The Office of Attorney General of Washington will be decided in November.
From protecting consumers to defending state government in court, as the chief law officer of the state, the attorney general has a lot of responsibilities. We dig into the issues with both candidates in their first televised appearance together.
Bob Ferguson, 52, is the Democratic candidate and the incumbent. He was elected to the state attorney general’s office in 2012, prior to that he was elected twice to the King County Council. Ferguson received his law degree at NYU and has practiced as an attorney at Preston, Gates, & Ellis.
His opponent, Joshua (Josh) Trumbull, 34, is running as a Libertarian. He has a full-time law practice in Arlington. According to his campaign he has no prior political experience. Trumbull received his law degree from Gonzaga University.
Q: Mr. Trumbull you currently run a law firm in Arlington correct?
A: Trumbull, “Yes.”
Q: And you say that you have no political experience?
A: Trumbull, “Yes.”
Q: So why this office?
A: Trumbull, “This office because I currently litigate under the Consumer Protection Act helping people who are being victims of financial industries fraud. I think that’s a position that the attorney general needs to take over and protect the community.”
Q: How would you make the transition to a state level office with a wide array of responsibility as well as a number of employees?
A: Trumbull, “I think I would do well. I have significant training and education, University of Washington business degree and I have an MBA from Seattle University. I’ve been involved in companies of multiple sizes and I’m currently running my own, smaller company, the idea is that you get good people around you and you help them do their best.”
Q: Mr. Ferguson you are currently in your fourth year of office here. So far what do you consider your primary accomplishments during that time?
A: Ferguson, “I received 73% of the vote in the primary and I think the reason I have such strong bipartisan support is that people know I run an independent law office. We defend of course laws equally, friend or foe alike. Number two we’ve taken on powerful interests who don’t play by the rules. I think those are two central missions to our office and I think we delivered on both of those in the last four years.”
Q: What would be your priorities if you were reelected over the next four years?
A: Ferguson, “You’ll see more of the same. In other words we’ve taken on the federal government for a lack of protections for workers at Hanford. You’ll see litigation like that continuing. I sued Comcast recently, a more than $100 million consumer protection claim, one of the biggest in state history. You’ll see us take on powerful interests when they don’t play by the rules, no matter who they are. Our job, we’re the people’s lawyer. It’s important they understand we are there for them when powerful interests don’t play by the rules.”
Q: Mr. Trumbull what would be your top priorities if you’re elected Attorney General of Washington State?
A: Trumbull, “So my top priorities would be to make sure that the financial industry plays by the rules. I think that that’s the biggest entity out there that’s being overlooked currently. Additionally, I would preserve the citizens’ individual liberties and I would make sure the attorney general’s office understand the ethics involved in being an assistant attorney general or a special attorney general that are unique to the office.”
Q: What would be your first act in office if elected?
A: Trumbull, “My first act in office would be to provide ethical training to all employees related to the duties of the general public and the clients and how to handle any issues that may come up under that potential conflict.”
Q: Why that?
A: Trumbull, “Because currently there is, there’s been evidence destruction in the Oso case which I’m up near Oso so it’s a pretty big impact in that community and I would hope to avoid anything like that ever happening again.”
Q: Mr. Ferguson would you like to respond?
A: Ferguson, “Sure, as folks know in that litigation experts retained by the state in defense of the state did not retain all their emails as they should. Once we heard about that I put my top two attorneys on that, my assistant general and my chief deputy. We’re in the process of getting those emails and getting them to the judge. We hired a forensic expert to make sure they were being transparent with the court and the court will make a decision soon about whether or not those emails should have been turned over to the other side or not. So we’ll wait to see how that goes, but…but that’s an important part of our office- making sure we behave ourselves in an ethical manner and we do that.”
Q: I’d like to ask, you recently announced your support for a proposal to ban assault weapons in Washington. First of all why that policy, what’s your stance on that and why in particular now, but not in that order.
