Three candidates were locked in a tight race for Spokane County prosecutor Tuesday night as the embattled incumbent Republican, Larry Haskell, faces a tough re-election bid.
Deb Conklin teared up in surprise and excitement when she saw her narrow lead while awaiting the results with friends at Perry Street Brewing.
“We expected to come in second,” Conklin said. “I don’t know of anybody who thought that I would be first at this point.”
Conklin, who ran without a party affiliation is a 69-year-old pastor with prosecuting experience, led the race with 27.8% of the vote, followed by Haskell, who received 26.9%. Republican Stefanie Collins, a longtime deputy prosecuting attorney, sat at a close third with 24.1%, while Republican Stephanie Olsen trailed at 20.3%. More votes will be counted Wednesday.
“We’re going to take our message across the county – that it’s time for deep culture change in the prosecutor’s office. It’s time for real justice,” Conklin said. “I think one of the reasons I’m ahead right now is that all three of the other candidates think the solution is to lock people up longer, and yet nationally it’s been shown over and over again, that doesn’t work.”
While celebrating with supporters Tuesday night, Collins was “eagerly watching the numbers” and soaking in the positive messages flowing online, she said.
“The voters have a tough decision to make. I’ll just wait and see how it goes,” Collins said. “I’m feeling all the positive energy both from my supporters and from the online community.”
Haskell drew no challengers when he ran for re-election the first time, but after his wife’s racist rants on social media, three candidates jumped in to oppose Haskell’s run for a third term.
Earlier this year, after an Inlander article exposed the racist comments by Haskell’s wife, Lesley, Haskell apologized before defending the integrity of his office.
All Haskell’s opponents said the incident tarnished the reputation of the prosecutor’s office and that they hope to take the office in a new direction if elected.
Haskell pushed Conklin, the most progressive candidate in the race, to reactivate her bar license in order to challenge him. She said she supports a variety of alternatives to incarceration and supports for defendants pretrial. Conklin also campaigned on higher standards for charging suspects as a way to push law enforcement to do more thorough investigation.
In the general election, Conklin plans to appeal to Republican voters who, like her, embrace supported release and other pretrial programs that can both save the county money and improve lives, she said.
While the primary race remains tight, Conklin’s focus has shifted to beating Haskell.
“I spent a year looking at the numbers asking, ‘can I beat Larry Haskell?’” Conklin said. “And the numbers say I can.”
Haskell is focused on victims and accountability for offenders in what, if re-elected, he said would be his last term. Haskell is also concerned about an increase in crime, but blames the problem on the state Supreme Court overturning Washington’s drug possession law and the Legislature reducing penalties for certain crimes.
He raised the most money out of any candidate in the race at more than $38,000 and was endorsed by the Spokane Police Guild, Republicans of Spokane County, and several of the deputy prosecutors he employs. Haskell did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Collins said she hopes to target repeat offenders by working with law enforcement and is concerned about a backlog of domestic violence cases. She plans to add “accountability plans” to plea agreements in hopes of encouraging suspects to reflect on the trauma they caused the community.
While Collins had the most individual donors of any candidate, she raised less than Haskell and Olsen at about $33,800.
Olsen said she was motivated to run due to poor management currently in the prosecutor’s office, which she blames, in part, for an increase in crime in Spokane.
S-R reporter Molly Wisor contributed to this report.
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