‘Advocate for the people’: Valley Record Q&A with Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson

Even as the state tightens its belt, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson wants to do more. Ferguson shared his goals and challenges in consumer protection, privacy, a high-profile discrimination lawsuit and the latest scams, when he met with staff of the Snoqualmie Valley Record, a Sound Publishing newspaper, Wednesday, July 10.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson

Even as the state tightens its belt, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson wants to do more.

Ferguson shared his goals and challenges in consumer protection, privacy, a high-profile discrimination lawsuit and the latest scams, when he met with staff of the Snoqualmie Valley Record, a Sound Publishing newspaper, Wednesday, July 10.

Ferguson was on an East King County tour that included a stop at the city of Auburn and a visit with council members of the Snoqualmie Tribe. He has made a commitment to visit all 39 tribes in Washington.

Elected to the state’s top legal job last November, Ferguson beat fellow King County Council member Reagan Dunn by about 200,000 votes. Ferguson replaced Rob McKenna, who unsuccessfully faced Jay Inslee in the 2012 state governor race.

Q: You’ve made helping veterans a priority. What are you doing to serve Washington vets?

A: “My father was a veteran. Both my grandfathers were veterans, (as was) my great-great-grandfather. I’m from a very large family. All my uncles served in World War II. Fortunately, they all returned home. I’ve always had strong views about veterans issues—about mental health issues related to vets, the disproportionate number of homeless who are vets, job training. On the King County Council, I got very involved in veterans issues, and proposed the Veterans and Human Services Levy, which voters approved in 2005…. I wrote it, I proposed it.

“One thing I did in taking office was seeing what we do, currently, in the AG’s office around veterans. The answer was ‘Not a whole lot.’ We changed that. We have a robust Web presence. We’re about to go public with resource guides related to veterans’ legal rights. We want to make sure we’re educating veterans. When someone calls in with a consumer complaint, one question we ask is, ‘Are you a veteran?’ We want to know that, and be able to track cases that are targeting vets…. Veterans (and) active-duty (service-people) have certain rights other folks don’t.”

Q: Why did the state file suit in April against Barronelle Stuzman, owner of Tri-Cities business Arlene’s Flowers, after she refused to serve a gay customer for reasons of faith?

A: “Under our consumer protection laws, we have broad authority to make sure businesses follow our laws.… Our law against discrimination has a group of protected classes. You can’t discriminate on the basis of race, religion… In 2006, the legislature added sexual orientation as a protected class. In our view, it’s clear the owner discriminated against an individual because of his sexual orientation: He wanted flowers for his same-sex wedding. You just can’t do that. We are confident this case will end up in the state’s Supreme Court and that we’ll prevail.

“Often with a small business, when we think they’re violating our consumer protection laws, we’ll send them a letter. We did that in this case. All (Stutzman) had to do was agree not to refuse such service in the future. She didn’t have to admit she did anything wrong. She decided to contest it. That’s her right… I do feel our argument is very strong.”

Q: You’ve been working with Google on privacy concerns. What are your thoughts about privacy in the digital age?

“I joined 22 other attorneys general in writing a letter to Google. Google changed its privacy controls, but didn’t notify folks, giving them the chance to opt out or adjust their privacy settings…. (That change) shouldn’t happen automatically. (Citizens) should have the chance to weigh in and have the settings they want to protect their data as they move through the Internet. Technology is moving at a rapid rate. In our office, we have to work hard to keep up with that, and protect consumers.

“It’s our job and responsibility to hold powerful interests accountable who don’t play by the rules. The average Washingtonian can’t afford a high-priced lawyer. We’re the advocate for the people.”

Q: What are the latest scams that residents should watch out for?

A: “Many scams… often have similar aspects. During the summer months, when the weather is good, you see folks come to your door, offering services… (and) contractors coming by, offering a great deal. Folks should always go to our Webpage to get information about the person at their door. Any deal that seems too good to be true, usually is.”