A: Ferguson, “So a couple of key points. It’s a ban on the sale of assault weapons. So if somebody currently has one they are grandfathered in as they are in the 6 or 7 other states that have these types of bans. The ban also includes the limitation of high capacity magazines to 10 rounds which is an important part of this proposal as well. Why now? Pick up the paper. We see these tragedies unfolding all around the country. And while I’ve been planning this for many, many months the Mukilteo shooting, in which a teenager was able to walk into a store and buy an AR-15 high capacity magazine and gun down former classmates of his I think speaks to this being a problem right here in Washington State. So this proposal will save lives. I know it will be an uphill challenge getting it passed in the legislature, but as the attorney general I’m in charge of law enforcement and protecting public safety. I think it’s important that I lead on this issue.”
Q: I know from the press release about the initiative, that some of the details will be ironed out in legislation, but what would it be closely compared to- California’s law? And also what exactly would it mean for people who currently own these types of weapons?
A: Ferguson, “So if you currently own it you’re grandfathered in. So that’s pretty straightforward. But our legislation will be modeled on the 6 or 7 states that already have these laws in place. States like New York and Connecticut. Those all have fairly common statuses within their laws. In other words, limit on the high capacity magazines, 10 rounds being pretty common and you grandfather in folks who currently own those weapons. You’ve got to define those weapons then you ban the future sale of that. Those are fairly common and you’ll see that in this legislation.”
Q: Would it include registration and that sort of thing?
A: Ferguson, “No, no. Thanks for asking that. It does not include registration nor does it in those other states as well. A lot of the feedback I’ve had from folks who do not support it are frankly misunderstanding where we’re going. I’ve been very clear. No registration. No one’s coming to your house and knocking on your door. I support the 2nd Amendment and the right to bear arms, but there are limits, just like there are limits on our 1st Amendment rights. You can’t go into a crowded theater and yell fire right? Our 2nd Amendment has some limitations. The U.S. Supreme Court has made that clear. This law will be constitutional.”
Q: Mr. Trumbull what’s your stance on an assault weapons ban or a future assault weapons sale ban?
A: Trumbull, “So I don’t believe that by giving up or infringing on fundamental rights that are protected by the constitution that it makes society safer. I believe that if we want to try to make society safer, the best way to do that would be to address the root cause which seems to be, there seems to be this kind of underlying pandemic of anger and acting out. And I would rather address things like that rather than attempt to restrict people’s rights whether it’s the second amendment or any other right in order to try to provide safety.”
Q: You’ve written that the office of attorney general has become too politicized, correct?
A: Trumbull, “Yes.”
Q: Why do you have that perspective?
A: Trumbull, “Well this proposed assault weapons ban is one of those. I believe that instead of putting the resources of the office into issues that are more policy related, I think that the office could use the limited resources to protect consumers, to use training to make sure that the state gets represented, to make sure that the ethics are followed. So rather than choosing to use the resources to try to implement partisan policies it would be smarter to use the resources to protect all people and try to kind of get the most bang for the taxpayers’ dollars.”
Q: What do you think the number one responsibility of the state attorney general is?
A: Trumbull, “I think that there’s two. I think that the State Attorney General’s Office it’s duty is to defend the state when the state is sued and it’s also in place and authorized in the Consumer Protection Act to protect just all, all the citizens of Washington from unfair deceptive acts of companies or other individuals in the marketplace.”
A: Ferguson, “If I can respond, look I can’t let go of the idea that the office has been somehow politicized right? All my predecessors, republican and democrat, Rob McKenna, Chris Gregoire, you name it. They proposed bills to the state legislature on a regular basis. I think you’d be hard pressed to find any attorney general anywhere in the country who doesn’t do that. He just calls it politicizing because he doesn’t like the proposal, right? But it’s one that I think is an appropriate one. Number two we take this very seriously, accusations of being politicized and I’m proud of the fact that with very few exceptions we don’t see that in my administration. Under my administration I have sued folks like the Washington State Labor Association, the Washington State Trial Lawyers, SEIU, three of my largest political supporters, three of the biggest supporters for any statewide democrat who’s in politics. I’ve actually initiated litigation against those entities because it’s the right thing to do under the law. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a friend of my or you’re a foe. We treat everyone the same. You know hey, we’ve got some reasonable policy differences, I get that. But to say that the office has been politicized in some way is simply contrary to the history of the office and contrary to the facts of how we’ve run our administration.”
