As the only Democrat and the only woman, Bonnie Mager stands out among the candidates for her Spokane County commissioner position.
Standing apart could help her survive next month’s primary election if Republicans split their votes among Steve Salvatori, Al French, Jeff Holy and David Elton. But in Washington’s top-two primary system, being the only Democrat no longer guarantees a ticket to the Nov. 2 general election.
Mager has sometimes provided a counterbalance to her Republican colleagues Mark Richard and Todd Mielke since she upset Republican incumbent Phil Harris four years ago, but that may not be an advantage if voters want a matching set. Although the commissioners generally have worked harmoniously, Mager often dissents on controversial issues.
Those include recent votes to ask voters next April for tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars to build a new minimum-security jail near Medical Lake. A one-tenth percent sales tax increase also may be needed to operate the jail and a new community corrections center.
In view of large jail staff layoffs last month because of falling inmate counts, Mager wants to wait a year to get a better idea of how many cells are needed. She wants more time to study new incarceration-alternative programs whose partial implementation is credited for the dramatic reduction in inmate numbers.
Former Spokane City Councilman Al French and businessman Steve Salvatori favor Mielke and Richard’s approach. Holy, an attorney and retired Spokane police detective, thinks a new jail is needed but wants a more economical plan.
Elton, the only candidate who’s been an inmate, wants to replace the Geiger Corrections Center “immediately.” He claims he nearly died there for lack of medicine for his bipolar mental illness.
Elton is awaiting trial on three counts of felony harassment. He is accused of making threats in e-mail messages to his ex-wife, Robin Stewart, Spokane City Council President Joe Shogan, and Betsy Cowles, chairwoman of Cowles Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review. Elton says he was joking.
He pleaded guilty in 2004 to harassment after he made a threatening phone call to his ex-wife. Elton objected to a recent court-ordered mental evaluation but has discussed his bipolar condition publicly.
Elton announced last month that he was dropping out of the race but discovered it was too late to remove his name from the ballot and avoid the filing fee. This month, he said he is an active candidate, but he endorsed Mager in a Spokesman-Review questionnaire.
Asked to discuss Mager’s best accomplishment and worst mistake in office, Holy declined to criticize Mager but praised her for maintaining a “positive and pleasant demeanor” while dealing with controversies and economic problems.
“I find her attitude to be a model that all in county government should aspire to,” Holy said.
Salvatori said Mager “has a long record of supporting environmental issues, but has failed to build consensus or exercise leadership that leads to solutions.” French said Mager has provided “a different perspective,” but criticized her for not proposing legislation.
All of the candidates agreed to some extent that commissioners need a new course for the Spokane County Raceway. Several would like to sell it, although Holy cautioned against a precipitous sale at a big loss.
Like Mager, who opposed the purchase from the get-go, Holy said the county shouldn’t have bought the car- and motorcycle-racing complex. He and Salvatori want to operate the raceway as an enterprise fund that can’t use tax money.
The latest Public Disclosure Commission reports show Mager and Salvatori neck-and-neck in campaign fundraising, with French trailing and Holy a distant fourth. Elton doesn’t have enough campaign income or spending to require reporting.
As of Saturday, reports to the disclosure commission showed Mager had raised $63,382 and spent $16,936, compared to Salvatori’s income of $60,634 and expenditures of $41,103. French had raised $54,792 and spent $27,391, while Holy had collected $11,820 and spent $3,358.