Democrat Mary Lou Johnson, a retired nurse and Gonzaga Law grad, shocked many area politicos in August when she finished nearly neck-and-neck with four-year incumbent Spokane County Commissioner Al French in the primary election
That race, of course, only had District 3 voters participating. This time around, the staunchly GOP Spokane Valley voting bloc will get to have its say.
Mary Lou Johnson
How long have you lived in District 3? I’ve lived in District 3 since 1979.
Why did you decide to file for this office at this time? I decided to run for commissioner because Spokane deserves smarter county government. This requires transparent, accountable public officials committed to making decisions that benefit all Spokane families – traits my opponent lacks. We need new leadership to address the many important issues facing the county. I have built a successful career helping people and solving problems. I’ve worked for criminal justice reform, more quality jobs, public safety improvements and a clean and safe environment.
People I speak to also want balance in government to ensure that the best decisions are made and leaders are held accountable. I can provide that balance on the county commission. Currently, all three commissioners have similar views and rarely disagree with one another. Most measures pass unanimously. This lopsided representation means that hard questions are not raised and all sides of an issue are not explored. As a trained mediator, I know the importance and benefit of hearing all perspectives on issues.
I will support smart growth policies that benefit everyone - no more back room deals. I will stop wasting money on outdated criminal justice policies by implementing reforms that will make us safer. Developing strategies to increase middle class family wage jobs is important. I will work to support our small businesses and increase the opportunities for apprentices and veterans. I will listen to neighborhoods and be a fair partner with cities to address regional issues like solid waste. Finally, I will require transparency about the racetrack so we can determine whether we can make that profitable.
I have not run for office before. I am a citizen who volunteers to make Spokane a better community with a track record of success. I will bring this perspective to the commission to end the partisanship and back room deals that have characterized my opponent and resulted in wasteful spending.
Why should voters choose you over your opponent? Spokane County can’t afford the high cost associated with my opponent. In his first term in office, he has supported urban growth expansion that is not in compliance with the Growth Management Act, making Spokane County ineligible for state money from several environment funds. I will follow the law, support smart growth not expensive sprawl, and require transparency about the cost of expansion.
My opponent has also failed to deliver on many of his campaign promises. He ran against the losses associated with the racetrack. But since being in office he has not been transparent about the costs, nor has he moved to make the operation profitable. I will require transparency about the costs and lead a discussion about whether the racetrack can be profitable. He has had four years to make progress, but he has only cost us taxpayer dollars.
I am honest and conduct my work transparently with integrity. I’ve built a career helping people and solving problems as a nurse, mediator and advocate for legal reforms that protect our rights. I have a track record of achieving results. I will bring a proven approach to problem solving with experience in mediation skills that will allow me to bring people together and build a better future for all Spokane families.
A strong commissioner is needed to reform criminal justice where more than two-thirds of our operating budget is spent. I have the expertise that is missing on the Board of County Commissioners. I have a legal background and have worked diligently on reform measures. I was acknowledged for my help by the city – County Criminal Justice Commission in the “Blueprint for Reform.” I also have a health-care background which is important since two-thirds of the people rotating through the jail have drug addiction and/or mental health problems. Finally, I have worked in the court system and coordinated a drug court.
What issues do you feel are most pertinent to Spokane Valley-area residents going into the next four years? Jobs and economic development are important to the Spokane Valley-area, and the entire county as a whole. Public officials must be held accountable to improve the lives of all people in our community. Right now, people don’t feel that secure. They feel they are being left behind while a handful of wealthy people benefit. Spokane is lagging behind in economic growth. Our Spokane Regional Health District has documented our increasing income inequality which damages peoples’ health. We must bring more middle class, family wage jobs to the region.
I will lead the county to take on the role of coordinating economic development that benefits the whole community, not just a select few. This will include the following: using new strategies to encourage start-ups, supporting our existing small businesses, increasing job training so there are ladders of opportunity for apprentices, women and veterans, improving our transportation infrastructure, encouraging new businesses to move to Spokane, and leading a discussion about the value of a Port District.
In addition to the importance of jobs, the Spokane Valley faces an increase in train traffic and the associated problem with on-grade crossings. The County Comprehensive Plan supports rail traffic that is safe and efficient. I will provide leadership in working with the Spokane Valley to assess the potential impacts of the increased traffic and how to mitigate problems.
Finally, solid waste will continue to an issue. The county has failed to maintain our 20-year-old regional solid waste system and failed to be a good partner with the cities related to this issue. Spokane Valley has opted out of the system. We need transparency from all governmental units about the costs associated with the break-up of the system. I will be a fair partner with other jurisdictions and work to re-establish our regional system.
