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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

French and Yates disagree on need for new county jail during Thursday debate

Al French, on left, and Maggie Yates, candidates for Spokane County Commissioner, debate at the Northwest Passages Pints and Politics Candidate Forum, Thursday, October, 6, 2022, at the Bing Theater.  (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane County Commissioner Al French, a Republican who is running to maintain a seat on the commission in the newly drawn 5th Commissioner District, faced his opponent, Democrat Maggie Yates, in a Thursday night debate.

Commissioner District 5 includes all of the West Plains cities as well as northwest Spokane and the South Hill above 29th Avenue. It’s one of five new districts drawn during last year’s redistricting process.

The field narrowed during the August primary election as French and Yates finished ahead of Republican Don Harmon and Independent Tara Carter. Yates led with 45% of the vote, while French took 41%.

Although Harmon is a Republican, she endorsed Yates after the primary.

French has been a county commissioner since 2011. Before that, he served on Spokane City Council.

This is Yates’ first run for office. The 34-year-old spent more than three years as Spokane County’s law and justice administrator, focusing on criminal justice reform.

Asked how the county should spend its remaining federal COVID relief money, French said it should focus on rental relief and supporting the business community.

Yates said commissioners should focus on housing, child care and property tax exemptions for senior citizens.

French supports building a new county jail. He said the old jail is overpopulated and dangerous for both inmates and officers.

Yates is opposed to a new jail “because it is an incredibly costly intervention that does little to nothing to improve our public safety.”

French touted his experience with the city and the county as a recession looms. “There are critical decisions that have to be made to maintain service,” he said.

Yates commended French’s years of service, but said it is time for new leadership.

“My opponent blames everyone but himself for our rising crime, expansive homelessness and high property tax bills,” she said.

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.