A storm of legal and political conflicts await Washington’s next attorney general. Democrat Bob Ferguson sounds like he couldn’t be happier at the prospect.
His new gig, which provided a springboard to higher office for Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire and former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, is one to which he’s long aspired.
“The attorney general has the best job in the state if you’re interested in the law, important policy issues and politics,” he said.
This couldn’t be a better time then because there’s a convergence zone of such matters hovering above the agency.
A courtroom challenge may be in the offing for a ballot measure on charter schools and a fight with the White House looms on carrying out the wishes of voters on the legalization of marijuana.
State lawmakers could be hauled back into court if they don’t fund public schools improved. And this week a Thurston County Superior Court judge tossed out money-saving changes made to a state worker pension plan and an appeal seems necessary to avoid hundreds of millions of dollars in unplanned costs.
Ferguson is getting a crash course on these and more from outgoing Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna as the two begin their transition of power. Ferguson is scheduled to be sworn into office in January.
“(McKenna’s) been extremely gracious to make sure I’m briefed thoroughly on the critical issues facing the state,” Ferguson said.
As decisions need making, he doesn’t get a vote, yet. “Rob McKenna is the attorney general, and until I’m sworn in he’s the person to make the decisions,” he stressed.
That’s not to say Ferguson isn’t thinking about what he’ll do when the time comes.
For example, he voted against Initiative 502 to permit the licensing, regulation and legal sale of marijuana to adults.
“I look forward to defending the will of the people,” he said, adding he recently spoke “at some length” with Gov.-elect Jay Inslee about issues that surround implementation of the new law. He declined to say what specifically they talked about.
Similarly, Ferguson opposed Initiative 1240 to allow publicly funded, privately run schools. Now, he intends to “vigorously” defend it if necessary.
It might come to that.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn contends the measure is unconstitutional because it puts a piece of the public school system under the wing of the governor rather than his office.
“I understand that argument and look forward to defending the will of the people,” Ferguson said.
An old connection
Washington’s next attorney general has some meaty ties to Everett, literally.
Ferguson’s great-grandparents, Clem and Katherine Hausmann, opened the Broadway Meat Market at the turn of the 20th century near where Comcast Arena stands today. Hausmann family members, including his grandmother and uncle, ran it before it was sold in the 1970s, he said.
Ferguson’s parents offer another tie to the city. Murray Ferguson and Betty Hausmann were sweethearts at Everett High School who later married and settled in Seattle. Bob Ferguson is the sixth of their seven children.
He grew up in Seattle, attended the University of Washington where he was student president and went on to earn a law degree at New York University.
In 2003, he won a seat on the King County Council when he unseated a 20-year incumbent Democrat, Cynthia Sullivan.
Two years later he ran again when he lost his seat because of the downsizing of the council. He won and was re-elected in 2009.
Ferguson, 47, will be Washington’s 18th attorney general as a result of beating Republican Reagan Dunn in this month’s election.
He will succeed McKenna, who narrowly lost his race for governor, as leader of a 1,100-person department of which almost half are attorneys. His term is four years and comes with an annual salary of $151,718.
The victory didn’t come easily.
He leads by a margin of 53.3 percent to 46.7 percent with a few votes left to count around the state. He and Dunn each spent roughly $1.6 million each, a lot of it on television ads blasting each other’s qualifications.
Each also endured attacks from outside groups based in Washington, D.C. A Republican organization spent $2.58 million targeting Ferguson while a coalition of the Democrat’s allies spent $903,000 bruising Dunn.
Consumers top issue
Until he’s sworn in, Ferguson is not revealing much about on policies he’ll push in the 2013 session of the Legislature.
“Stay tuned,” he said, noting it will become clear after he’s sworn into office next year. “Attorney General McKenna had a robust agenda. I intend to follow in that manner.”
He did cite three areas in which he will be looking to leave his mark.
Consumer protection will be a focus, and he praised the work done by McKenna.
“We will be holding powerful interests accountable that don’t play by the rules,” he said, repeating a line used throughout the campaign.
In the first 100 days he hopes to lay the groundwork for two new divisions: one to handle environmental crimes along the lines of what exists in Oregon and the other to help veterans.
And on his first day?
“I won’t be planning anything dramatic,” he said.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com.
Political: Elected to King County Council in 2003, re-elected in 2007 and 2011
Personal: Married, two children
About the office: The Office of Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state. Its attorneys provide legal services to more than 230 state agencies, boards and commissions as well as the governor and the Legislature. They also assist residents through antitrust enforcement and consumer protection. The attorney general serves a four-year term and earns an annual salary of $151,718 as of September 2012.