” admits Watkins. “But I’d urge other local boards not to be scared off. The tools that NAR has are very effective, and their team did so much of the heavy lifting. We always felt that we were in the driver’s seat, but they definitely took a lot of the stress out of running six independent expenditure campaigns.” The results – including a brand new mayor – are going to make a pivotal change for Spokane, he says.
To learn more about how the Spokane REALTORS® are working to elect officials who will seek ways to create much-needed housing in their city, contact Darin Watkins, Government Affairs Director, at 509-326-9222.