Attorney General Bob Ferguson has gained the latest, most influential endorsement in his campaign for Governor, as U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell joins five members of Congress, plus an incumbent and former governor and a bevy of Democratic-aligned interest groups in the Fergy camp.
“I am surprised so many organizations have made early endorsements,” Ferguson told a Seattle fundraiser Thursday night, to which he delivered news of Cantwell’s support. He isn’t really that surprised, having worked months and deployed his role as a hyperactive AG to roll up support and take up dollars.
As the advanced age of government bigwigs in Washington, D.C., becomes an issue, legal challenges brought against the Trump Administration have spawned a new batch of Democratic leaders. They needed to be resourceful and took a great deal of public abuse from the 45th president. Nowadays, they are going places.
Two of Ferguson’s compatriots in successfully suing Trump, Attorneys General Maura Healey in Massachusetts and Josh Shapiro in Pennsylvania, won election as governors in 2022. A third, California AG Xavier Becerra, was named to a top job in the Biden Administration as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Ferguson and North Carolina AG Josh Stein are on the trail seeking open 2024 gubernatorial seats. Ferguson has raised more than $4.191 million, far outpacing the competition. He has visited each of the state’s 39 counties and staged big show-of-strength fundraisers beginning in Seattle and Tacoma. The latest was held in Vancouver.
“We are in the most competitive election race in the country,” Stein said this week on his second Seattle fundraising foray of the year. He is running to succeed Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat who twice squeaked in while Trump carried the Tarheel State. Stein faces ultraconservative GOP Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson, who has called the state’s public schools “bastions of subversion”, described gays and lesbians as “filth,” and agreed on a radio talk show with the host’s anti-Semitic rants.
Ferguson is running in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1980. The last two open races have been close, however. Chris Gregoire won in 2004 by 133 votes after multiple recounts and a court suit. Jay Inslee trailed Republican AG Rob McKenna through much of 2012, narrowly outpacing his opponent in an election that saw Ferguson elected Attorney General, outpace fellow King County Councilman Reagan Dunn.
Aggressiveness during the Trump era helped boost Healey and Shapiro and is working for Ferguson. He was first in the nation to push back, prevailing in a U.S. District Court challenge to Trump’s executive order restricting travel to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries. Fergy was doubly rewarded with a nasty Tweet from the White House.
“The opinion of this so-called judge, which takes law enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be appealed,” Trump declared. It was appealed and upheld by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The administration went back to the drawing board. Six years later, Ferguson is running for Governor with endorsements from the Muslim Council of OneAmerica Votes as well as the United Farmworkers union.
He created an environmental division in the AG’s office. It has acted under a statewide law subjecting owners of decaying, oil leaking boats to civil and criminal penalties. He just received an early endorsement from Washington Environmental Action, even though Democratic gubernatorial rival, Land Commissioner Hilary Franz once headed the environmental group Futurewise.
When Trump tried to impose new rules cutting off federal funding of Planned Parenthood clinics, Ferguson challenged the administration in federal court. He won a the case in U.S. District Court in Yakima. Five years later, Pro-Choice Washington and Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates are supporting his run for governor.
Stein, in North Carolina, faces what he called a “cultural divide.” The state is home to top notch universities and the Research Triangle of Raleigh Durham. Populous Mecklenburg County, home to Charlotte, is trending Democratic. At the same time, however, the state’s textile mills are shutting down and its tobacco industry has undergone hard times.
The state’s rural and blue-collar voters believe the Democratic Party “speaks to educated people,” said Stein. It’s a problem in a closely divided state. In Stein’s words, “The universe of (swing voters) is really small. They’re low informational and very impressionable.” He has taken a page from Shapiro’s playbook in Pennsylvania, promising to work “for a future where you don’t have a job.”
The rural moderate Democrat, a species once central to Washington’s political ecology, is nowadays as rare as the spotted owl. Jay Inslee has paid little attention to the state’s “rust belt” in Southwest Washington. Inslee hasn’t broken 40 percent of the vote in Cowlitz County. Big King County majorities have made Washington a “blue” state.
The axiom dates from our AG’s first King County Council campaign: Nobody outworks Bob Ferguson. He has made a practice of visiting the AG’s offices all over the state. He has already been everywhere in his “exploratory” and just formally announced campaign. A recent Facebook post shows Fergy mugging with Bobby Whittaker, a resident of remote Ferry County and organizer for the Kettle River Rail Trail.
With his smorgasbord of Democratic interest group endorsements, along with such backing comes obligations. Ferguson opponents are certain to depict him as a taxing, spending, regulating, big government replica of Inslee. Ferguson is a former chess champion. Signs from the stump are that he is already positioning to block any such moves.
Without criticizing Inslee, he warns of state agencies being “captured” and becoming agents of industries they are charged with regulating. He cites cases where the state was asleep at the helm. “The people in the San Juan Islands, don’t get them started on the quality of ferry service,” he told the Seattle fundraiser. He contrasted this with the AG’s pro-active consumer protection lawsuits and successful civil rights litigation that returned $3.5 million to women farmworkers.
The AG has deployed strong support on high profile cases. He hired the state’s Solicitor General, Noah Purcell, away from Seattle’s Perkins Coie law firm: Purcell argued the case against Trump’s travel ban and handled complex litigation over victims of the addictive Oxycontin pain killer. Washington won an additional $113 million from makers of Oxycontin — Purdue Pharma and its owners the Sackler family — after rejecting an original settlement proposal.
Asked how he would govern, Ferguson noted: “There are times when you yourself have to engage.” In such times, government must respond quickly. He cited the 2013 collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge in Burlington. Ferguson went no further, but the bridge collapse delivered a memorable response. Gov. Inslee was holding a day-after news conference pledging to seek federal help. Sen. Cantwell had already roused the Secretary of Transportation and was Burlington-bound with an initial $1 million to cover impacts.
As seen in the Ferguson and Stein campaigns, fundraising is intense for an election more than a year away. Josh Shapiro raised and spent $73 million in last year’s Pennsylvania gubernatorial race. Inslee spent just $8.6 million in 2020 to win a third term, with Republicans putting relatively little money behind GOP nominee Loren Culp.
It promises to be different next year. The Republican Governors Association spent more than $11 million on Washington’s 2012 race, most of it wasted on generic, cookie cutter ads totally disconnected with state issues. Then-Republican State Chairman Kirby Wilbur complained that the national party took money out of the state. but offered little help in a winnable race.
“We expect they (the RGA) will spend enormous sums of money in North Carolina,” said Stein. In Washington, a lot depends on what kind of campaign gets mounted by former seven-term Republican Congressman Dave Reichert. The onetime King County Sheriff is not known for Ferguson-like work habits.
With hard work comes good luck. For instance, the AG sued the U.S. Navy for failing to adequately evaluate and deal with impacts from its noisy Growler jet flights from Naval Air Station Whidbey. The jets do carrier landing practice with near daily flights low over Coupeville and the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Preserve.
Ferguson held a fundraiser in 2021, late one summer afternoon outside an historic barn at Ebey’s Landing. He had just finished talking about the Navy lawsuit when a loud noise shattered the bucolic setting. Three Growler jets were doing their practice run, silencing the Attorney General and driving his supporters into the bar.
A federal judge has since ruled that the Navy failed to consider impacts on school children and bird life when it added planes at its Whidbey Island base, violating the National Environmental Policy Act. One more win for the AG’s environmental division.