From Jim Crow to John Lovick

Snohomish County's new elected sheriff is African-American, which is worth noting, hopefully, only for a moment.
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John Lovick.

Snohomish County's new elected sheriff is African-American, which is worth noting, hopefully, only for a moment.

Twenty-four hours after an African-American senator won the Democratic caucuses in a state with a black population of less than three percent, an African-American legislator was sworn in as the elected sheriff of a county with a black population of less than three percent.

It was a sublime moment last Friday, Jan. 4 – the unspoken triumph of character over skin pigment.

Rep. John Lovick, who formally took the oath of office as Snohomish County Sheriff earlier in the week to troll for drunken drivers, picked as his stage Everett's Cascade High, his sons' alma mater. Sheriff's deputies, Cascade teachers, and extended family, including Lovick's 96-year-old grandmother, crowded with state troopers, politicians, and activists dressed in yellow "Hate Free Zone" t-shirts.

With the honor guard, the hardback folding chairs, and the rustle of late arrivals, the hall radiated July Fourth minus the bunting.

Lovick stood and wept as one of his sons, Jeff, an L.A. cop, said that his father was a good dad and a good friend.

In the only articulated reminder of race, Jeff Lovick recalled that his father grew up in Louisiana and Texas hip-deep in the misery of Jim Crow.

Lovick's narrative may be a distant mirror: There was no Ivy League, no Kansas mom, no Kenyan dad. A native southerner who served in the Coast Guard, Lovick, 56, joined the Washington State Patrol three decades ago. His lousy driving skills, he says, compounded his trooper training.

"We didn't have a car to practice on growing up," Lovick said.

The never-give-up mantra of then-Patrol Chief Will Bachofner made the difference, Lovick said.

The future sheriff subsequently served as a member of the Mill Creek City Council and the state Legislature, achieving the post of president pro tem, the state House's cat-herder-in-chief.

"He has a tough arm and a human touch," said Rep. Hans Dunshee, Lovick's seatmate.

Lovick inherits an office with a tested record for battling Puget Sound's meth epidemic, and he took time to extend an olive branch to the county government where 70 percent of the budget is earmarked for corrections and law enforcement. (Memo to the county executive: You were missed.)

Lovick has the presence and mien of a sheriff, including the sine qua non lawman's moustache, a fashion statement that extends from Wyatt Earp to Lovick's sheriff predecessor, Rick Bart.

Sadly, Dennis Weaver, who portrayed television's McCloud in the 1970s, died in 2006. It just may be time to retire the 'stache.

Lovick stands on the shoulders of a rich legacy that reaches back to Donald McRae, the hobnail sheriff who ignited the 1916 Everett Massacre. Largely free of the corruption of departments such as Pierce County's, which took years to recover from the George Janovich scandal, Snohomish has an enviable reputation.

Lovick quickly revealed his political judgment by adopting a Doris Kearns Goodwin Team of Rivals strategy of corralling his vanquished political opponents: Both Tom Greene and Rob Beidler were appointed to serve on his command staff.

On Friday, Beidler spoke of his Raymond Carver moment sitting down at Lovick's kitchen table while the lawmaker prepared him breakfast.

"I went back to my car, and I didn't want to like him, but I did," Biedler said. Addressing the deputies and other Sheriff's Department staff, Beidler said, "You don't know him, but you know me. John is a good guy."

Sheriff Lovick's record will revolve around his leadership style, his judgment, and his finesse schmooozing the County Council and the executive. Skin pigment, thankfully, shouldn't be a factor.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson is the former editorial-page editor of the Everett Herald. Follow him on Twitter @phardinjackson