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Libertarian hopes to wrest Washington AG’s office from Democrats

Four years ago, the race for Washington attorney general was one of the most hotly contested in the state. This year, it’s decidedly not.

Democrat incumbent Bob Ferguson is running for a second term against Joshua Trumbull, an Arlington attorney at a small firm who will make history regardless of the outcome. He’s the first member of the Libertarian Party to be on the general election ballot for a statewide office since Washington went to the top two primary system in 2008.

But Trumbull didn’t get to the Nov. 8 ballot by beating a Republican in the primary. He’s there because the GOP didn’t field a candidate to challenge Ferguson, something that surprised the first-time office seeker, who said he got into the race to give people a choice outside the two-party system which he believes is splitting the country.

“Honestly, I don’t really know about the (Libertarian) Party,” he said recently. “Some of the people encouraging me to run were Libertarians.”

To say the race is different than 2012 is “an understatement,” Ferguson said recently. In the previous election, he was matched against Reagan Dunn, a fellow member of the King County Council. The two knew each other well and even sat next to each other at council meetings at one point. They debated several times around the state.

They each raised and spent more than $1.6 million in the contest for the open office, and a national super PAC, the Republican State Leadership Committee, dumped in some $2.5 million against Ferguson in the month before the election. He still won by more than 200,000 votes.

This year, Ferguson has raised almost $1.3 million, but spent less than $400,000 so far, according to his most recent reports to the Public Disclosure Commission. Trumbull has filed only his initial registration with the PDC and has missed deadlines for reporting contribution and expense summaries.

He said he’s only starting to raise money and didn’t think he had to report. But all candidates on the ballot must file regular summaries before and after the primary under the state’s campaign finance law, said Lori Anderson, a spokeswoman for the PDC.

Told he’s apparently violating state law, Trumbull replied: “I guess I made a mistake. I will correct it.”

Compared to Trumbull’s low-profile campaign – his website just became active this month – Ferguson has been in the news fairly regularly for major consumer protection cases against Comcast and Johnson & Johnson, a complaint against the U.S. Department of Energy challenging worker safety at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and a major campaign finance case against opponents of the 2013 genetically modified foods initiative.

Among his promises in the 2012 campaign was to beef up consumer protection. The number of attorneys in the state’s consumer protection office went from eight to 20 in his first term, and the number of those cases more than doubled.

Trumbull said he generally agrees with the increases in consumer protection office but would devote more resources to looking at the tactics of the finance industry against victims of mortgage foreclosures during the recession.

“We have more resources devoted to that issue than in any time in this office,” Ferguson replied.

Last week Ferguson was joined by several Democratic lawmakers and gun-control advocates when he announced plans to seek legislation next year to ban the sale of semi-automatic military style rifles and large magazines. The bill has yet to be drafted and critics said the timing was more about the 2016 election than the 2017 session. Ferguson dismissed any suggestion the announcement was political.

“I won the primary with 73 percent of the vote,” he said. “If I waited until after the election, people would say that was political.”

An assault-weapon ban will be “an uphill battle”, he added, and building a coalition of supporters will take time.

Trumbull contends focusing on gun violence is the wrong way to go. Instead the state should focus on all violence and look at things that contribute to that, like violent movies, television shows and video games. But he conceded that restricting those would be tied up in freedom of speech disputes, just as an assault weapon ban would generate a Second Amendment debate.

Asked how he would make the jump from a small practice to running what’s essentially the biggest law firm in the state, with more than 1,000 employees, 13 offices and 25 divisions, Trumbull said he believes good people are already in place. “I would set the direction and tone and rely on smart people to implement it.”

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