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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: The remarkable tale of three Bob Fergusons

The Columbian
Published: May 15, 2024, 6:03am

There is something remarkable in the tale of three Bob Fergusons.

One Bob Ferguson, of course, has been the state attorney general since 2013, a status that tends to generate some name recognition. Chris Gregoire was attorney general before serving two terms as governor; Slade Gorton was attorney general before serving three nonconsecutive terms in the U.S. Senate.

Ferguson has achieved so much notoriety that in 2017 he was named by Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. That acknowledgment was largely the result of him leading a court challenge that overturned President Donald Trump’s illegal ban on travel to the United States from several majority-Muslim countries.

Now, Ferguson is running for governor, and that has led to a situation that is partly comical and partly disturbing.

Last week was filing week in Washington for the August primary, with more than 1,000 aspirants declaring their interest in everything from precinct committee officer to governor. And in the final hours before the filing deadline, two other Bob Fergusons entered the race for the state’s highest office.

As news outlet Washington State Standard reported on Friday: “Glen Morgan, a political conservative who has a knack for annoying elected Democrats and their progressive allies, cooked up the maneuver.”

Clearly, this was an attempt at subterfuge rather than a serious effort to woo voters. Morgan said he contacted 53 Washington residents named Bob Ferguson in a search for candidates. The Standard also reported that Morgan “had to scramble to raise money to cover the filing fee of $1,982.57 for each of the two Fergusons,” neither of whom has any political experience.

Which brings us to the remarkable part of the saga. Washington law says it is a felony for a person to file for an election with a similar surname as somebody who already has filed for the same office and “whose political reputation is widely known.” That applies if the intent is “to confuse and mislead the electors by capitalizing on the public reputation of the candidate who had previously filed.”

In most cases, it would be difficult to define “widely known” or to discern the intent. But this is not one of those cases. This clearly involves a well-known political figure and was an effort to sow confusion rather than win an election.

Still, not being experts in election law, we admit to surprise that Washington has a statute addressing the scenario. Secretary of State Steve Hobbs said: “Instances of people filing for office with names similar to well-known officeholders go back nearly a century in Washington and other states. That is nothing new. We know how to address such issues as elections officials.”

Meanwhile, Ferguson responded by saying at a press conference, “If they do not do the right thing, and they are surely aware of the legal implications, we will have no choice but to take more serious steps and ask local prosecutors to do the right thing and pursue further action.”

Coming from a typical candidate, such a threat would be notable. Coming from the attorney general, who oversees the state’s largest law firm, it probably is too strong of a response. Even though Ferguson was speaking as a candidate and not as attorney general, he should be more diligent about keeping those roles separate.

But in the end, a little sanity prevailed. Two candidates withdrew from the race on Monday, preventing what could have been a chaotic ballot with three Bob Fergusons on it.