Eli Sanders: Hello! Goldy and I are possibly the only people watching this, so watch with us, why don't you? It will be amazing. And if not, it will at least be educational. Our current Republican Attorney General, Rob McKenna, is leaving to (he hopes) become governor. Which means that at some point this fall, you'll want to know: Who are the two guys who think they should replace McKenna? No better time to start answering that question than 2 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon...
Goldy: Welcome to the AWB's 2020 gubernatorial debate! Because that's really what this AG race is a prelude to.
Eli: Reagan Dunn, the Republican King County Councilman is asked what new measures he'd support in response to all the recent shootings in Seattle. "You can't just hug criminals and hope they go away," Dunn says. Translation: No new taxes for social services or mental health funding, and no new gun control laws! Bob Ferguson, the Democrat, points out Dunn voted against funding for mental health courts.
Goldy: Dunn claims that "Washington state has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation." Except it doesn't. Our gun show loophole allows purchases from private dealers without a background check. And our state preemption statute prevents local governments from enacting stricter regulations. According to the Brady Campaign, this earns Washington a middling grade.
Eli: One of Dunn's favorite words so far: "Aggressive." For example, he's saying now that he'll be "aggressive" in going after oil companies if there's evidence they're colluding to drive gas prices through the roof in Washington State. Ferguson says he'll be even more aggressive than Dunn.
Goldy: New Dunn campaign slogan: "I've had death threats!" Election over.
Eli: Yeah, that was Dunn's way of dodging the claim that he's soft on taking on big business. Somewhat nonsensically, he responded that because he once got a death threat from a gang member, he's tough on big business.
Goldy: Interesting personality contrast between the two. Dunn appears to be trying to look strong and forceful. (Maybe a little dickish.) Ferguson is coming off as more lawyerly. Leader vs. Lawyer… which will voters find more appealing?
Eli: Dunn reminds me a bit of Jack Donaghy—especially when he's playing the tough guy.
Goldy: Great Ferguson pivot. Quotes McKenna that 95 percent of what the AG's office deals with are civil issues, not criminal ones, in the process dissing Dunn's emphasis on his criminal law background.
Eli: And now we see why Dunn wants to talk about crime. Dunn supports the death penalty, Ferguson does not.
Goldy: Oh man… great exchange. Ferguson: "20 years ago as a law student I assisted a death row inmate in getting an attorney, whereas 20 years ago my opponent needed an attorney…" Dunn: "I was 17, I was doing donuts in the snow in a parking lot. I'm sorry."
Eli: It really is the sober nerd vs. the jock doing donuts, the Boy Scout vs. the killer, the defense lawyer vs. the prosecutor.
Goldy: They both agree on "the Utah model" for drivers licenses in regard to illegal immigrants? So far, very little disagreement on actual issues, apart from the death penalty, where Dunn of course is strongly in favor of executing people, and Ferguson is personally opposed, but would defend the state law. Most of the contrast here is style.
Eli: Um, what about the contrast on raising taxes? Big clash over that right now, with Dunn saying that Freguson had voted to raise taxes 18 out of 18 times and Freguson responding: "Now, Reagan, you know that's not true."
Goldy: Perhaps I'm biased (okay, I'm definitely biased), but Dunn is coming off as a bit of a dick. An angry dick. And I'm not sure that's such a great tact for somebody who can be so naturally likable.
Eli: I think his calculation, and it's not a bad one, is that his natural constituency wants to vote for a mean-ass motherfucker as its lawyer.
Goldy: You know that "Ferguson voted 18 out of 18 times to raise taxes" thing might be more effective if A) it were true, and B) the Attorney General had anything at all to do with voting to raise taxes.
Eli: Ferguson lands a good blow, pointing out that Dunn has missed a lot of votes and calling on Dunn to answer a simple question: "Why?" Dunn doesn't answer.
Goldy: There seems to be a lot of stuff that Dunn supports, but that he doesn't support paying for. I guess that's the Republican agenda.
Eli: Dunn says, "We need to stop this full scale legalization of pot." Ferguson responds: "And perhaps, finally, we've found an area of agreement."
Goldy: Dunn: "I've prosecuted a whole lot of dope smugglers." Huh. I suppose that's something that can be fact checked. How many dope smugglers did Dunn prosecute?
Eli: And Ferguson closes not with tough talk about past prosecutions, but with words about his veteran father, his endorsement by Planned Parenthood, and his endorsement from the State Troopers Association—"Because they know," he said. (And then Ferguson's time ran out before he could elaborate on exactly what it is they know.)
Goldy: I know this took place out in Spokane, and before a predominantly Republican audience (the Association of Washington Businesses), but I think Ferguson won. He just came off as more of a lawyer and less of a politician, and that's what this office calls for. The two agreed on almost every issue, but I think Ferguson played the part better and landed a few more punches. But over all it was a fairly lively debate, and somewhat fun to watch. I expect the gubernatorial debate to be boring by comparison.
Eli: Agree that this was far more interesting than anyone thought it would be. It's hard for me to say who won because I have no idea what the audience was here—beyond me and Goldy, and the AWB crowd, who was actually watching?
But in terms of a preview of attacks they'll be using against the other in the fall, I think Dunn arrived with the sharper spear. His nonstop ruthlessness, and his repeated attacks on Ferguson as a wimpy defender of killers seemed designed to be made into a radio ad (and, if he can afford it, a TV campaign). I didn't hear a similarly ruthless counter-punch from Ferguson.