Civil rights or law and order? AG candidates chart different paths

In the race for attorney general, Republican challenger Matt Larkin accuses incumbent Bob Ferguson of being tough on President Donald Trump but soft on crime. The role of the office looks very different through the eyes of these two candidates. 

Ferguson’s second term as attorney general started by challenging Trump’s travel ban, also referred to as the Muslim ban. It was the beginning of what would become 80 lawsuits by Ferguson against the Trump administration in less than four years. 

“You certainly wouldn't find me suing any president of any party 80-plus times,” Larkin said. “I think that's just too much. It starts to look like a partisan office.”

First-time candidate Larkin of Woodinville says Ferguson has politicized his office. 

“He leaves out one important fact, which is we've won virtually every single case we've brought, so how is that politicizing in the office?” Ferguson said. “I file a lawsuit in which Washingtonians are harmed or our environment, and we win every single time basically.”

Ferguson’s record against the administration so far is 35 to 1, or a 97% success rate. He is appealing the one decision against him.

Larkin, who supports Trump, said he would rather leave the lawsuits to other states. 

“Let the other states file those lawsuits,” Larkin said. “If we're the only state that has standing, then we'll consider it. But right now we need to get our own house in order before we start chasing some of these other things. 

“Well tell those 18,000 Dreamers, ‘Hey, you know what, some other states can take care of your legal protections here in Washington State, We’ll let someone else do that.’” Ferguson retorted. “That's not how I operate.”

This November, the race for attorney general is really about the way each candidate sees the role. One as a defender of civil rights and consumer protection, the other as an office for law and order. 

“We didn't even have a civil rights team before I was attorney general,” Ferguson said. “Now we've got the best one in the country. We did not do environmental enforcement on behalf of the people. We recently resolved a case against Monsanto for nearly $100 million. That's money for the state of Washington, you'll see more of that in my next term.”

“We need to feel safe again in our state, and people don’t,” Larkin said. “I’ve been talking to them, not just soccer moms and not just elderly folks, I've been talking to business owners for months now. And they feel like nobody has their backs. They feel like it's really hard to do business, to even keep a business open in this state. And it's no because of COVID. It's because of crime.” 

Larkin currently works as legal counsel for his family’s manufacturing business. If elected, he wants to beef up the state’s criminal prosecution team. 

“I plan on training them up and then putting them at the disposal of our counties and cities saying, ‘Guys, we are here to help. We want to clean up our streets, we want to make our community safe,’” Larkin said. 

It’s a function that already exists in the current attorney general’s office when counties request help for criminal cases, but Larkin said he would lean on local prosecutors to do more on felonies and misdemeanors. 

“I would open a larger dialogue with the [King] county prosecutor, Dan Satterberg,” Larkin said. “He's a great guy, but I think he needs to do a better job of cracking down on some of these crimes.”

Meanwhile, if elected to a third term, Ferguson has his sights set on a major lawsuit against the opioid industry, which goes to trial next year. 

“In a courthouse here in Washington state, you'll see us taking those folks to trial unless we get a settlement that satisfies me,” Ferguson said. “So you'll see more of that work directly on behalf of Washingtonians and consumer protection and civil rights and environmental enforcement. More of that work is ahead.”

For voters, the choice is really about the vision of what an attorney general should do for the people of Washington, because between these two candidates, the paths forward are far apart.