Attorney General Bob Ferguson formally enters 2024 race for Washington governor

The three-term Democratic AG begins his campaign with backing from Gov. Jay Inslee. One opponent says voters don’t want “a coronation.”

By: - September 9, 2023 6:19 pm

Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks to a reporter as his 2024 gubernatorial campaign launch event gets underway in Seattle, on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. ( Jerry Cornfield/Washington State Standard)

Washington’s Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson formally announced on Saturday what’s been obvious for months: he’s running for governor.

Ferguson has crisscrossed the state, raising money and conducting what he deemed an “exploratory” campaign. But on Saturday, with a morning rally at a Spokane union hall, a midday stop in Pasco, and an evening event in the Washington Hall ballroom in Seattle, he made his candidacy official.

“I know who I am and who I am fighting for – every Washingtonian in every corner of this great state,” said the three-term attorney general.

Ferguson, with nearly $4 million raised and a slate of Democratic party heavyweights supporting him, is the presumptive front-runner to replace Gov. Jay Inslee next year.

Inslee, also a Democrat, delivered a full-throated endorsement of Ferguson on Saturday. Former governor Chris Gregoire, Democratic U.S. Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Suzan DelBene, and King County Executive Dow Constantine also backed him.

“He knows how to win and deliver for Washingtonians,” Inslee said in a statement.

Gov. Jay Inslee appears with Attorney General Bob Ferguson at a Sept. 9, 2023 campaign event where Ferguson formally launched his 2024 campaign to succeed Inslee as governor. (Jerry Cornfield/Washington State Standard)

Crowded field

Ferguson joins a crowded 2024 field for governor. Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz and state Sen. Mark Mullet, are Ferguson’s two chief Democratic opponents. 

Dave Reichert, a former congressman, and Semi Bird, an ex-Richland school board member, are the main Republican candidates.

Franz and Mullet took aim at the current governor’s decision to anoint a successor.

“Anything I’ve ever done, whether it was running for city council or state lands commissioner or my law career, I’ve been told to sit quietly, wait my turn, and let the men ahead of me have theirs,” Franz said in a statement. “Never stopped me.”

Mullet said voters are seeking a choice “not a coronation.”

“The affordability crisis we are currently experiencing didn’t just happen, it’s the result of policies of the Inslee administration and a Bob Ferguson administration will be more of the same,” he added, highlighting high prices for housing and gasoline and a new state payroll tax.

In a 25-minute speech in Seattle on Saturday night, Ferguson said affordability, specifically the cost of housing, was the top issue brought up by voters he met during his exploratory campaign. He lauded Inslee and lawmakers for approving new spending and policies last session to spur the building of affordable housing and vowed to “supercharge” those efforts.

Ferguson’s priorities

Ferguson, in his speech, also called for hiring more police to address concerns about public safety, continuing Inslee’s “great work” on climate policy, increasing access to affordable health care, protecting abortion rights, reducing gun violence, and expanding workforce development partnerships with unions, colleges, and public schools.

Asked afterward to name a substantive policy difference between him and the current governor, Ferguson pointed to public safety, where Washington ranks last in the nation in the number of law enforcement officers per capita.

“We need to change that and that will be a focus of my administration,” he said.

He also said the Legislature “needs to step up and make some tweaks” to the Climate Commitment Act “to address the issue of gas prices.” He said current prices are “unsustainable” and if elected “I’m going to address the issue” though he did not offer any specifics.

In his current role as attorney general, he said he will keep watch on oil companies and act if evidence of price gouging is found.

“I can assure you my team is very aware of the dramatic increase of gas prices,” he told reporters.

Past wins and setbacks

A fourth-generation Washingtonian, Ferguson worked for a private Seattle law firm when he won a seat on the King County Council in 2003. In 2012, he defeated a council colleague, Reagan Dunn, for the attorney general post.

In three terms, through litigation and legislation, he’s compiled a broad record on which voters can judge.

He repeatedly took on the Trump Administration, most notably to block the former president’s ban on travelers from countries with majority Muslim populations.

Ferguson backed erasing Washington’s death penalty and enacting tougher gun laws, including the state’s ban on making and selling certain semi-automatic firearms. 

His suit to ensure access to mifepristone, an abortion drug, counters a case out of Texas – now poised to go before the U.S. Supreme Court – which could curb its availability in multiple states.

And he’s defeated ballot initiative promoter Tim Eyman in court, forcing him to register as a political committee.

He’s also had setbacks.

In 2017, the state paid $50 million to settle a civil suit arising from the deadly 2014 Oso mudslide after it was discovered that emails were routinely deleted among scientists and engineers hired to offer expert opinions on the disaster’s cause. 

At the time, a judge characterized the behavior as “more than an innocent, bumbling mistake,” but “less than the conspiratorial cabal” described by the plaintiffs. Washington wound up paying $10 million and the state’s insurers the rest, Ferguson said at the time.

More recently, his office and the Department of Social and Health Services have racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for what a judge called “egregious” and “cavalier” withholding of evidence in an ongoing lawsuit.

A King County Superior Court judge levied the fine in March as a sanction for the state failing to turn over nearly 11,000 pages of records to attorneys suing over the alleged neglect of a developmentally disabled woman at a home in Kent, The Seattle Times reported.

And Ferguson continues to face scrutiny for how he handled the shift of $1.2 million of contributions from past campaigns into his current one for governor. 

A complaint contended that individual donors had to be identified and their past donations counted toward contribution limits in his gubernatorial run. It said Ferguson had to abide by recent rule changes adopted by the Public Disclosure Commission requiring such disclosure.

Ferguson resisted for weeks but relented last month, disclosing the donors and asking the PDC to end its investigation into the matter – which an agency official said it won’t.

This post was updated with reporting from Ferguson’s Saturday night campaign event in Seattle.

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Jerry Cornfield
Jerry Cornfield

Jerry Cornfield joined the Standard after 20 years covering Olympia statehouse news for The Everett Herald. Earlier in his career, he worked for daily and weekly papers in Santa Barbara, California.