Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist didn’t have a spot in last week’s primary election, nor will he appear on the November ballot, because his term runs through 2018.
But when he vies for reelection next year, as the eight-year office holder has made no secret he will do, his name will be accompanied by three familiar words: “Prefers Democratic Party.”
The truth is that he, along with all or most of Washington’s 39 county prosecutors, would prefer not to wear a party label at all. Partisan politics, they maintain, has nothing to do with investigating crimes, filing charges or locking up criminals.
It can create an unnecessary distraction. Worse, it might arouse public doubt about the integrity and independence of the judicial system — and instill fear that justice isn’t blind after all.
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We believe these arguments are compelling, and that Pierce County voters are the best arbiters of whether the prosecutor post should be made nonpartisan.
That’s why we’re disappointed the County Council last week snuffed out a proposed amendment to the county charter that would’ve gone to voters this fall. History suggests that if given a chance, voters would favor a change. Ten years ago they voted to turn the sheriff, auditor and assessor-treasurer into nonpartisan positions.
The council did forward two other charter amendments to the November ballot. One is basically a housekeeping measure clarifying how elected vacancies are to be filled.
The second is a controversial proposal to extend council term limits to three consecutive four-year terms. (A lengthy kerfuffle last Tuesday over who would sit on a committee that writes arguments for the voters pamphlet was a sign of the term limits battle to come.)
But the nonpartisan prosecutor proposal died at Tuesday’s meeting without a vote, just before the election deadline.
Doug Richardson, the Lakewood Republican who serves as council chairman, counted noses and determined it lacked “supermajority” support; to advance a charter amendment, five of the seven council members must say yes.
Council members could’ve been more publicly forthcoming but mostly kept their mouths shut. Pam and Dan Roach, the mother-son pair of East Pierce Republicans, at least explained their opposition at a committee meeting last month. They said most people know little about prosecutors and that party affiliation can offer some information on which to base a vote.
“Voters know what they want if you give them a little hint,” Pam Roach said, noting that Republican prosecutors tend to be vigorous champions of law and order.
We don’t buy into such typecasting and have more faith in voters’ ability to elect nonpartisan criminal justice leaders. They’ve done it for years when choosing local judges and sheriff.
The King County Council apparently has faith in its voters. A year ago, it advanced a nonpartisan prosecutor measure to the ballot. In November, voters left no doubt how they felt, as 75 percent of them supported stripping the party label from the office.
It’s too bad Pierce County voters won’t get the same opportunity this year.
Meanwhile, backstage campaigning is already under way for the 2018 prosecutor election. The public interest will be served only if a strong challenger emerges and forces a thorough reckoning of the incumbent’s performance. He is arguably the county’s most powerful public official.
Prosecutors can be rated on tangibles such as felony case backlogs or conviction rates. They can be examined on intangibles such as relations with cops, defense attorneys, crime victims and other stakeholders. They can be measured by the quality of their police deadly-force reviews, or by their leadership on statewide criminal justice reform.
In Lindquist’s case, voters will surely also consider a pattern of self-aggrandizing behavior and office dysfunction that led to a firestorm of whistleblower complaints, investigations and a failed recall attempt.
The fact he has “Democrat” next to his name is the last thing they should consider.