Sheriff Mark Sterk is no stranger to political appointments.
He got his start in elected office when county commissioners appointed him to a vacated state House seat – even though the Republican Party recommended overwhelmingly to appoint someone else.
A decade later, Sterk is adamant that a similar party vote should take precedence when commissioners name a new sheriff to replace him. Sterk has endorsed Spokane Valley Police Chief Cal Walker, the same man who won the GOP endorsement in December.
“Quite frankly, it just astounds me that he has that opinion now,” said sheriff candidate Sgt. Ozzie Knezovich, when told of Sterk’s appointment a decade ago. “It kind of takes away from the argument that he’s using.”
When an opening occurs in any partisan office in Washington, the party of the vacating official recommends three people to county commissioners to fill it. In December, Republican precinct committee officers voted to back Walker by a vote of 48, with 24 for Knezovich and 14 for sheriff’s Lt. Jim Finke.
Sterk was appointed to the state House in 1995 after Mike Padden left the seat to become a district court judge.
The appointment caused outrage among GOP leaders because 37 of 42 Republican Precinct Committee officers voted for Lynn Schindler.
Reached Wednesday, Sterk said he’s no hypocrite.
“I was absolutely surprised when I got that appointment,” Sterk said.
Sterk, who was named county GOP chairman the same day Walker got the party endorsement, said he believed commissioners should have followed the advice of the party when he got the nod. However, he said he never considered turning down the appointment.
“I haven’t changed my opinion from then until now,” Sterk said. “It should still be the PCOs (making the choice).”
Commissioners plan to interview the three candidates during an open meeting April 10.
Phil Harris, the only commissioner who voted for Schindler in the 1995 vote to fill the House seat, said the GOP opinion is important.
“But we have to go through after that and do our due-diligence,” Harris said, adding that “this is the most contentious (appointment) I’ve ever dealt with.”
The appointment may not end the divisiveness of the race.
Knezovich and Walker plan to run for the office in the GOP primary regardless of who gets the appointment. Finke said he likely won’t run in the primary unless he’s first appointed.