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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Will Democrats give Ozzie a pass in 2010?

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich is running for re-election next year, so it's no surprise he was addressing a political group's luncheon Monday afternoon.

Considering Knezovich is a Republican, some might be surprised the luncheon was sponsored by the Democrat Professional and Business Group.

Even more surprising is that several Democrats were questioning whether the sheriff's office should even be a partisan job.

There's no attempt that anyone knew of  to make it a nonpartisan position, and with a budget fiasco in the offing, it's unlikely the Legislature would even look at such a proposal if it were written. But the real impact of such a comment is much more significant for Knezovich.

It means the Democrats have no one credible to run for sheriff at this point. There are many races on next year's ballots, and, as several said, they'll have to prioritize their recruiting efforts. The sheriff's job is likely to remain a very low priority, based on Knezovich's answers to the group.

And remember: Democrats had trouble fielding a credible candidate for sheriff four years ago. Once Knezovich beat appointed incumbent Cal Walker, a fellow Republican, in the primary, he was pretty much home free.

As he does at most public events, Knezovich talked about fighting the root causes of crime -- poverty, lack of education, family violence and drugs -- as much as he talked about fighting crime. He explained the budget problems with building more jails, and the strategies of keeping some offenders out of them. He steered carefully around a couiple of pointed questions about the "war on drugs," insisting that only politicians, not law enforcement people use that term. But he wouldn't back legalization of drugs, saying he can't remember a violent activity he's investigated that didn't have some connection to drugs or alcohol.

Afterwards, Knezovich insisted there wasn't anything unusual about a Republican sheriff talking to a Democratic organization. "I'm the sheriff for everyone," he said.

About 70 percent of the questions he gets from any political group are the same. Of the rest, Republicans usually press him a little harder on taxes and budgets, Democrats usually ask more about programs.

The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.