King County voters will decide this fall if the prosecuting attorney position should become nonpartisan, joining every other elected King County office in ditching party affiliation.
Should the King County prosecuting attorney become a nonpartisan position?
Voters will decide that this fall, choosing whether the prosecutor should join every other elected county office in discarding its party affiliation.
Supporters say that prosecutors and the judiciary should be removed, as much as possible, from politics.
Opponents say that removing party affiliation just hides relevant information from voters.
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The charter amendment is on the ballot after the Metropolitan King County Council narrowly approved it in June. While the County Council is technically nonpartisan, all nine council members have previous party affiliations. The push to make the prosecuting-attorney office nonpartisan passed 5-4 with bipartisan support and solely Democratic opposition.
In a county dominated by Democrats — Barack Obama won 69 percent of the King County vote in 2012 — it’s not a surprise they would prefer that voters know the party of the prosecuting attorney.
In the county’s online voter guide, the arguments for keeping prosecutor a partisan positionwere written by Jaxon Ravens, chairman of the state Democratic Party, and Aaron Ostrom, director of Fuse Washington, a progressive advocacy group.
They argue that, despite voters’ dislike of partisan politics, party affiliation gives voters a quick insight into a candidate’s beliefs.
“Taking away party labels forces many voters to choose between candidates they know almost nothing about,” they write. “Voters deserve to know if the person making life and death decisions sides with Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.”
In 2008, King County voters chose to make the County Council, executive and assessor nonpartisan.
“It makes no sense that the only office in King County that remains partisan is the prosecuting attorney,” supporters of the change wrote in the voters guide. The supporters are a group featuring two former U.S. attorneys (Obama appointee Jenny Durkan and George H.W. Bush appointee Mike McKay) and a former King County prosecutor (Republican Chris Bayley).
Prosecutor was not included in the 2008 switch because there was some question as to whether, under the state constitution, it could be a nonpartisan position. King County’s history of its own charter even says that making the prosecutor nonpartisan would require a change to the state constitution.
In the 32 counties that do not have home-rule charters, the constitution says that prosecutor must be a partisan position.
But, in an opinion last year, Attorney General Bob Ferguson advised that home-rule counties could chose to make the position nonpartisan.
Durkan said that switching to a nonpartisan office would make prosecutor candidates talk about actual issues of the office, rather than tie the race to national politics.
“The job of a prosecutor has to be nonpolitical in every respect,” she said. “The public is losing confidence in partisan political institutions and I think we can’t afford for them to lose confidence in the fairness and objectivity of the way we prosecute crimes.”
While Democrats generally oppose the change to a nonpartisan prosecuting attorney, the current system has not been kind to them. The King County prosecutor has been a Republican since 1948.