Mitzi Johanknecht at Pride
Mitzi Johanknecht at Pride

It appears that King Coun­ty will soon have a new top law enforce­ment offi­cial. Thurs­day’s bal­lot drop saw sher­iff hope­ful Mitzi Johanknect widen her lead over incum­bent John Urquhart for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive day, sig­nif­i­cant­ly dimin­ish­ing the like­li­hood of a come­back vic­to­ry by Urquhart in the remain­ing late ballots.

Johanknect (pro­nounced Joe HANK Nick) is a vet­er­an deputy who has held many posi­tions in the sher­if­f’s depart­ment dur­ing the past few decades. She decid­ed to chal­lenge Urquhart after con­clud­ing the coun­ty need­ed new lead­er­ship at the top. She was endorsed by The Stranger, The Seat­tle Times, NARAL, the Nation­al Wom­en’s Polit­i­cal Cau­cus of Wash­ing­ton, for­mer King Coun­ty Exec­u­tive Ron Sims, Equal Rights Wash­ing­ton, and sev­er­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic leg­isla­tive dis­trict organizations.

Mitzi was also rat­ed “Out­stand­ing” by the Munic­i­pal League; where­as incum­bent John Urquhart received a rat­ing of “Very Good”.

“Mitzi is run­ning for Sher­iff because it is time to focus on the busi­ness of pub­lic safe­ty in King Coun­ty,” reads the pitch on her cam­paign web­site. “The women and men of the Sheriff’s Office and the com­mu­ni­ties they pro­tect deserve a Sher­iff who makes fight­ing crime and com­mu­ni­ty build­ing her first pri­or­i­ties. Mitzi is an expe­ri­enced law enforce­ment leader with a track record of success.”

“Born and raised in King Coun­ty, Mitzi has served her com­mu­ni­ty for thir­ty-two years,” the web­site goes on to say. “She is an expe­ri­enced, pro­gres­sive law enforce­ment leader, hav­ing risen to the rank of Major.”

“Mitzi was the first woman to com­mand TAC-30, the King Coun­ty Sheriff’s Office SWAT team, and has served in lead­er­ship roles in every divi­sion and loca­tion in the Sheriff’s Office. As a deputy, she was the first to work with a mul­ti-dis­ci­pli­nary team in King Coun­ty hous­ing projects. She col­lab­o­rat­ed with oth­er agen­cies, com­mu­ni­ty groups and res­i­dents to build rela­tion­ships and trust, pro­mot­ing pub­lic safety.”

Urquhart’s cam­paign — his third in the last five years — was plagued by weeks of bad head­lines. Urquhart has been accused of sex­u­al harass­ment and inap­pro­pri­ate behav­ior by mul­ti­ple indi­vid­u­als (he denies the alle­ga­tions). Urquhart’s finan­cial deal­ings as Sher­iff have also come under scruti­ny in recent weeks.

Angered by the report­ing of The Seat­tle Times, Urquhart’s cam­paign sent a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the news­pa­per to a nonex­is­tent elec­tion night par­ty on Tues­day night instead of pro­vid­ing the actu­al loca­tion. The paper’s reporter ulti­mate­ly tracked Urquhart down at his real par­ty and con­front­ed Urquhart.

Urquhart said he was only play­ing around, call­ing the feint “a joke”.

But he’s prob­a­bly not laugh­ing now that his oppo­nent is pro­ject­ed to win.

Urquhart was for many years the Pub­lic Infor­ma­tion Offi­cer for the King Coun­ty Sher­if­f’s office. He retired from that posi­tion pri­or to decid­ing to run against appoint­ed Sher­iff Steve Stra­chan in 2012. Urquhart eas­i­ly defeat­ed Stra­chan, who ulti­mate­ly found anoth­er job lead­ing the Bre­mer­ton Police Department.

Stra­chan will be leav­ing that posi­tion at the end of 2017 to take over the Wash­ing­ton Asso­ci­a­tion of Sher­iffs and Police Chiefs.

Urquhart was unop­posed for reelec­tion the fol­low­ing year (2013) and won a full four year term. Dur­ing his tenure, he has repeat­ed­ly made head­lines for ter­mi­nat­ing deputies for con­duct unbe­com­ing of a law enforce­ment official.

But, as men­tioned, more recent­ly the head­lines have been about him and his alleged con­duct — and not the prob­lem­at­ic con­duct of the rot­ten apples Urquhart vowed to get rid of when he first sought the posi­tion in 2012.

Johanknect will be King Coun­ty’s sec­ond female sher­iff, after Sue Rahr, who suc­ceed­ed Dave Reichert fol­low­ing his elec­tion to Con­gress in 2004. Rahr resigned in 2012 to lead the Wash­ing­ton State Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Train­ing Com­mis­sion, three years after run­ning unop­posed for a full year term. Rahr still runs the Com­mis­sion today.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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