PASCO — Franklin County's chief law enforcement officer is battling to keep his job of 16 years, while a former cop and employee of the prosecutor's office is trying to take over.
Prosecutor Steve Lowe is opposed in Tuesday's election by Shawn Sant, who worked under Lowe for more than two years.
Lowe, 51, is a Democrat who has been in the elected position since 1995 and manages an office of 25 total employees, including 11 lawyers. He also was unanimously chosen by his colleagues as the president-elect of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and is set to take over in December if he retains his Franklin County office.
Sant, 40, is a Tri-City lawyer who is on contract with Benton County to represent indigent defendants, while also doing family law and civil litigation. He is the former chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party.
In August's primary election, Sant led with 1,060 votes, or about 55 percent, to Lowe's 45 percent.
The four-year position pays an annual salary of $128,544. The prosecutor's office handle's criminal cases, civil litigation for the county and child support matters.
Both men cite their experience, but differ on what they believe qualifies them for the job.
Lowe says it is not only about the hundreds of adult felony cases he's prosecuted and the nearly 60 percent reduction in crime the county has seen since he was elected, but it's his ability to manage the office on a tight budget. He recently received a $100,000 federal grant to help pay for one of his deputies to prosecute gang-related crimes and started a diversion program in the county so victims of nonviolent crimes would get their restitution faster than normal.
"I am fiscally conservative. ... I know what it's like to be a prosecutor in tough economical times," Lowe said in a meeting with the Herald's editorial board, noting that Franklin County has been poor since 1986 yet is the 18th fastest growing county in the country.
Sant says his history as a police officer and knowledge from working as an attorney on both sides of the criminal system gives him a "keen insight" into what the public wants, and will help him to better direct the office's resources and get a grasp on gangs and violent crimes. He wants to encourage community outreach with proposed town hall meetings and implement a software program to have direct contact with victims.
Sant, who's said it is nothing personal against his former boss, believes the county needs someone who will improve the qualify of life for its citizens and bridge what he sees as a communication gap between law enforcement and the prosecution of crime.
Lowe is hoping history repeats itself, pointing out that in 1994 he lost in the primary and went on to win the general election to unseat Dennis DeFelice, a Republican. He has run uncontested since then and said he is glad to have a challenger this year.
Lowe has said law enforcement isn't about partisanship but about doing what is right for true justice. He worries that voters will only focus on party affiliation and that his opponent if elected will not make prosecution decisions based upon what the evidence is, but partisan politics.
The prosecutor acknowledges that some members of law enforcement do not support him because he has pursued criminal cases against county employees, including a few sheriff's deputies.
Sant counters that being a Republican in no way will help him be a better prosecutor or affect how he treats the job. "I think party affiliation says, 'Hey, these are some values that I associate with,' but nothing else," he said, adding that he would be responsible to all citizens.
"When an issue comes up ... I will take it very seriously and make sure there is a fair and impartial position on both sides," Sant said. "That is the commitment that I have to make sure we are fair."
Sant currently has a handful of clients in Franklin County courts, including two murder cases and a persistent sex offender case. If elected, he would need to recuse himself as prosecutor from any of the cases he has been involved in as a defense attorney.
Lowe says the entire office wouldn't be able to handle those cases and has notified the Franklin County commissioners that $10,000 should be put into the budget, in case they need to bring in special deputy prosecutors. The money would cover fees if the office has to pay a lawyer in the community to prosecute the cases, instead of getting help from prosecutors in surrounding counties.
Lowe grew up in Ephrata. In college he had a paid internship as an investigator for then-Attorney General Slade Gordon, which Lowe says sparked his interest in law and led him to get a law degree from Willamette University in Salem in 1984.
Lowe spent two years as a public defender in Othello, then was a Franklin County deputy prosecutor from 1986-89. He moved to Benton County in 1989 to work as the civil chief deputy and stayed there until he won the Franklin County election in November 1994.
Lowe and his wife, Wendy, live in Pasco. They have four adult children.
His endorsements include Benton County Sheriff Larry Taylor, Pasco Police Chief Denis Austin, Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller, retired Franklin County Prosecutor Jim Rabideau and former U.S. Attorney and Republican congressional candidate Jeff Sullivan. Lowe also has the support of his deputy prosecutors and office staff, a number of lawyers including Sal Mendoza Jr., Sant's former boss, and the elected prosecutors from Mason, Clark, Chelan, Columbia and Klickitat counties.
Sant grew up in Richland. He was a reserve officer in Richland from 1992-95, followed by 21/2 years full time with the Prosser Police Department.
Sant then served four years in the Air Force before getting his law degree from the University of Idaho. He worked in the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office from 2004-06 as a deputy prosecutor handling cases in Juvenile Court and District Court and went into private practice in 2007. He was with Mendoza Law Offices in Kennewick until earlier this month.
Sant and his wife, Kati, live in Pasco with their four children.
His endorsements include Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, state Reps. Terry Nealey, Joe Schmick and Brad Klippert, and Franklin County Sheriff Richard Lathim. Sant also has the support of the Franklin County Sheriff Deputies' Guild, the Prosser Police Association, retired Prosser Police Chief Scott Hamilton and an extensive list of "community members," which includes current and former law enforcement officers.
More information about Lowe can be found at reelectstevelowe.com.
Sant's website is santlaw.com.