SEATTLE – The two men competing to be Washington’s next attorney general are co-workers, but that’s about as much similarity King County Councilmen Reagan Dunn and Bob Ferguson will admit to sharing.
Dunn, a Republican, and Ferguson, a Democrat, have been trying to draw differences for months in their quest to succeed incumbent Rob McKenna, the GOP’s candidate for governor.
With about a month left until the general election, Ferguson appears to have an advantage. He garnered more votes than Dunn in the August primary, and recent polls show him ahead. But Dunn expects leads to flip-flop until Election Day. He put $100,000 of his own money into his campaign in September, according to campaign filings.
Ferguson has offered himself as an independent-minded lawyer who is not afraid to leave party politics behind, while Dunn has touted his experience as a U.S. prosecutor.
A fourth-generation Washingtonian first elected in 2003 to the County Council, Ferguson was an attorney at a prominent Seattle law firm before entering politics.
If elected, Ferguson said, he’d create a task force to look into an environmental crimes unit, seek remedies for gangs and continue the practice of consumer protection.
“It’s one of the most important functions,” he said. “Folks are struggling. When you think about it, we’re all consumers.”
Dunn has pitched a jobs angle, saying he’d like to create a task force to ease regulations on businesses. Dunn also says he’s a moderate Republican who supports gay marriage and abortion rights.
Dunn, though, had to backpedal a little in August when he was asked about an Olympia pharmacist’s refusal to provide the so-called morning-after pill. Dunn, in a radio interview, said he hoped the pharmacist would win the current court case challenging a state rule that pharmacies must provide the pill. He later said he was talking about his personal view on the case. Currently, the state Board of Pharmacy requires pharmacies offer the pill, a rule that’s in a court challenge at the moment.
Ferguson criticized Dunn for his statements.
“That’s an example of injecting a personal view, which is the opposite of what an attorney general does,” Ferguson said. “You don’t get to choose which laws you defend and which ones you don’t.’
The attorney general oversees more than 1,100 people, including 525 attorneys. The current two-year budget for the office is about $229 million.
Among the office’s main priorities are enforcing consumer protection laws and representing customers in lawsuits against companies, as well as representing Washington in all legal cases involving state interests, and providing legal opinions to public officials. State attorneys general have also played key roles in national issues recently, such as the failed challenge to President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and seeking monetary settlements against financial institutions after the nation’s recent mortgage meltdown.
The office can also investigate and prosecute criminal activity at the request of the governor or a county prosecutor, though that’s a smaller part of the office’s role.
Still, Dunn sees the attorney general’s office as an important criminal-fighting entity. Should he get elected, he wants to focus on gang violence around the state, cyber bullying and putting more resources into combating human trafficking.
The attorney general’s office “is the bully pulpit of criminal justice policy. That’s where law enforcement agencies go to talk about the issues,” he said.
Dunn points to endorsements from law enforcement agencies, compared to Ferguson’s lone endorsement from the Washington State Patrol Troopers Association.
Dunn is the son of a politician. His mother was Jennifer Dunn, a congresswoman revered in the state’s Republican Party. He was elected in 2005 to the King County Council after a career as a private practice lawyer and as a U.S. prosecutor.