Q: As we’re wrapping up here I’d like to give each of you a chance in a sentence or two to tell the voters why they should pick you. Mr. Ferguson?
A: Ferguson, “You want someone to take on powerful interests and hold them accountable and be a people’s attorney, I’m your guy. I’ve been doing that for the last four years. You’ll see more in the next four years.”
Q: Mr. Trumbull?
A: Trumbull, “And if you want somebody to take on the most powerful industry in the world, the financial industry that’s been harming the community for many years, hasn’t been held accountable, that’s why you’d vote for me.”
The Washington Department of Ecology is making a big rule change related to carbon emissions.
The state ecology department says under a new rule- businesses that are responsible for 100,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year are required to cap and then gradually reduce their emissions. Beginning in 2020, the threshold reduces by 5,000 metric tons every three years.
According to the agency, the rule change impacts natural gas distributors, petroleum fuel producers and importers, power plants, metal, cement, pulp, paper, and glass manufacturers, waste facilities, and state and federal facilities. The Department of Ecology- says impacted business will be required to show their emissions are declining by an average of 1.7 percent a year starting in 2017. Businesses can also comply by developing energy efficiency or other carbon reduction programs or by purchasing carbon credits.
State ecology workers say the new carbon caps will slow climate change and limit the projected effects on coastal communities, farming industries, and drinking water supplies in Washington. “We’ve witnessed increased wildfires. We’ve suffered through drought,” said Maia Bellon, Director, Washington Department of Ecology.
Bellon says the rule change represents “an important down payment to do our fair share to tackle climate change.”
“Not only is the first regulation of its kind in Washington State, but our approach is the first of its kind in our country. We are using the state’s Clean Air Act to limit carbon pollution and to guarantee reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” she continued.
The President of the Association of Washington Businesses, Kris Johnson, released a statement in opposition to the rule change which included the following:
“… under this new regulation, consumers will face higher costs to heat their homes, drive to work, and at the grocery store. It will be a devastating blow to low- and fixed-income families living paycheck to paycheck. And it will be a blow to the economy. A similar experiment in California has slowed manufacturing substantially – a piece of our economy we can’t afford to let slip out of the state, or, worse yet, our country.”
State agencies are launching a new plan to speed up the process of testing marijuana for pesticides.
Under the agreement the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board will pay for specialized equipment and two workers from the state department of agriculture who will be dedicated to carrying out pesticide tests on marijuana.
The agreement includes random testing and testing when illegal pesticides are suspected. Liquor and Cannabis Board Director Rick Garza says it will send a strong message that producers who apply illegal pesticides will be caught and will face significant penalties including the possible cancellation of their licenses. The state does have a list of 330 approved pesticides which can be used in marijuana growing operations.
In November, Washington voters will decide whether to enact Initiative 1491, a ballot measure concerning extreme risk protection orders.
The stated intent of the initiative is to “Temporarily prevent individual who are at high risk of harming themselves or others from accessing firearms by allowing family, household members, and police to obtain a court order when there is demonstrated evidence that the person poses a significant danger including danger as a result of a dangerous mental health crisis or violent behavior.” “This act is designed to temporarily prevent individuals who are at high risk of harming themselves or others from accessing firearms by allowing family, household members, and police to obtain a court order when there is demonstrated evidence that the person poses a significant danger, including danger as a result of a dangerous mental health crisis or violent behavior.”
If a judge decides there is enough evidence of danger in the near future a court could issue an ex-parte extreme risk protection order restricting a person’s access to firearms pending hearing within two weeks. Depending on the outcome of that hearing a court could issue an order prohibiting the person from owning, buying or having a firearm for up to one year.
Marilyn Balcerak supports I 1491. She says her son James, diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, had been struggling with depression. Balcerak says he became violent, verbally abusive and suicidal. According to Marilyn, James purchased a gun and fatally shot her 21 year old step-daughter Brianna Smith while she was sleeping, then turned the gun on himself.
She says there were warning signs, but she felt powerless to prevent the tragedy.
Q: Do you think that this law could have made a difference?
