RCV and the Prosecutor
Strategic Voting and Self-fulfilling Prophecy
In Washington State elected county prosecuting attorney (aka “the county prosecutor”) sets the tone for the criminal justice system in that county. In Spokane County, the fourth largest county by population among the 39 counties of the State of Washington, the County Prosecuting Attorney presides over a department consisting of 66 attorneys, 66 support staff and 7 victim-witness staff members. The salary of the Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney is $199,675.00, the same as a Superior Court Judge, higher than any other Spokane County elected official.
Incumbent Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell has drawn a lot of criticism—and three challengers in the August 2 Primary Election. A lot of the criticism arises from the persistent freely offered white nationalist opinions of his wife, Lesley, expressed on Gab and elsewhere. Daniel Walters, writing in the Inlander in January provides details. The flap over Lesley’s comments and her hobnobbing with the Proud Boys started soon after Mr. Haskell was first elected from the ranks of the Prosecutor’s Office in 2014. (For an extended sampling of the controversy click here for The Inlander and here for the Spokesman Review.)
Respectable Republicans in Spokane County might shake their heads at Lesley and Larry’s attendance at a fundraiser for Matt Shea’s “Liberty State” and for Mr. Haskell’s approving comments concerning Shea’s thinly disguised attempt to cleave eastern Washington off into a separate state dominated by theocrats like himself.
Less noticed, Larry Haskell has opposed criminal justice reform, backed dissolution of the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council, and elaborately (and incorrectly) argues that considering “racial equity” is not permitted in our legal system. All that suggests, contrary to Haskell’s protestations, that he shares his wife’s opinions—but carefully cloaks his opinions in legalese.
What to do when you have such an incumbent running the Prosecutor’s office? Vote him out—but that requires a challenger with the chops to beat Haskell in the November General Election, a candidate who makes it through the August 2 Primary, the race for which you have now have a ballot (if you live anywhere in Spokane County).
We have three candidates running against Haskell, two Republicans, Stephanie Olsen, a 47-year-old assistant state attorney general who formerly worked under Haskell; Stefanie Collins, a 55-year-old longtime deputy prosecuting attorney still working in Haskell’s office; and one non-partisan, Deb Conklin, a 69-year-old United Methodist pastor and former deputy prosecutor in Clallam County, Washington.
Here’s where my wish for Ranked Choice Voting comes in. If I could rank my choices for our August Primary Election I would list Deb Conklin #1, Stephanie Olsen #2, Stefanie Collins, #3, and leave #4 blank. After spending nearly an hour listening to an April interview with Deb Conklin on Range Media last evening I am convinced she has the skill, commitment, and experience to manage the Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office wisely and justly.
I took the time to watch the League of Women Voters of Spokane 2022 Prosecuting Attorney Candidates Forum on youtube. I wish that a majority of other voters would do the same. At the forum the candidates have no foreknowledge of the questions to be asked, so the forum is a test of thinking on one’s seat. Deb Conklin expressed my hope for the prosecutor’s office very clearly. Mr. Haskell quoted laws and regulations, seeming to suggest that current prosecutor practice offers little room for discretion. I do not find him believable. Ms. Olsen (currently working in the WA State Attorney General’s office) struggled to express herself. She might make a great county prosecutor, but, sadly, she did not come across as well-prepared or comfortable fielding the questions asked. Ms. Collins (currently working in the Spokane County Prosecutor’s office) was better spoken. Ms. Collins may not be bathed in the rhetoric of white supremacy by a Leslie Haskell every night at the dinner table the way Larry Haskell likely is, but I was left wondering how much change in the Prosecutor’s office Ms. Collins would bring.
Unfortunately, if enough voters buy the idea that only an avowed Republican can win a seat as Spokane County Prosecutor against Mr. Haskell, that idea becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Until we have Ranked Choice Voting, I will content myself with voting for the person I believe is the best-equipped candidate for the job, Deb Conklin, the non-partisan.
Deb Conklin makes a point that resonates with me: Administering justice requires not only understanding the law but listening to people, both the victim and the accused. The skills of a good prosecutor and a good minister have a lot in common.
Keep to the high ground,