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Wednesday, February 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Election Center

Mary Lou Johnson

A candidate for County Commissioner, Spokane County in the 2014 Nov. 4 Washington General Election

Party: Democrat

Age: 71

City: Spokane, WA


Education: University of Minnesota, bachelor’s in nursing, 1969; University of Colorado, master’s in community health and nursing, 1970; Gonzaga University, law degree, 1992.

Work experience: Attorney in U.S. District Court, 1993 to 2011; clerk in Court of Appeals, 1992 to 1993; community health nurse and educator, 1971 to 1989; taught at Intercollegiate Center for Nursing Education; family nurse practitioner.

Political experience: Smart Justice campaign for criminal justice reform.

Family: Married, two children.

Contact information

On this race:

What issue will you emphasize as a county commissioner and why?

French: One of the reasons I am so appreciative that the voters have allowed me to serve them in this position for the last three and a half years is that this job demands a full range of skills to meet a large variety of issues. During the next four years I want to continue to use my relationships and expertise to recruit new businesses and jobs to the area as well as work with our existing companies to expand. I am the only candidate in this race that has experience successfully recruiting new businesses and jobs to this community.

Johnson: We deserve smarter county government. I will make sure we spend tax dollars more wisely and make decisions that benefit everyone. I will follow the law so we stop wasting money defending improper urban growth expansions which pad the pockets of a few developers. I will ensure that we stop wasting money on outdated criminal justice policies by implementing reforms that will make us safer. I will listen to neighborhoods and work better with towns and cities to bring more middle class jobs and re-establish our model regional solid waste system that is falling apart under the county’s failed leadership.

Which is better – garbage incineration or long-haul disposal, and why?

French: The best solution for disposal of municipal solid waste is recycling first and then disposal. When the region had to close its landfill sites in the 1980s, there were few alternatives to incineration. While incineration has worked well for the last 25 years, there are other options available now. At some point there will have to be an infusion of capital to keep the Waste-to-Energy Plant current. When that capital infusion is made long hauling will clearly be cheaper. The best solution is to have a regional trans-loading facility located on the Geiger Spur rail line on the West Plains.

Johnson: Twenty years ago we built a Waste-to-Energy Plant because our landfills were contaminating our water. It is paid for and we had a model award-winning regional solid waste system. I want to work to maintain that system and be a fair partner with the cities, which is not happening under county leadership. I will continue to monitor the research and technology that gives us new answers to the financial and environmental cost-benefit analysis of incinerators versus landfills. Neither technology is perfect. However, I am concerned about reverting to long-haul and landfills because of the many environmental costs.

What is your view of expanding the urban growth boundary?

French: The Growth Management Act requires communities to plan for future needs in 20-year windows. The GMA requires that communities update their plans and boundaries every 10 years and adjust so their plans are current with trends and needs. Spokane County just completed its first update, 12 years after the original boundary was adopted in 2001. Since 2001, we have seen two new cities incorporated and Spokane expand through annexations. New residents are coming to the county but are not choosing to locate in the city of Spokane as anticipated so the boundary needs to reflect that.

Johnson: I will work to expand the urban growth boundary, in coordination with neighborhoods and cities and towns, when there is a demonstrated need and the law supports it. The recent expansions have not satisfied either criteria. The county’s own assessment indicated that we have more than enough residential and commercial properties to accommodate the expected growth in the county for the next 20 years. The continual sprawl costs taxpayers money by requiring new schools, parks and fire and police officers. It also sucks jobs and development out of our downtown and other areas that need redevelopment.

What is the key to criminal justice reform?

French: As a community we need to acknowledge that incarcerated individuals will eventually be released back into the community. We have the opportunity to assist willing individuals to reenter the community as contributors as opposed to re-offenders. This means we need to shift our focus from the “offense” to the “offender” and create a criminal justice system that will do early “risk-based assessments” and channel offenders into programs that are fact-based. The risk assessment is critical to early identification of those who are good candidates for programs versus those that should or need to be incarcerated to protect the public.

Johnson: A strong, expert county commissioner is needed to reform criminal justice. Jail overcrowding has existed for years. Too little has been done so now we are spending $104 million each year (74 percent of our budget) on criminal justice. I am the only candidate with a legal background that has worked diligently on reform measures and received acknowledgement for my work in the “Blueprint for Reform.” Implementing these proven reforms is my area of expertise. For example, for every dollar we will spend on drug treatment or on work release, we will save about $11 in other costs.

What specifically needs to be done to protect the environment?

French: Continue our efforts to remove pollutants from our drinking water, which includes elimination of septic systems over the aquifer and the presence of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). Continue the efforts of the Spokane Clean Air Agency, which I have chaired for the last two years to protect the quality of our air. Continue to support Spokane Transit Authority and encourage use of public transportation. Continue to use smart growth strategies and build livable, walkable, bikeable neighborhoods. Continue to support the Conservation Futures program to ensure we have healthy wilderness areas for community use and enjoyment.

Johnson: Every family has a right to clean air, good drinking water and a safe environment. I will work with the Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force to implement achievable toxic reduction strategies, including reducing sources of PCBs. The Spokane city action to restrict purchase of products known to have PCBs is a common-sense and cost-effective measure that I want to implement at the county. I will work together as a fair partner to reestablish a regional solid waste system because it is not efficient to deal with garbage and recycling on a city-by-city basis.

Election results

Candidate Votes Pct
Al French (R) 81,497 54.66 %
Mary Lou Johnson (D) 67,611 45.34 %

Details & headlines >>


Al French


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