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Smart Justice activist Johnson enters Spokane County commissioner race

A leader in the movement to reform criminal justice said she would bring her expertise to the Spokane County Board of Commissioners if voters choose her over two other candidates for the District 3 commissioner seat this year.

Mary Lou Johnson, a Democrat and a member of the Smart Justice coalition in Spokane, formally announced her candidacy Thursday at a gathering of supporters.

The event was held on the north bank of the Spokane River along the Centennial Trail in the developing Kendall Yards area.

“Our criminal justice system is not working,” Johnson said.

She called for alternatives to incarceration and treatment programs that are proven to reduce recidivism among offenders.

Reform will help increase public safety while avoiding the high cost of jailing offenders, Johnson said.

She pointed out that the county spends 74 percent of its general tax fund on law enforcement, the courts, jail and probation.

Johnson, a Gonzaga University Law School graduate, said she spent 20 years of her career working in federal drug court.

She is also a community health nurse and taught at the Intercollegiate Center for Nursing Education.

Johnson will be running in what’s shaping up to be a three-way race for the seat held by one-term GOP incumbent Al French.

Earlier this week, former Democratic Commissioner Bonnie Mager announced her intention to run for French’s seat as an independent. Mager, who served a single term on the commission, was ousted by French in a close vote in 2010.

Johnson criticized the current commissioners for turning land-use planning into a “contentious spectacle” that is damaging Spokane’s reputation. She called for affordable growth.

The three current Republicans on the commission approved a 4,100-acre expansion of the urban growth area in July 2013.

That is under challenge by two state government agencies, local neighborhood groups and neighborhood activists. The expansion is also being opposed by Spokane City Council members, who want growth redirected into the existing urban footprint. Critics say an ever-expanding urban area is costly for the public to support because it requires new roads, schools, utilities, police, fire and parks.

Johnson also said she supports expanded economic opportunity. She said her mediation skills can help bring city and county initiatives into a cohesive approach to job growth, and she mentioned a need for more apprenticeship programs so workers can gain marketable skills with better-paying jobs.

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