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Attorney General's Race Begins On A Negative Note

Deborah Wang

It's still relatively early in the election season, but the race for attorney general for the state of Washington has already heated up.

Republican Reagan Dunn and Democrat Bob Ferguson are both long time members of the King County Council and they sit right next to each other. Yet they traded multiple barbs at their first televised debate of the race last week in Spokane.

KUOW's Deborah Wang has been looking into some of their claims and she has this story.


It was in the opening statements of the debate that Republican Reagan Dunn fired the first shot.

Dunn: "Mr. Ferguson has voted to raise taxes 18 out of 18 times before the full King County Council."

Dunn said that Ferguson had voted for every single tax increase before the council since 2005.

Dunn: "You've voted to raise taxes $1.2 billion each year, costing the average taxpayer $800 a year. That's not small change."

When we asked what those votes were, Dunn's campaign manager gave us a spreadsheet. Most were votes by the council to put ballot measures before voters asking them to raise their own taxes. The money was earmarked for specific purposes, from veterans to mass transit, to mental health programs, to parks.

Bob Ferguson says the spreadsheet is misleading. He says it doesn't count some votes, like the proposal to raise car tab fees, which Dunn supported, and it double and triple counts others. Ferguson says in reality, he and Dunn only disagree on a handful of tax votes over an eight year period.

Ferguson: "So we have a legitimate debate over the course of our eight years over about five or six tax votes over letting the people decide whether or not to raise their taxes. I'm confident and happy to have a debate over those five or six tax votes. But for political purposes, obviously he's trying to create a distinction that doesn't exist when he mentions those 18 votes."

Reagan Dunn supported half of them. It says so on his spreadsheet.

Another thing that came up in the debate was how often Dunn votes on the King County Council. Ferguson said Dunn had missed the most votes of all the members.

Ferguson: "Yesterday was a good example Reagan. We had a King County Council meeting; you were there for the roll call, you were there for the photo op at the beginning of the meeting, and then you walked out the door and missed every single vote."

Ferguson's campaign shared its spreadsheet, which shows Dunn with the most votes missed and Ferguson with the 2nd best voting record on the council. The Seattle Times analyzed those numbers and found Ferguson's record was not that good. Rather than having the 2nd best record, the Times found Ferguson 4th.

Reagan Dunn says the vast majority of votes in the full council are unanimous, so he doesn't always feel the need to be there. Unlike Ferguson, Dunn represents a large area of unincorporated King County. He says he is the primary elected official for those constituents, so he is often available to them during council meetings.

Dunn: "I step out of the meetings very frequently to meet with constituents, to meet with other council members, to work on legislation, and so, you know, I am out in the other rooms talking with folks, and I miss what are the obvious consent votes, because there's no need for me to be there."

Back in the debate, things got personal. It began with a question about the death penalty, and this statement from Reagan Dunn.

Dunn: "My opponent represented Ronald Turney Williams. A three–time convicted murderer who had escaped from prison and killed two police officers in cold blood."

When Ferguson was in law school, he helped the inmate get a lawyer for his death row appeal. At the time, he was quoted as saying the experience radicalized him against the death penalty.

When Dunn raised that issue in the debate, Ferguson says he decided to raise an incident from Dunn's past.

Ferguson: "Uh, yes, I helped, as an intern, a death row inmate get a lawyer. That's what I did as a law student. Twenty years ago when Reagan was a law student, he needed a lawyer when he was charged with a very serious crime that contained the possibility of time in jail."

Ferguson was talking about something that happened when Dunn was 17. Dunn was arrested and charged with reckless driving, a misdemeanor which carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail.

This is how Dunn describes that incident:

Dunn: "That was 25 years ago, I was 17 and I was doing donuts in a parking lot in the snow. I'm sorry."

Dunn later said it was a stupid thing he did as a kid, and he learned from it. He accuses Ferguson of distorting the seriousness of the incident.

KUOW has learned Dunn was also charged with reckless driving in the state of Virginia back in 2002. In that state, it's a misdemeanor to drive more than 20 miles per hour over the speed limit. That was one of several speeding tickets that appear on Dunn's court records.

Here's how he explains it:

Dunn: "There is no question about it. I have a lead foot. I am getting better and over the last several years, I think I am ticket free."

And Dunn says there should be no question of his fitness to hold office. As a former federal prosecutor in the Bush administration, he says he passed two FBI investigations and was given top secret security clearance.

For his part, Bob Ferguson says he wants to get past the negative campaigning and talk about what the two men would do as attorney general.

Dunn says this isn't negative campaigning, it's just forceful advocating. And he says for two guys who are virtually unknown statewide, at least it's got them some notice.

I'm Deborah Wang, KUOW News.

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