Satterberg acknowledged the change was prompted in part by facing his first-ever reelection challenge this year, from longtime public defender Daron Morris.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, elected to three terms as a Republican, now says he’s a Democrat.
Satterberg confirmed his shift in an interview Tuesday morning, acknowledging that it was prompted in part by facing his first-ever re-election challenge this year, from longtime public defender Daron Morris — a self-described “lifelong Democrat” who quickly slammed Satterberg’s announcement as opportunistic.
The office of King County prosecutor was changed to be officially nonpartisan in a voter-approved county charter amendment in 2016. So Satterberg and Morris will appear on the ballot without any party affiliation.
But Satterberg, who pushed for the charter amendment, said voters and political groups want “some kind of shorthand” to know your beliefs. “The irony now that it’s nonpartisan, people want to know: ‘What are you?’ ” he said.
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“People want to know: ‘What do you think? Are you really a Donald Trump supporter?’ I am clearly not. My political views are much more in line with the Democratic Party nationally and locally, and so it is time to say it,” Satterberg said.
As an act of political self-preservation, Satterberg’s embrace of the Democratic Party makes sense. Trump won just 21 percent of King County’s 2016 presidential vote in 2016. Lori Sotelo, chair of the King County Republican Party, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Satterberg said he is seeking endorsements from Democratic political organizations and would be listing his party preference as Democratic on candidate questionnaires.
The news of the party switch may not shock those who have followed Satterberg’s political leanings. He has come out for abolishing the death penalty, and joined the American Civil Liberties Union after Trump’s election.
Still, the transformation means that Satterberg, 58, is the first King County prosecutor to identify with the Democratic Party since 1948. Satterberg was first elected prosecutor in 2007, after the sudden death of Norm Maleng, the moderate Republican for whom he’d served as chief of staff for 17 years. He was re-elected as a Republican in 2010 and 2014 with no opponents and is seeking a fourth term this year.
“I was a Norm Maleng Republican. That meant something different than it does today,” Satterberg said. He said he has always backed abortion rights and favors a public-health based approach to drug addiction, rejecting the “simplistic tough-on-crime notion.”
Satterberg said Trump has “embarrassed the country” with his hard-line crackdown on immigration and other issues. “I am proud to say I don’t subscribe to the philosophy of this president.”
Satterberg’s challenger, Morris, 45, has spent nearly two decades as a public defender. He criticized Satterberg’s party switch as motivated “by opportunism and fear,” noting it came shortly after three local Democratic Party legislative organizations endorsed Morris for prosecutor. “Voters must reject fake progressive values,” he said in an email Tuesday. “This means rejecting a lifelong Republican who changes parties when it is politically opportune to do so.”
In an interview earlier this month after announcing his candidacy, Morris criticized Satterberg for not doing enough “to make any fundamental progress in our basic approach to prosecution and criminal justice,” saying deputy prosecutors “violently coerce” defendants into plea bargains.
“Dan Satterberg is doing a lot of asking for high bail and structuring things so their (criminal defendants’) cases get delayed an inordinate amount of time,” Morris, 45, said. “If you’re innocent and you need to go to trial, if you want your day in court, the longer the case goes on, the more unreasonable the bail is, the more likely you are to give up.”
Morris also opposes the new $200 million Children and Youth Family Justice Center, saying instead of jailing youths, the county should have a range of options, including secure and non-secure detention facilities, scattered throughout the community.
Seattle Times staff reporter Sara Jean Green and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.