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Westneat: Ferguson veers to the right

AG, seeking governor’s office, proposes funding to boost police

By Danny Westneat
Published: April 1, 2024, 6:01am

About a year ago, Bob Ferguson made what looked at the time to be a political blunder.

For his burgeoning governor’s campaign, the Democrat sent out an endorsement announcement that went down about as smooth as a cloud of tear gas.

“I’m grateful to have the support of former Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best,” Ferguson, the current state attorney general, said on social media.

Boy did that ever retrigger the summer of 2020, especially among Seattle’s progressive left. For a couple days, they piled onto a candidate they may have thought was one of their own, pointedly reminding Ferguson how Best’s police had cracked down on lefty protesters and then deleted texts about it.

“I was planning on volunteering with the Ferguson campaign, but not now,” was a typical reply in the 300-plus negative messages.

A few things worth noting have happened since. One is that a year later, Best’s endorsement is still featured on Ferguson’s campaign page — along with backing from any other police chief or prosecutor, past or present, that he can rummage.

The other is that this past week, Ferguson proposed a $100 million program to hire more cops statewide — surprising liberals and conservatives alike.

“Democrats like this deserve to be made fun of by the far-right, for their hypocrisy,” Dae Shik Kim, a writer and founder of the activism-based Seattle’s Peoples Party, blasted Ferguson. “Dems are scared, and the 2024 strategy is to betray communities most impacted. … They’ll placate both sides and fail to build a proper base.”

In other words, Bill Clinton-style triangulation is … back? What Ferguson is doing with these moves says a great deal about the politics of the moment.

For one, the “defund the police” spirit of reform that once animated progressive politics is dead, buried, gone. Ferguson is the left-most candidate in the governor’s race. Yet he clearly isn’t worried about alienating his own base on cop issues.

He may even be trying to aggravate them on purpose — as a way of signifying to swaths of more moderate voters statewide that he’s no Seattle radical.

The other thing he’s doing was a Bill Clinton specialty — he’s borrowing a Republican idea and packaging it as his own.

Clinton drove some of his own fans crazy, but he was a genius at the political art. When he came into national office, he offered up a slew of progressive ideas, but there was a backlash — a “Republican revolution” that resulted in the GOP takeover of Congress for the first time in decades.

So Clinton, no dummy, tacked with the shifting winds. He positioned himself between, and above, both the left and the right, announcing he would pick and choose the most alluring policy ideas from either one.

Everything old in politics is new again eventually. The idea of giving out grants to hire more cops, as Ferguson has offered up, was first a bill in the last Legislature sponsored by 11 Republicans. It was totally ignored by the Democratic majority, never receiving a hearing.

Ferguson’s plan is similar. He’s proposing that any city or county with less than the national average of cops could make use of the funds to woo recruits.

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It’s a remarkable shift. We’ve gone from the Seattle City Council wanting to cut the police force in half, to the left-most candidate for governor suggesting it maybe should be doubled instead.

Republicans are irked that Ferguson has co-opted their idea. They question whether his interest in police staffing levels is genuine.

“Had you supported this idea at any point in the last two years, instead of waiting until campaign season, maybe WA could have climbed out of (last) place in police officers per capita,” Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, the prime sponsor of the cop grant bill, clapped back.

It’s a fair point, but again, it takes me back to Clinton. Much of my early life as a political reporter was spent covering Republicans fuming how “Slick Willie” had shamelessly stolen their thunder on this issue or that. It was true. But Clinton realized that if you’re on the sidelines griping, it doesn’t matter if your gripe is legit. Because you’re still on the sidelines.

Does this kind of canny triangulation politics still work in our era of hyper-polarized camps? I honestly don’t know. But Joe Biden nationally, and now Bob Ferguson locally, are both giving it a go. They’re betting it all that the far-left, in the end, will have nowhere else to go.