Check the political temperature, Pierce County: The 2018 campaign season just added a helping of sizzle.
Mary Robnett, a former Pierce County deputy prosecutor and current assistant attorney general, announced Thursday that she will run for county prosecutor this year, opposing incumbent Mark Lindquist.
The announcement turns what looked like an unopposed sleepwalk for Lindquist into a battle that pits the controversial two-term incumbent against his one-time friend, supporter and former chief criminal deputy. Robnett minced no words as she explained her reasons for running against her former boss.
“I’m running because Pierce County deserves better,” she said. “I’m not a politician, but I’m a professional prosecutor, and I think that’s what Pierce County needs.”
I’m running because Pierce County deserves better. I’m not a politician, but I’m a professional prosecutor, and I think that’s what Pierce County needs.
Robnett, 62, spent 18 years in the prosecutor’s office. Originally hired in 1994 by then-prosecutor John Ladenburg, she rose through the ranks to head the office’s special assault unit and eventually became chief criminal deputy, appointed by Lindquist in his first term. Married for 33 years, she lives in Northeast Tacoma.
During her county tenure, she handled numerous high-profile cases, including the 2010 Craigslist killing that resulted in the death of Edgewood resident Jim Sanders. She left the office in 2012, citing unhappiness with the politicized environment created by Lindquist. She joined the attorney general’s office, where she handles cases involving sexually violent predators.
Citing lawsuits and disputes that have dogged Lindquist over the years, including a costly legal battle over his text messages, Robnett said she would handle matters differently.
“I would take the politics out of the office,” she said. “I would put my client, Pierce County, ahead of my own personal interests. That’s what any attorney should do. (Lindquist) is the lawyer for this county, and this county and the taxpayers here have been footing the bill for his bad behavior. We have someone in the top job who has burned too many bridges and crossed too many ethical lines.”
Asked for comment on the pending campaign and Robnett’s announcement, Lindquist issued a statement through Alex Hays, his longtime political adviser.
“I’ve kept a promise to keep our community safe,” Lindquist said. “Protecting elders, locking up career criminals with our new data-driven prosecution, and stopping the dumping of offenders from other counties into Pierce County. This is why I’m supported by both Democrats and Republicans. I’m grateful to all of our staff who help us protect the public. I’m also grateful to the voters who have twice elected me to keep our community safe.”
Robnett is a first-time candidate. Asked about party affiliation, she said she’s running as a nonpartisan. A group of supporters backed her as a write-in candidate against Lindquist in 2014, but she said she did not initiate that effort and did not campaign or raise money at the time.
She faces an incumbent Democrat and veteran campaigner who has won his past two elections by wide margins. In his first run for office in 2010, Lindquist defeated deputy prosecutor Bertha Fitzer in an occasionally contentious campaign. He faced no formal opposition in 2014, but his tenure has been rocky, marked by adverse legal outcomes and a 2015 whistleblower investigation that found his office was driven by a politicized culture of intimidation and retaliation.
Regardless of those matters, Lindquist remains a formidable campaigner. He’s been raising money for his re-election since 2015 and built a significant war chest that gives him a head start on his opponent. The latest campaign-finance records from the state Public Disclosure Commission show Lindquist has raised more than $105,000 for his re-election campaign over the past two years, and spent $29,235.
Robnett, starting at zero, hasn’t filed her first fundraising reports yet. She said they will appear in a matter of days, ahead of the next required deadline. She’s hired Seattle political consultant Cathy Allen, a veteran strategist typically, though not always, aligned with Democrats. Allen, co-founder of the Center for Women and Democracy at the University of Washington. oversaw the 2017 campaign of King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, who unseated incumbent John Urquhart.
Robnett’s campaign announcement includes a significant score: an endorsement from Gerry Horne, former Pierce County Prosecutor, who retired in 2010, and originally backed Lindquist as his successor.
Robnett’s opening campaign announcement includes a significant score: an endorsement from Gerry Horne, former Pierce County Prosecutor, who retired in 2010 and originally backed Lindquist as his successor.
Horne has since grown disenchanted. He offered a statement that appears in Robnett’s kickoff announcement.
“Mary is ethical, tough and fair — exactly what the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office needs after Lindquist,” Horne said. “She’ll lift the cloud over the prosecutor’s office and remove the taint of politics that has pervaded there.”