Elections

Robnett defeats Lindquist in Pierce County prosecutor race

For the first time in Pierce County history, voters have chosen a woman to lead the prosecutor’s office. Challenger Mary Robnett defeated incumbent Mark Lindquist decisively Tuesday, capping off a nine-month campaign with a victory few insiders predicted when it began.

“Look what you have done now!” Robnett told a cheering crowd of supporters as the first results were announced, revealing a conclusive victory.

The first ballot count Tuesday gave Robnett 63 percent of the vote to Lindquist’s 36 percent, a 27-point margin that left the outcome in little doubt, though many votes remain to be counted.

“It is really a cliche to say that something like this is humbling,” she said. “But standing here right now, I realize how true that is. I am truly humbled. I’m going to work so hard to live up to the trust and the support that you have shown for me. It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come.”

Robnett, 62, an assistant attorney general, will become the county’s first female prosecutor, a factor she chose not to emphasize during the campaign, though her supporters underlined it as a key.

Asked for comment, Lindquist issued a statement via email shortly after 10 p.m.:

“Serving as your Prosecutor has been one of the true privileges of my life,” he wrote. “Nine years ago I promised to help make our community safer. We’ve done that. We’ve protected elders, reduced gang violence, improved therapeutic courts, and cultivated a public service culture. I appreciate all the support our office and my family and I received from good people in the community. Our family is grateful. Thank you.”

Robnett’s victory ends Lindquist’s nine-year tenure, which was marked by turmoil and controversy: costly litigation related to his actions, multiple accusations of misconduct from his subordinates and an independent investigation that found a politicized, image-obsessed office driven by intimidation and retaliation.

The win qualifies as a stunner. When Robnett announced her campaign on Feb. 1, she was a first-time candidate. Political insiders expected her to provide credible opposition, enough to make the race close — but few expected her to win.

She faced a powerful two-term incumbent with high name recognition, diligently built over a decade. Lindquist, known as a relentless and telegenic campaigner, won his first election in 2010 and cruised unopposed to a second term in 2014.

The campaign was inescapably personal. Robnett, who had worked for the prosecutor’s office from 1994 to 2012, was running against her former boss. She supported his first campaign. Lindquist, 59, appointed her as his chief criminal deputy after taking office. She left in 2012, dissatisfied with his leadership.

She faced another steep obstacle when the campaign began: a fundraising deficit. Lindquist, raising money for the past three years, already had banked $105,000 when Robnett announced her candidacy. Her tally: zero.

Over the next nine months, the picture flipped. Robnett outraised Lindquist, outspent him, and according to her supporters, outworked him. The latest campaign-finance records from the state Public Disclosure Commission, updated Tuesday morning, reveal the numbers: Robnett raised $287,771 to Lindquist’s $227,079.

On the campaign trail, Lindquist, a Democrat, repeated his campaign message like a metronome, touting his efforts to keep the community safe and citing various crime-fighting initiatives within his office.

He racked up endorsements from scores of local elected officials, including Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards, and the biggest catch of all, Gov. Jay Inslee.

Robnett, who ran as a nonpartisan, countered with a disciplined message of her own: “Crime isn’t partisan, and justice shouldn’t be political.” She hammered on the turbulence surrounding Lindquist and emphasized her experience as a professional prosecutor.

She also made inroads with local Democratic and Republican organizations, showing unexpected strength. She scored prominent bipartisan endorsements of her own: Democrat Pat McCarthy, the former county executive and current state auditor; Republican Bruce Dammeier, the current county executive, and Republican Rob McKenna, former state attorney general.

While Lindquist emphasized political endorsements from local elected officials, Robnett underlined backing from the legal and law enforcement communities: the professionals who work most closely with the prosecutor’s office. Police unions in Tacoma and Pierce County backed her, as did retired judges, current and former prosecutors, and local defense attorneys.

The defeat ends Lindquist’s term, but not his troubles. He still faces a disciplinary hearing before the Washington State Bar Association that could lead to sanctions including the suspension of his license to practice law.

The hearing, set to begin Dec. 10, hinges on professional ethics. Lindquist is accused of violating the rules of professional conduct for prosecutors by endangering the appearance of a fair trial. In the midst of a 2016 murder trial, he appeared on the Nancy Grace legal talk show and commented on the defendant’s guilt.

So far, county taxpayers have spent $62,000 to underwrite Lindquist’s defense. He’s approaching a statutory cap set by county council members, who recently rebuffed his request for more.

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Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486 @seanrobinsonTNT
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