Q: What else are you proud of?

A: “We’ve got 266 people civilly committed at McNeil Island. These individuals are the worst of the worst… sexually violent predators. Every year, they come up with the possibility of being released. So we work to keep folks civilly committed. This year, we had 17 cases for recommitment. We have been successful in 16 of those.

“There are sensitive constitutional issues at play. We take seriously the responsibility to protect the public. We’re taking a look at what we can do, so that the legislature that gives us the proper tools to ensure the worst of the worst stay civilly committed.”

Q: What do the latest round of state budget cuts mean for your office?

A: “Everybody’s got to do more with less. But to be candid, those cuts have real impacts…. I don’t intend to scale back our customer protection efforts. If anything, we should be enhancing those. In a conversation with state legislators, I said, ‘I’m about to hand you a (settlement) check for $5.5 million. Just leave me $2 million.’ They said no. That’s frustrating. (The Attorney General’s) Consumer Protection (Division) brings in millions to the state for education campaigns, for folks to avoid being scammed. Tens of millions of dollars went to organizations that help keep people in their homes. One case generated more money for the state general fund than the state gave to the entire Consumer Protection Division.”

“Salaries were frozen for our attorneys for a number of years. A first-year attorney makes $50,000. A second-year, third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-year attorney makes $50,000 a year. You have a challenge recruiting and retaining the top talent with that system…. Our attorneys handle huge tort cases, where the state is being sued for millions. You have to have good attorneys. We’re losing attorneys all the time…. Thankfully, the freeze was eliminated this year…. Addressing it is tough when our budget is being cut, but I felt something has to be done, because it’ll ultimately cost the state more, as well as being unfair to those who are working extremely hard.”

• Learn more about Attorney General cases and issues online at www.atg.wa.gov.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@valleyrecord.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.valleyrecord.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

In Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan, which was announced Jan. 28, restaurants can reopen at a maximum 25% capacity and a limit of six people per table. Inslee recently announced all counties will be staying in Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan for the next several weeks. Pictured: People enjoy outdoor dining last summer in downtown Kent. Courtesy photo
Inslee: All of Washington to stay in Phase 2 for a few weeks

The governor issued a weekslong pause on regions moving backward, but has yet to outline a Phase 3.

Entrance to the Tukwila Library branch of the King County Library System. File photo
King County libraries will reopen in some cities for in-person services

Fall City, Kent libraries among six selected for partial reopening.

Centennial Well is tightly connected to the Snoqualmie River. North Bend is required to find two mitigation sources which can be tapped to replenish water in the river on days with low flows. Ashley Hiruko/staff photo
North Bend, Sallal could restart water negotiations

Representatives from both utilities have said they’re talking again.

A South King Fire & Rescue firefighter places a used test swab into a secure COVID test vial on Nov. 18, 2020, at a Federal Way testing site. (Sound Publishing file photo)
Masks are still king in combating new COVID strains

A top UW doctor talks new strains, masks and when normal could return.

Fall City Fire Chief Chris Connor is retiring on Feb. 26, 2021 after 40 years with the department. Contributed photo
Fall City Fire Chief retires after four decades

Chief Chris Connor started with the department in February 1981.

Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo
Democrats look to allow noncitizens to serve on school boards

A Senate bill takes aim at a state law requiring anyone seeking elected office to be a citizen.

A road closure due to flooding on SE Park Street, Snoqualmie, during the 2016 flood. File photo
Minor flooding possible along Snoqualmie, Tolt rivers

Both the Snoqualmie and Tolt rivers reached minor flooding phases on Monday… Continue reading

Torguson Skatepark. Courtesy of North Bend
Torguson Skatepark now open

The North Bend park has been in the works for years.

A CVS pharmacist prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at Village Green Retirement Campus in Federal Way on Jan. 26. Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing
State health leader: We have a plan, we don’t have the supply

Two months after the COVID vaccine landed in Washington, many still struggle to secure their shots.

Most Read