EVERETT — If money is the indicator, the Snohomish County sheriff’s race is the most contentious campaign on November’s ballot.
Not only has it generated the most campaign cash of any Snohomish County race thus far in the season, but the total raised far exceeds any sheriff’s race in recent memory.
It’s only August, and incumbent Sheriff Adam Fortney has more than quadrupled his contributions from the previous election, with $163,000 gathered already.
Susanna Johnson, the deputy police chief in Bothell, has raised $134,000 in her bid to unseat Fortney. Before moving to Bothell, she worked in the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office for 30 years as a deputy, narcotics detective and precinct commander.
Their combined contributions total just short of $300,000.
No sheriff’s race has elicited anything close to this financial backing since the 2007 race between John Lovick, Rob Beidler and Thomas Greene, but even then, all three fell short of what Fortney and Johnson have raised — and there are still more than two months to go.
In 2019, when Fortney unseated incumbent Ty Trenary, their campaigns combined raised less than $100,000. Fortney, then a sheriff’s sergeant, raised about $35,000. Trenary nearly doubled that.
Both Fortney and Johnson are also stacking up endorsements.
Although the position is nonpartisan, there’s a clear partisan divide among some of the candidates more prominent supporters.
Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, of Eastern Washington, gave Fortney’s campaign $850, according to state Public Disclosure Commission filings. And both Republicans on the Snohomish County Council — Nate Nehring and Sam Low — endorsed Fortney.
“I have worked closely with Sheriff Fortney over the past 3½ years and have found that he demonstrates several admirable qualities which benefit not only the sheriff’s office but all of Snohomish County,” Nehring said. “Sheriff Fortney goes well above and beyond the day-to-day duties of an elected Sheriff.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, Democratic Congresswoman Suzan DelBene and all three Democrats on the County Council — Megan Dunn, Jared Mead and Strom Peterson — have thrown their support behind Johnson.
“Every living Snohomish County sheriff has endorsed Susanna. That says a lot,” said Bob Drewel, the former county executive who served until 2004 when term limits forced him out. “She has endorsements from King County, from city chiefs — it’s an impressive list of people. Frankly, it’s one of the more impressive lists I’ve seen in a long, long time.”
Former sheriffs Trenary, Lovick, Rick Bart and James Scharf all endorse Johnson. And Lovick, now a Democratic state senator, has donated more than $1,000 to her campaign.
Of those former sheriffs, one identifies as a Republican. Bart, who served as sheriff for a dozen years, said he “lived and breathed” his job and helped hire Johnson decades ago.
Now, 75 and retired, he said Johnson is the only candidate fit for the job, citing her enthusiasm, temperament and integrity.
“She has more qualifications than anybody I’ve ever know who has run for sheriff … far more than the current sheriff,” Bart said. “For her to come back and run against the incumbent says a lot. … Fortney has, in my opinion, made this a political office. He has made it R versus D and I strongly disagree with that.”
Bart called Fortney’s decision to host a fundraiser with a far-right Arizona sheriff an “example of how Fortney has tried to divide this community.”
“And it’s about damn time we got a woman sheriff,” he continued.
Pro-Choice Washington, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility and the Tulalip Tribes have also funded Johnson.
Fortney’s re-election supporters in law enforcement and business cite his accomplishments as sheriff, such as his LEAD the Way program aiming to help kids build life and leadership skills.
“I am impressed with the work he does with our at-risk teens across the county,” said Low, who said he’d attended several of the program’s graduations.
Unions representing the sheriff’s office are split over who to endorse. The Deputy Sheriff’s Union endorsed Fortney, who served as its president until the last election. The Snohomish County Corrections Guild backed Johnson.
Derek Henry, the corrections guild’s president, said the union’s decision to endorse Johnson is “more indicative” of what they see as Fortney’s ineptitude.
“In the 28 years that I worked in the correction bureau, it’s the worst that I have ever experienced when it came to nepotism and favoritism,” he said. “Fortney gaslights you when you try to bring up issues. … Fortney quickly turned into a broken promises politician.”
In response to Henry’s comments, Fortney said via email: “If you choose to publish this quote it says more about your gutter journalism than anything else and I will not lend this style of journalism any credibility from the Office of Sheriff by participating in it. Please do not reach out to me again with this trash. “
Johnson said she is grateful for the people who have endorsed her. Whoever the sheriff is, she said, it needs to be someone who can bring the community together.
“There’s a reason the office of sheriff needs to be nonpartisan,” Johnson said. “Every action you take has to be equitable, and with integrity and a service mindset. … We need to, as a profession, earn that public trust.”
As of Friday, Fortney received 536 contributions. Seventy percent came from individuals, the rest from businesses or groups, according to campaign finance filings.
Johnson had received 925 contributions with about 85 percent coming from individuals.
The sheriff’s election was not included in the Aug. 1 primary because the position is nonpartisan and there were only two candidates.
Local ballots will be mailed out Oct. 19, and the last day to return a ballot for the general election is Nov. 7.
Sheriff’s election campaign fundraising (combined):
2023: $297,350.04 (and counting)
2007: $147,592.56 (adjusted for inflation, roughly $217,600 in today’s dollars)