Bob Ferguson is nearing the end of a four-year term as Washington state attorney general. His work has mainly been sterling.
The Democrat has stood up to influential and wealthy interests on matters of campaign finance and consumer fraud, beefed up his consumer protection unit, and taken action to change course when his or agency actions were in question.
That may be why, in this unusual political year, that Republicans put up no candidate to challenge Ferguson.
Josh Trumbull, who recently identified as a Libertarian, did step in and is running a low-budget citizen’s campaign. Ferguson had more than 72 percent of the primary vote and enjoys huge advantages in fundraising, organization and résumé as the Nov. 8 election draws closer.
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Trumbull is a longtime Snohomish County resident, a first-time candidate at any level, and he is running mainly on a single issue. He says too many homeowners are still losing their properties to foreclosure to Wall Street interests after the Great Recession, and he thinks the Attorney General’s Office can take more aggressive action to protect their interests when debt holders act too quickly to seize a home.
Although Ferguson has beefed up his consumer protection staff to deal with various kinds of fraud and has been a successful party on many major fraud cases, Trumbull wants stronger action in one area.
Trumbull argues that secondary buyers of mortgages, which are pooled and resold in the national securities market, have too much incentive to seek foreclosure on a homeowner. He says other approaches that keep a working person in the home would be of more benefit to the community — and ultimately the lender, if the system worked differently.
Trumbull said he was moved to run after representing homeowners against major financial interests, and he also is working on a legislative proposal he’s started sharing with a few lawmakers. We encourage him to develop that idea and help lawmakers understand why this can be a problem.
But Ferguson is the clear choice for voters. We see the attorney general as top lawyer for a law office of more than 500 attorneys, and Ferguson has the background and experience. Ferguson manages the office with few complaints. He has reallocated resources to beef up the consumer protection unit, using proceeds from legal actions against fraud to help fund it. He also pushed for successful legislation that discourages Medicaid fraud in Washington by allowing third parties to sue medical providers and recover overpayments due to fraudulent billing.
Ferguson has been very firm with violators of state campaign finance law regardless of size or political orientation of the corporation or party. .
That Ferguson is doing a good job overall is something that even Trumbull does not dispute.
A recent scandal around the destruction of state emails related to the deadly slides at Oso in Snohomish County two years ago does tarnish Ferguson’s record.
A judge in that case found the state’s expert witnesses deleted emails that should have been preserved. An attorney hired by the state knew of it, which prompted Ferguson’s office to let the offending lawyer’s contract lapse at the end of September. The case goes to trial next week, but a judge already has said he’ll impose significant penalties on the state for its misconduct.
Ferguson told reporters his agency is developing new training to prevent a recurrence, and other work is underway to recover the emails.
Similarly, the incumbent returned a campaign contribution two years ago when a conflict of interest issue arose. A New York Times investigation found many former attorney generals were lobbying their previous colleagues soon after leaving office, and that Ferguson’s campaign had accepted money from an organization linked to 5-Hour Energy at a same time his office was investigating the company for deceptive ads.
Ferguson did what we like to see from an elected official. His campaign organization returned the money and — unlike in some states — he went ahead with action against 5-Hour Energy for its ads.
We trust him to keep the office nonpartisan as his predecessors have done and to keep enforcing state laws against violators — even if it’s the federal government. Past AGs have sued the federal government over the laggard cleanup of legacy nuclear waste at Hanford, but he went a step further to sue on behalf of workers.
Our verdict: Bob Ferguson deserves a second term to build on the excellent work his agency has done in consumer protection, fighting campaign-finance violators and holding wrongdoers accountable.