Jim Camden Commentary: Matt Shea Still Hasn't Paid to Clean Olive Oil Off the Capitol Steps


Former Rep. Matt Shea, who opted not to run for re-election to the Legislature last year, is gone but not forgotten at the state Capitol in Olympia.

Christian conservatives doubtless remember him for a solid record opposing things like abortion and same-sex marriage, and fiscal conservatives for voting against tax increases. Gun rights advocates might remember his impassioned speeches against anything they view as encroaching on the Second Amendment. Fans of having Eastern Washington secede from the West Side likely miss him as the chief proponent of the now moribund 51st State movement.

Democratic opponents might remember him less fondly for those things, but also for the special investigation that questioned whether some of his outside activities could be considered domestic terrorism.

The folks who take care of the Capitol complex might remember him for something else: not paying to clean up the mess he made with a bit of religious theater more than a year ago.

According the Department of Enterprise Services, Shea hasn't paid the initial $4,761.34 bill for removing olive oil the state believes he poured on the stone steps and walkway on the north side of the domed Legislative Building on March 6, 2020.

That was the day Shea and other Christian conservatives decided to counter a protest by a group of Satanists with a demonstration of their own.

Members of the Seattle-based Satanic Church of Washington were fuming a bit because, unlike many other religious denominations, they hadn't been invited to deliver an opening invocation in either the House or Senate chamber, and the 2020 session was just about up. The church got a demonstration permit from the state, some members donned black hooded robes, and they marched through the building and down the north steps, giving their own invocation.

A short time later, Shea joined a group of avowed Christian who gathered on the steps to sing, pray and blow ceremonial rams horns known as shofors to counteract the bad juju of the Satanists.

Shea brought some olive oil to that gathering, but a sharp-eyed state worker relieved him of it, a state report said later. The Valley legislator later went inside to his office, got another bottle of olive oil, and — accompanied by some apparent bikers for Jesus clad in black leather and sporting "Christian Crusaders" insignia — returned to the steps, where the oil was poured on the sandstone walkway and the marble steps where the Satanists had been.

The State Patrol incident report, which included video from the many cameras in place around the Legislative Building, said oil was poured about 100 feet down the steps.

Whether it was blessed as "holy oil" isn't clear, but the stones on which it was poured clearly were holey.

Whether the Church of Satan's invocation created any bad vibes that needed to be exorcised by the Christians' singing, praying, horn blowing and oil-spreading is a question for a theologian. The Legislature adjourned about a week later and the state went into a form of lockdown about 10 days after that, but bigger forces were likely at work there.

The bill for the cleanup — pretty substantial because the stones soaked up the oil and needed to be cleaned by experts with special chemicals — was sent to Shea.

The unpaid invoice was sent to a collection agency a couple months ago, which by law can tack on 25% for work needed to get the debt paid. The bill also goes up by 1% each month for interest.

As of last week, the department said, Shea's bill for the cleanup stands at $6,045.60. He could have disputed the charge before it was sent to the collection agency but did not, department records show.

The video collected by the State Patrol shows Shea holding the oil but not actually pouring it. Although state employees reported they saw him pour it, he could challenge that someone else was responsible, so the department could send the bill to the proper person and not stick the taxpayers for the costs.

If he did do it, however, Shea should own up and pony up.

As the leader of the On Fire Ministries congregation, he might want to consult the Book of Matthew, and render unto Caesar for the things Caesar's people had to clean up.