What surprising issues are people bringing up as you door-knock or meet folks at campaign stops? Meeting neighbors at their doors or at various campaign events has been the most rewarding part of this campaign because of the many different viewpoints I get to hear about important issues we are all facing. What has surprised me was the level of concern expressed by people who say that the racetrack is costing the county too much, my opponent is supporting too much urban sprawl, Spokane County isn’t dealing appropriately with the people with drug addiction and mental health issues in the criminal justice system, developers are benefiting from back room deals, and the impact more train traffic is having on our safety.
Finally, people have expressed a strong preference for leaders who work collaboratively to accomplish goals. They want government officials who know how to work together effectively and how to compromise to achieve the best outcomes for everyone involved. My opponent has expressed his disdain for compromise in the past. I believe the ability to work together on common interests and to compromise is essential and is what is needed to benefit Spokane families.
How long have you lived in District 3? Since 1977.
Why did you decide to run for re-election? Four years ago I committed to the voters that if elected I would work to bring new jobs to this community, eliminate wasteful spending, streamline processes, reduce the size and cost of government, and protect Fairchild Air Force Base and our quality of life. The voters blessed me with their vote and I have met every one of my commitments. While we have made significant advancements there remains more to do and I am the only candidate in this race with the skills and track record to keep us moving forward. My leadership in the area of economic development and job recruitment has resulted in the addition of thousands of new jobs for the County.
I am currently working with over a dozen new companies to bring to Spokane and I am the only candidate with the skills to make those jobs possible. I am also working to expand existing companies in the county especially in the area of advanced manufacturing, aerospace, health care, agriculture, professional services and high tech. For the last 15 years I have worked to provide startup businesses with financing and technical expertise and firmly believe that small business is the backbone of this country.
As a Marine Corps veteran and honorary commander protecting Fairchild Air Force Base is critical to me. Fairchild is the largest single site employer with over 5,000 employees and providing approximately $1.3 Billion per year in economic activity to the county. In addition to the economic benefits the base also provides access to critical services for the over 17,000 retirees in the county. I am the only candidate committed to protecting the base.
Spokane is a great place to live, work and play and I am committed to protecting our quality of life. I have taken significant steps to protect our environment, our natural resources and especially our beautiful Spokane River and aquifer. I have made the tough decisions to protect our environment and will continue to do so during the next four years.
Finally I have used my business experience to lead the effort to reduce the size and cost of county government and eliminate wasteful spending while maintaining quality services and getting you good value for your tax dollars. My success in this area has resulted in me being elected to serve as the President of the MRSC Board, a statewide nonprofit corporation dedicated to providing assistance to cities, counties and special purpose districts across the state in best practices to help elected officials and governing bodies to be more efficient.
Why should voters choose you over your opponent? I have demonstrated leadership skills, a track record of achieving successful outcomes, successful businessman and experience in all levels of local government. I think that voters are rightfully frustrated with politicians that promise they will do things when elected that they have never done before only to see that nothing gets done.
With my candidacy there is no mystery about whether I can do what I claim because I have a track record of accomplishment. I have been recognized at the local, regional, state and national level for my leadership skills and ability to achieve successful outcomes. In 2008 I was recognized and awarded as the single national Outstanding Board Member of the Year from the American Public Transportation Association. I am the only individual in the state of Washington to ever receive this award.
My opponent has no demonstrated community leadership skills, has not recruited a single business to this community, has no experience in the management of an organization the size of the county, has no land use experience, has taken positions that threaten Fairchild Air Force Base, our environment and your tax dollars.
What issues do you feel are most pertinent to Spokane Valley area residents going into the next four years? The most important issues for voters in the Spokane Valley are (1) having a growing economy that will provide good family wage jobs; (2) protecting Fairchild Air Force Base our largest single site employer providing over $1.3 billion in annual economic impact to the county (3) protecting our quality of life to include our natural environment and especially our water, and (4) improving our public safety so we can keep our loved ones safe.
What surprising issues are people bringing up as you door-knock or meet at campaign stops? There is a growing awareness of the important role that a knowledgeable county commissioner can play in fostering job growth and economic vitality for the region. Folks are aware of the new jobs that I have helped recruit to the region or the existing businesses that I am helping to expand and provide new jobs and are understanding that having experienced elected officials with a solid business background is critical to our ability to grow our economy and continue to grow the quantity of new jobs.
People have also expressed their disappointment and frustration with candidates that make empty promises just to get elected and then if elected do nothing but talk. For a candidate to promise that they will be able to do things if elected that they have never done before is just deceptive. Voters want individuals of integrity that will keep their promises and don’t mislead. That is why I am very proud that I kept every commitment that I made four years ago to earn the voters support and will continue to do so for the next four years.