A: Balcerak, “Brianna would definitely be alive today if James hadn’t gotten that gun. And I believe that James would still be alive if he hadn’t gotten the gun.”
“There is no tool out there when you have a loved one that is in crisis that will take the guns away from them. You can do restraining orders, but that means that your loved one can no longer be around you. Joel’s law is now in effect, but that means that they are involuntarily committed and I don’t believe that just because somebody is in crisis, they necessarily need to have their freedom taken away. What they need is that gun taken away,” she continued.
“When I asked the police what I could do the police would have been able to tell me you could go to court,” said Balcerak. “For most people it’s not going to affect them. For most people with mental illnesses this law will never come into effect. But it has been shown that people you know with some of the mass shootings, family members have known that they should not have had a gun.”
“I’m not saying it’s going to stop all mass shootings. I’m not going to say it’s going to stop all suicides, but it will help,” she continued.
David Combs is a mental health advocate who leads weekly support groups for persons with mental illness. He’s a vocal opponent of I-1491.
“The initiative and the ballot actually say mental illness as a criteria for taking firearms away from a person. Mental illness is an illness. It is not a behavior or an indication of violence. Actually 97% of violent crimes are committed by people without mental illness and people with mental illness are 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime. So the stigmatization and continued prejudice against people with mental illness is very concerning to me,” said Combs.
Combs is also concerned about how the ballot initiative would affect due process.
“There’s ex parte law which allows for immediate trials without notification to the accused in which a broad set of people including dating partners and roommates can make statements that can be considered by the judge alone without the accused being able to be there to defend themselves and the order can be issued based on that alone,” said Combs.
“We all want to avoid tragedy for sure and we have a number of laws, new and existing laws, including Joel’s law which allows families to petition courts for involuntary treatment which is a treatment model. I-1491 does not treat an individual it simply takes one type of lethal weapon away from them,” he continued.
Stephanie Ervin with the Seattle based Alliance for Gun Responsibility is the state campaign manager for I-1491.
“There’s absolutely a gap in Washington’s law today that doesn’t address what extreme risk protection orders would,” said Ervin.
“That’s really a new tool to empower families and law enforcement to prevent tragedies before they happen. We really want to give those who are in the best situation to see warning signs the opportunity to do something about it,” she continued.
“Due process is really important to anything any initiative, and any measure that is for consideration for voters or legislators which is why we carefully drafted initiative 1491 to make sure we were protecting people’s constitutional rights. There are lots of provisions within 1491 that do that, a mandatory court hearing, opportunity to present evidence, a penalty for false petitioners, and all of that’s really important because we want to respect people’s rights to due process,” said Ervin.
“It’s really important. If we had passed extreme risk protection orders in the legislature two years ago, Marilyn’s kids might be alive today. That’s how important it is. People’s kids and family members are dying preventable deaths today that we can do something about. 1491 gives us an opportunity to do that,” she continued.
The Washington Arms Collectors organization hasn’t taken an official position on I-1491, but the group’s executive director, Phil Shave, has written about his concerns.
Q: Supporters of 1491 see it as a way to save lives. How do you see it?
A: Shave, “I think they’re wrong. They’ve created an initiative which lacks due process and is full of civil liberties violations.”
“Firearms rights are at risk because of 1491. They will be, they can potentially be lost forever and they like to call it a temporary protection order, but you have no right to an attorney. You do get one appeal in a year and the order can be reinstated forever, indefinitely,” he continued.
“There’s a really vague definition of who can file a request for one of these protection orders. In fact the ACLU says the definition is so vague that they do not support the initiative. Well somebody that you’ve been dating or somebody who’s lived even for a short period of time in the same house as you can file a protection order and the result is that you can be disarmed. So in a domestic situation where a woman might be at risk maybe it’s an abusive relationship and she has gone out, gotten the training, got a concealed pistol license to defend herself and her family and is being stalked. Well the stalker qualifies to request an extreme risk protection order. He can go to the court. He can file an affidavit. The judge does not even have to conduct a hearing. He can just do an ex parte order and the police will come to her house, remove her firearm and leave her defenseless. That’s, that’s just one scenario,” said Shave.