Prosecutor Satterberg faces rare challenge

Morris working hard to make this a competitive race.

Bob Roegner

Bob Roegner

Dan Satterberg has always been a reform-minded prosecutor who has favored diversion for low-level crimes over incarceration, and frequently has been on the leading edge of programs more associated with progressive Democrats than “law and order” Republicans. A moderate Republican who became a Democrat, Satterberg learned from his mentor, former Prosecutor Norm Malang, that prison isn’t always the right answer and community programs leading toward rehabilitation could be just as big an influence.

Satterberg has not had a challenger since he was elected 11 years ago, and has been considered almost unbeatable.

But this year he faces an aggressive opponent for the non-partisan position in Democrat and former public defender Daron Morris. This past week they brought their traveling debate show to Federal Way at the invitation of the 30th District Democrats.

Morris believes that ability to pay should be part of determining bail, and that unsecured bonds (a promise to pay) should be considered in some circumstances, while Satterberg believes that the likelihood of reoffending and returning for court dates are more important when considering bail. Although Satterberg would like to use GPS or texting for some crimes to follow-up and remind them to show up for hearings. He noted that judges have the final say.

The two also disagree on the new County Youth Detention Center. Satterberg supports the facility as he believes defendants need accountability and a place is needed for violent offenders. Morris is opposed to the facility and would like to see the money spent on community programs.

Morris is critical of the disproportionate number of people of color arrested and believes the system is set up against them. Satterberg disagrees and supports diversion programs such as the Enforced Assisted Diversion Program, LEAD, for low-level drug and prostitution crimes. Morris doesn’t think that is enough. The program was developed by prosecutors, police, social advocates and public defenders. County Executive Dow Constantine recently announced $3.1 million in support for the LEAD program and expansion to communities outside Seattle as part of his budget proposals.

In support of that effort Satterberg does not pursue drug crimes under one gram as he believes help through community-based programs rather than prosecution is of more benefit to the community. Morris wants to decriminalize sex work. In an area of rare agreement both support safe injection sites.

Satterberg has opposed pursuing civil crimes that become criminal only because a resident doesn’t pay the fine. He prefers matters to remain a civil issue rather than subject a resident to criminal charges and a police record. In some cases they can’t pay and adding a criminal charge subjects them to jail time, which could result in a job loss.

Further Satterberg says that by working with school districts juvenile detention has been reduced.

This is an interesting race between two Democrats as Morris is challenging Satterberg from the left of the political spectrum and appearing to claim Satterberg is not liberal enough. A challenge from the law and order right is what you would usually expect. Historically Satterberg has been able to run successfully in Democratic Seattle time after time, even though voters knew he was a Republican. His reputation as a reformer has won him support. But while the two candidates were speaking to fellow Democrats, their comments were televised for a broader audience thus potentially raising more voter interest.

Satterberg has raised over $150,000 and when added to a leftover fund brings his total to $271,277. Much of it is available for the closing weeks of the race. Morris has raised $49,857 and has approximately $45,000 left.

As the incumbent with a good reputation and the ability to raise more campaign donations, Satterberg entered the race as the favorite. Nothing has changed that, but Morris is working very hard with limited resources to make this a competitive race.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.

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