A testament to the popularity of Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich may be the level to which candidates for Spokane County prosecutor are seeking his support.
The situation came to a head last week when incumbent Steve Tucker announced during a debate that he had the support of Knezovich. Asked to clarify that support, Tucker made it clear that the sheriff has not endorsed his candidacy.
But Tucker’s opponents – fellow Republicans Chris Bugbee and Dave Stevens, Democrat Frank Malone and unaffiliated candidate Jim Reierson – all said they believe the average voter may not know the difference between support and an official endorsement.
“I think that was inappropriate,” Bugbee said of Tucker’s debate comment. “It’s my understanding that Knezovich is not endorsing anyone. I don’t have his endorsement, but I believe I have support on the same level that Steve (Tucker) would.”
Knezovich did not return messages this week seeking comment.
Tucker said Knezovich approached him months ago when former sheriff Mark Sterk had announced intentions to run for his old office. Sterk later chose not to run.
“He goes, ‘I’m just wondering if you will support me if I support you,’ ” Tucker said of Knezovich’s comment. “I said, ‘I’m OK with that.’ So in the meantime we talked about him doing a radio spot.”
But at Tucker’s kickoff party, Knezovich didn’t sign Tucker’s endorsement sheet. Asked why not, Knezovich “said he was going to endorse all three (Republicans),” Tucker said.
Stevens, fired by Tucker for reportedly talking about which deputy prosecutors he would let go, said everybody assumes that support and endorsement are the same thing.
Knezovich “made it clear a long time ago that he is not picking sides,” Stevens said.
Tucker said he again approached Knezovich as the sheriff moderated a June 21 debate for the Republicans of Spokane County. Tucker said he asked Knezovich whether he could say that the sheriff “supports” his campaign. “He said that’s OK,” Tucker said.
But the sheriff never came through with the radio spot for Tucker’s campaign.
“I don’t want to sound like sour grapes … but he kind of backed off everything he talked to me about,” Tucker said. “I hate politics.”
Malone said the clamor over Knezovich’s favor shows how popular he is.
Knezovich “has done some good things there,” Malone said.
Malone met with Knezovich but not to seek an endorsement, he said.
“At that time, there were other Republicans in the race, and I didn’t expect his endorsement,” Malone said. “But we had a conversation in which I got some good insight about how the office works and what ought to be happening between the Sheriff’s Office and the prosecutor’s office.”
Reierson, a longtime deputy prosecutor in Kootenai County who is running without an official party affiliation, said he could understand how Tucker’s statement “may be construed as an endorsement. It’s kind of like splitting hairs. If (Tucker) was trying to infer that the sheriff was backing him and the sheriff is not, that’s obviously a concern.”