When defense attorney Chris Bugbee addressed a room full of Republicans in June, he told them that he not only intends to defeat incumbent Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker, Bugbee said he intends to retire from the office.
The bold prediction not only illustrates Bugbee’s quick emergence as a front-runner but how contentious the primary contest has become.
The five-way race also features Republican David Stevens, Democrat Frank Malone, unaffiliated candidate Jim Reierson and Tucker, a Republican, who has repeatedly said that his opponents don’t understand what it takes to manage 140 employees and points to his experience as the reason he is the best choice. All of the candidates are experienced lawyers.
“I am the only one with law enforcement experience. I have more management experience than all the others and more time in the prosecutor’s office,” Tucker said. “It gives me a better base to make decisions.”
But Bugbee, who up until 2002 worked under Tucker, deadpanned: “What good is experience if you are not actually doing the job?”
Bugbee, 43, has raised twice as much money as his closest rival – Tucker – and has racked up the most influential law enforcement endorsements, landing the Spokane Police Guild, the Spokane County Deputy Sheriff’s Association and the Fraternal Order of Police, which is made up of retired law enforcement.
But Tucker, 59, won the support of the union that represents the deputy prosecutors – on a vote of 26-18, with zero going to both Stevens – who was recently fired as a deputy prosecutor – and Malone. Reierson did not attend the union debate.
“I’m happy for the vote of confidence. All four of the opponents railed on me for not being a leader. But apparently, most people in the office don’t believe they need new leadership,” Tucker said.
Malone, 67, who has earned the official Democratic Party endorsement, said a 26-18 vote doesn’t show much support for the incumbent.
“I think it’s amazing that Bugbee got that many votes given Tucker has been around that long,” Malone said.
Malone, who has raised nearly $7,000 in donations, said he was disappointed but understood why he got shut out in the vote. “I told them I was going to make changes … which makes them less comfortable,” he said.
Stevens – who earned the official Republican Party endorsement and had about $7,800 worth of donations – played down the lack of votes from the attorneys who were his co-workers up until February when Tucker fired him for reportedly talking about which deputy prosecutors he would retain if elected.
“There are lots of individuals in that office who, if it’s a different prosecutor … will be changing positions. They have an interest in the status quo,” Stevens said.
Reierson, who turns 60 the day before the Aug. 17 primary, is running with no official party affiliation and has neither raised nor spent a single dollar on the race. Many contributions that make up Bugbee’s $19,000 have come from defense attorneys, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Stevens attacked Bugbee’s contribution base, saying that defense attorneys “really don’t want me to be prosecutor because the plea-bargain paradise would disappear. They don’t want the free-ride they have been getting for the last decade to stop.”
Tucker, who has raised about $9,800, had no challenger in 2002 and easily defeated Reierson and Bob Caruso in 2006. Tucker said he doesn’t see a crowded field as an indictment against his performance.
“My salary has gone up quite a bit,” said Tucker, who makes about $145,000 a year. “Now it’s more attractive to those who are not doing so well in private practice and want a job change.”