Challenger to Seattle’s chief prosecutor suspends campaign

This article is part of the Political Report’s coverage of criminal justice in the 2018 elections.

Dan Satterberg, the prosecutor of King County (which includes Seattle), faced no opponent in his re-election races in 2010 and 2014. And he no longer faces any active competition this year either after Daron Morris, a public defender, suspended his campaign for medical reasons.

Satterberg was first elected as a Republican in 2007 but is running as a Democrat this year. He has backed a range of reforms during his tenure, for instance defending the repeal of the death penalty and establishing new diversion and treatment programs, but he has also pursued tougher prosecution for some offenses. The Stranger’s Sydney Brownstone reported in March that Satterberg’s office was “increasingly criminalizing the demand-side of sex work” and that advocates were worried that his new policies would endanger sex workers. (Josh Kelety maps out Satterberg’s different facets in this lengthy profile that Seattle Weekly published in June.)

A major disagreement between Satterberg and Morris concerned the construction of a new youth jail in Seattle, a plan that has long been targeted by protesters. Morris echoed other opponents of the project in arguing that these funds would be better used promoting alternatives to incarceration. Satterberg supports the new jail, and points to reductions in youth incarceration as an indication that he too is committed to expanding such alternatives. The Seattle Times reported last year that the number of people held at the existing youth jail had reached its lowest point in two decades, but also that about half of the detainees there were African American, though African Americans are 13 percent of the county’s population.

During his campaign, Morris drew attention to racial disparities in King County’s criminal justice system; he also ran on goals that included shrinking cash bail and decriminalizing sex work (a move Satterberg opposes).