OLYMPIA -- Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna is in the thick of an election battle with John Ladenburg, who lost the Democratic primary for attorney general about 16 years ago.
This time, Ladenburg is coming out swinging. He is accusing McKenna, a moderate Republican, of using the attorney general's office for political gain while failing to address some of the Evergreen State's most pressing problems.
"I think the attorney general's office needs to be there to protect the views of Washington State citizens on privacy and choice, and I just don't think the current attorney general is doing that - or would do that," he said in an interview this week with LegalNewsLine.
Now in his second term as Pierce County executive, Ladenburg previously served as the county's prosecutor for more than a dozen years and is a former Tacoma city councilor. He is barred by term limits from seeking re-election as county executive.
McKenna - who touted his achievements, including his office's 5-0 record before the U.S. Supreme Court and expanding his office's consumer protection division- said there are few policy distinctions between the two because Ladenburg has "parroted" the policy goals he previously outlined and has spent addressing for the last four years.
Among his goals: reducing domestic violence, combating identity theft and consumer fraud, addressing the methamphetamine scourge and drug trafficking as well as representing Washingtonians himself in major court battles.
"We've accomplished a lot in my first term, and we have a lot more to do," McKenna told LNL in a lengthy interview. "These problems did not arise overnight and they're not going to disappear overnight."
McKenna also noted that morale in the attorney general's office is "high" and that the agency has made "significant gains" in recruitment and retention of attorney staff.
Calling himself a "consensus-builder," McKenna said he recognizes that Washingtonians elect an attorney general to get results without politicizing the office.
"The public wants us to get things done; they want results," he said.
In his second term, McKenna said he would expand his battle against methamphetamine to include prescription medications used illegally. On identity theft, he said he will continue to reach out to Washingtonians and expand coordinated efforts to tackle ID theft rings.
Ladenburg said the similarity between them ends when it comes to getting results.
For instance, Washington was in the top 15 of the worst states in the nation for identity theft when McKenna took office, and the state has remained there, he said. He said McKenna has devoted more energy to appearing in public service announcements on identity theft than he has on working to protect consumers from scammers.
"All I see is what they call 'public service ads' from the attorney general, and I think they're 'self-service ads' to promote name recognition," Ladenburg said.
"The money (for the ads) was given to the state of Washington by Comcast to help a problem, not to Rob McKenna to get his picture on TV," said Ladenburg, adding as attorney general he would push legislation that would make it illegal for public service ads to use the names or images of an elected official.
Another issue that the candidates disagree on is unionization of two sections within the attorney general's office. McKenna opposed the effort, while Ladenburg said he would not oppose future efforts, noting that he is "pro-union."
Tim Welch, spokesman of the Washington Federation of State Employees, said McKenna's "long and very vigorous" opposition to unionization of non-attorney, support staff in his office's Consumer Protection and Labor and Industries divisions says a lot about his view of the state's rank-and-file workers.
"It shows an anti-worker sentiment and an anti-union attitude," Welch said. "For that reason we have endorsed his opponent: John Ladenburg."
And, unlike McKenna, Ladenburg said he supports expanding the state's wrongful death statute to give parents legal standing to sue if their adult, unmarried child was killed as a result of negligence.
Legislation backed by the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association to do just that was rejected by the state Legislature amid concerns it could expose the state to millions in liability each year.
McKenna said there are few limits already on bringing claims against the state, noting that Washington has paid out about $500 million in tort settlements over the last 25 years.
"There are basically no boundaries or limits on claims that are brought against state taxpayers by a tort claimant," said McKenna, a former King County councilman.
McKenna, as attorney general, succeeded Democrat Christine Gregoire, who was elected governor in 2004. That year, he handily beat Democrat Deborah Senn for the open attorney general's post with about 53 percent of the vote.
Since then, McKenna has emerged as a popular statewide figure. Dana Childers, executive director of the Washington Liability Reform Association, credited McKenna's popularity and appeal among voters with being a good steward of government resources.
"He cares about protecting taxpayers' wallets by defending the state against lawsuits and limiting liability against the state," Childers told LNL. "At the same time, public safety is one of his No. 1 priorities."
As for Ladenburg's claims that McKenna has exploited congressionally funded public service announcements, she said, "If that's the worst thing he can say about his opponent that says something."