Johnson Brings Attorney Experience to County Commission Race

By Paige Browning

Two people are challenging County Commissioner Al French this year. Bonnie Mager was in our studio last month, and this month we meet Mary Lou Johnson.

French is a current commissioner, and Mager was commissioner until French beat her in 2010. Johnson brings a solid background in criminal justice, and knowledge of county programs. She worked as an attorney in Spokane then for a federal district court judge for 17 years.
 
Johnson: “I retired from the position in the federal court three years ago, I became very interested in criminal justice reform in Spokane County.”
 
She says right now the county spends 74 percent of its budget on criminal justice, and she doesn’t think the county gets good value for that expense. The jail is overcrowded, with recidivism mostly to blame.
 
Johnson: “The county has tried a number of programs, early case resolution, driver’s re-licensing programs, there’s a mental health court. Some of them need to be evaluated, but then in general we need to expand all of the alternatives to incarceration.”
 
Johnson helped create a drug court when she was at the federal court, and she says the drug court in Spokane County is one of few things that are working.
 
All three candidates have urban growth on their minds. Incumbent Al French was a proponent of expanding the urban growth area last year, and of a controversial extension of city water to contested rural developments. Mager disagrees with both of those decisions. Johnson says she is concerned related litigation is costing taxpayers.
 
Johnson: “The incumbent filed a public information request of the city council, who are exactly the folks that the growth management act says the county needs to be working with.”
 
Johnson also sets her self apart from incumbent French in her views of the Spokane Tribe’s casino proposal. The current commission has spent 300-thousand dollars in legal bills, in opposition to the expansion, on the grounds of protecting Fairchild Air Force Base. Mager and Johnson agree the commission overspent. Here’s Johnson.
 
Johnson: “It is appropriate for the county to be expressing an opinion, but I’m not sure to the extent and at the expense that was done on this project.”
 
Johnson says she would support any decision made by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and ultimately Washington’s governor, on the casino.
 
Johnson jumps into the race for county commissioner, district three, as a Democrat, Mager as an Independent, and French is a Republican. The primary election is August 5th.
 
Copyright 2014 Spokane Public Radio
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