SEATTLE — Should Washingtons attorney general focus on street crime such as gun violence and gangs, or concentrate on making sure people dont fall victim to scams or get taken advantage of by powerful corporate interests?
That is one of the questions underlying the race between Republican Reagan Dunn and Democrat Bob Ferguson, who are vying for what is arguably the second-most visible state elected office.
Dunn points to his experience as a federal prosecutor in Seattle, while Ferguson stresses his work as a civil litigator at one of Seattles biggest law firms.
At a debate in Spokane in June marked by testy exchanges, the two candidates clashed over their differing visions for the office. The confrontation was notable for its frank and sometimes personal barbs, as well as overshadowing the main event at the spring meeting of the Association of Washington Business the first gubernatorial debate between current Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican, and his Democratic opponent, Jay Inslee.
For all their differences, there are many similarities between Dunn and Ferguson. Both are politically ambitious, seen as rising stars in their respective parties. Both are from the greater Seattle area and, most distinctively, theyve both had the same job for years serving on the King County Council.
I sit next to Bob on the council, Dunn said. When you know somebody well, its a little easier to be more aggressive with them. I dont take that stuff personally, and I dont think Bob does either. Ferguson agreed.
The reality is that both Reagan and I are able to separate our campaign side from our other sides, he said. Were usually teasing each other about the race.
Kidding aside, the stakes are high for both men. They will likely advance to the November election after the Aug. 7 primary, in which the top two vote-getters move on regardless of party. Conservative Republican and states rights advocate Stephen Pidgeon also is in the race.
The Attorney Generals Office has been a springboard to higher positions. Gov. Chris Gregoire was the states top legal officer before McKenna, and former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton spent 12 years in the role.
The attorney general oversees more than 1,100 people, including 525 attorneys. The current two-year budget for the office is about $229 million.
One of the offices main priorities is enforcing consumer protection laws and representing customers in lawsuits against companies. Its attorneys also represent Washington in all legal cases involving state interests and provide legal opinions to public officials and can investigate and prosecute criminal activity at the request of the governor or a county prosecutor. There are only 20 attorney positions slated as prosecutors who primarily work on criminal matters.
Dunn said that even though the criminal investigation aspect of the attorney generals role is smaller compared with civil litigation work, the subject is important.
Every other question we get is a law enforcement question, said Dunn, adding that the office deals with concerns about gun and gang violence, online crime and cyberbullying.
The son of the late Republican Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn, Reagan Dunn has served on the King County Council since 2005. He said hed work on public safety issues, consumer fraud and environmental issues if elected. He also said he wants to make the Attorney Generals Office more efficient.
His time as a federal prosecutor in Seattle working on things such as narcotics and bank fraud cases and his stint at a private Bellevue law firm have given him a broad view of the legal world, Dunn said.
Ive got a much better-rounded résumé, and a deeper legal résumé, than my Democratic opponent.
Ferguson counters that the overwhelming majority of the attorney generals work is on civil matters and that his résumé trumps Dunns.
I understand hes trying to fit his background on the prosecutorial side. Its a good fit for running for prosecuting attorney, but not for attorney general, Ferguson said.
Ferguson, who has been a county councilman since 2003, worked as clerk for a federal appellate court judge before joining the Seattle law firm of Preston Gates and Ellis (which is now K&L Gates). In private practice he worked to shield taxpayers from cost overruns from Safeco Field construction and challenged the constitutionality of some of initiative promoter Tim Eymans measures.
Ferguson said the recent unsuccessful lawsuit targeting the new federal health care law brought by more than 20 mostly GOP attorneys general, including McKenna, shows how significant the top legal officer in the state can be.
He said he would use the office to represent people who dont have the resources to fight for themselves. Among his goals are to investigate banks and mortgage servicers who wont help responsible homeowners who are in trouble, to beef up prosecutions of dishonest lenders, to increase penalties for repeat drunken drivers and to protect veterans from consumer fraud.
I think I bring the right independence to the office and a willingness to take on powerful interests, Ferguson said.
Party: Prefers Democratic.
Occupation: King County councilman.
Education: BA, University of Washington, JD, New York University.
Civic experience: In third term on King County Council.
Raised, spent:* $909,073.07, $833,285.04.
Top donors: Washington State Democratic Party, $21,000; American Federation of Teachers, $1,800; Washington Indian Gaming Association, $1,800; Brian Ladenburg of Bainbridge Island, $3,600; Service Employees International 925 PAC, $3,600; Washington Education Association, $3,600.
Party: Prefers Republican.
Residence: Maple Valley.
Occupation: King County councilman.
Education: BA, Arizona State; JD, University of Washington.
Civic experience: King County council since 2005.
Raised, spent:* $953,099.50, $447,518.04.
Top donors: Washington State Republican Party, $18,500; Council of Police Political Support, $3,600; Farmers Employees and Agents, $3,600; Gun Owners Action League, $3,600; PHRMA, $3,600; Washington Bankers Association, $3,600; Tacoma Nissan, $3,600; Weyerhaeuser, $1,800.
Party: Prefers Republican.
Occupation: Lawyer, founder of Decalogos International, CEO of Bibleplex.com.
Education: BA, University of Alaska Anchorage; JD, Lewis and Clark College.
Raised, spent:* $20,065.88, $15,917.67
Top donors: Cynthia Zapotocky of Spokane, $2,700; John Zapotocky of Spokane, $2,155; Jere Irwin of Yakima, $2,000; Dan Bihary of Everett, $1,000.
*As of July 26. Source: Washington Public Disclosure Commission