Cheney Free Press -



Old adversaries, new challenger square off in county commissioner race

Candidates answer questions about district that includes Cheney, Medical Lake, Airway Heights and parts of city of Spokane


Candidates in the Aug. 5 primary for Spokane County District 3 Commissioner are left to right: Al French, Bonnie Mager and Mary Lou Johnson.

The primary race for the Spokane County Commissioner District 3 seat pits two adversaries from the last time the seat was contested in 2010 along with a relative political newcomer.

Current incumbent commissioner Republican Al French narrowly defeated then incumbent Democrat Bonnie Mager by 2,714 votes in the November General Election that featured accusations from both camps regarding residency in the district and payment of property taxes. Both are squaring off again, with Mager running as an Independent.

The Democratic candidate, Mary Lou Johnson, is running for public elected office for the first time.

What are the two challenges/needs you feel are the most important facing Spokane County residents? Why do you feel these are important? What measures would you institute as county commissioner to address these?

French - While we are recovering from the recession we continue to have too many families struggling to balance the family budget. The pressure of increasing taxes compounded by the lack of access to livable wage jobs robs our residents of the promise of the American dream. We need more and better paying jobs so that families can achieve the promise of economic prosperity. I am the only candidate that has the knowledge and relationships to bring new businesses to the region and work with our existing companies to expand therein creating more jobs for our residents. My efforts over the last three years have resulted in thousands of new jobs for the community and I have new companies that I am currently working with to expand in the region.

Johnson - Smarter economic development. The Health Department has documented the increasing income inequality in our County. I want to lead the County to establish regional strategies to bring more middleclass, family wage jobs with ladders of opportunity for apprentices and veterans.

Smarter criminal justice. The county spends 74 percent of its budget ($104 million) on criminal justice, but we don't feel safe, our jail is overcrowded, and there is a revolving door at the jail. I will implement proven reforms that hold offenders accountable and stop their criminal behavior.

The county has done too little too late in both areas.

Mager - The overarching challenge that Spokane County faces is corruption and cronyism in government. When candidates are the tools of special interests, the community suffers because decisions are made to benefit the bottom lines of the few instead of the common good. These decisions cost taxpayers money and leave citizens scratching their heads - like when county employees have to take the fifth for illegally back dating building permits. Distrust of government is the result. I will reinstate the open and transparent government policies I insisted on during my tenure.

Criminal justice reform. We have studied this issue to death and spent over a million dollars. It is time to implement the evidence-based recommendations and track the success ratio.

Is the expansion of State Route 904 a priority to anyone else other than Cheney and why do you feel this way?

Mager - Until the North/South Corridor is finished in Spokane, SR 904 will always be a stepchild, but working with (6th District) legislators (Jeff) Holy and (Mike) Baumgartner from our district we have a good opportunity to move it up on the priority list.

French - The expansion of SR 904 is a priority for me for a variety of reasons to include safety, mobility, industrial development, and easing access to advanced educational opportunities at EWU. As an 11-year member of the STA board and part of the effort to bring the Eagle Pass program to EWU and Cheney I know and appreciate the volume of citizens that use SR 904 to get to Cheney and this corridor needs to be safe for all of its users.

Johnson - SR 904 is highly traveled with capacity and safety concerns noted in the 2003 Route Development Plan that recommended a five-lane, $14.1 million project. Limited state revenue has not allowed for the needed improvements. The Department of Transportation reports 751 collisions with 15 fatalities from Jan. 1, 1999 through what is available for 2014. Driving under the influence and traveling at an unsafe speed are the top reported causes of the fatalities. There has been one fatality each year from 2009-2013. As a Spokane County Commissioner I will raise this public safety issue on the county's legislative agenda.

Why did you choose to run in the commissioner race? Why would you be a better pick than your challengers?

French - I have been honored to serve as your County Commissioner for the last 3-1/2 years and would be humbled to receive your vote so that I can continue to serve you. Prior to being elected to serve as your commissioner I also served for 8 years on the Spokane City Council. I am the only candidate with experience in both forms of government and can use that knowledge to work to find community solutions that will allow us to be better together. Four years ago I promised you that I would work to reduce the cost of government, make government more efficient and expand our economy; promises made, promises kept. There is more to do to get us where we want to be and I am the only candidate that has the skills, knowledge and ability to get us there together.

Johnson - Voters deserve smarter county government where tax dollars are spent more wisely and decisions are based on different values. I am honest, have integrity and work hard. I am qualified and have had successful careers as an attorney, educator, and nurse. As a trained mediator I have a proven approach to problem solving to help people identify common interests so they can work together productively. I want to solve problems not create problems such as the incumbent does (e.g. failed leadership on regional solid waste). Public officials need to be fair partners with other jurisdictions and be held accountable.

Mager - My passion for good government and 27 years of experience (including four as county commissioner) on numerous state, local and county boards and commissions motivate me to run and make me the best candidate. Mr. French moved into this district when he was term limited out of the city council and after two failed races running for Spokane Council president and mayor. His allegiance and experience is with Spokane. Ms. Johnson has never run for office and has no county experience.

I have a reputation for collaboration, getting things done and saving literally millions while I was in office.

Ballots have been mailed by the Spokane County Elections Department. Ballots must be postmarked by 5 p.m. of Election Day, Tuesday, Aug. 5.

John McCallum can be reached at

Al French (Prefers G.O.P)

Spokane City Council, District 1, 2002-2009 Spokane County Commissioner, District 3, 2011-2014 .

Licensed architect, real estate broker and investment consultant. Boards and commissions include the Spokane Transit Authority board, State Building Code Council and the Municipal Service and Research Center (president). Outstanding Board Member of the Year in 2008 from the American Public Transportation Association. 

Western High School, Las Vegas, Nev. 1969; University of Idaho, architecture and business finance, 1972-1977. More information at

Bonnie Mager (Prefers Independent Party)

Spokane County Commissioner, District 3, 2007-2010.

Eastern Washington field organizer for WAmend; Executive director, Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane County; Eastern Washington coordinator, WEC; Executive director, Citizens for Clean Air.

Degree in fashion design from LATT. Also attended Utah State University, Pasadena, Glendale and Woodbury colleges.

Boards and committees including, Health District, STA, Spokane Clean Air, Priority Spokane and Save Our Station. More information at

Mary Lou Johnson (Prefers Democratic Party)

Elected leader in the Spokane Alliance and in at candidate's church.

Worked as an attorney in the Washington Court of Appeals and the Federal District Court for nearly two decades. Also a community health nurse, a nurse educator and a family nurse practitioner with a small local practice.

Graduated from Gonzaga University School of Law, first in class. Undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota and a masters from the University of Colorado.

Leader in smart justice reform efforts and for creating quality jobs. More information at


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