State Attorney General
Many of us may wonder what an attorney general does and why it matters to nurses and our patients. In short, the attorney general is the chief legal officer for this state. Bob Ferguson describes it as running the strongest public law firm in the country. The Attorney General manages this ‘large law firm’ of nearly 600 attorneys and a similar sized support staff in enforcing and defending state law and providing counsel to state agencies. The Attorney General is also the people’s lawyer, representing those who cannot afford a high-priced attorney.
Bob Ferguson is a lawyer, King County Councilmember, and fourth generation Washingtonian. He has demonstrated commitment to keeping our communities safe and healthy, reform government, protect our environment, and provide care for our veterans.
“I am keenly interested in health care issues. On the King County Council, I have been a leader in supporting and preserving these Public Health Centers. For example, in 2008, the Executive proposed cutting a Public Health Center. I led the effort at the County to restore funding for that Public Health Center and it remains open to this day. My opponent, on the other hand, proposed a budget amendment that would have made cuts to public health of $3.2 million. These draconian cuts would have impacted the County’s ability to provide critical public health services. I pledged to remove Washington State from the lawsuit against the national health care reform. My opponent supported that lawsuit.
As the son of a public school teacher and a Boeing employee, I bring middle class values and independence to the office of Attorney General. As Attorney General, I will be a strong advocate for collective bargaining. I will defend the law and speak out against any attacks on collective bargaining, working to prevent what happened in Wisconsin from happening here. On issues related to health care and collective bargaining, I will have an open door policy to the Washington State Nurses Association.”
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Why did you first get involved in politics?
Trudi and I were living in Selah, a small town in the Yakima Valley, and our three boys were in school. The town had tried several times to pass a bond to build a new high school, but had been unsuccessful. We were on the verge of having to double-shift the students, so Trudi and I got involved in the eighth effort to pass the bond. This time we succeeded. But then we learned the Legislature was looking at cutting funding for education so I was motivated to run for the Legislature, and had the privilege of serving two terms as State Representative for the 14th Legislative District.
As a Congressman you had to spend a lot of time in D.C. What did you miss about Washington State when you were gone?
I actually spent half my time here at home so really didn’t have a chance to miss anything. I came back almost every weekend and was home every opportunity I could be here. I really love Washington State, and being away from the people and places I love most was just never an option for me.
You’ve lived on both the east and west side of the state, and you’re a fifth generation Washingtonian. How do you think these experiences have affected your perspective on Washington and how will they make you a better Governor?
Yes, I grew up in the Puget Sound area. My dad was a biology teacher at Sealth and Garfield high schools in Seattle. My mom was a clerk at Sears & Roebuck. Trudi and I moved over to Selah after I finished law school and we lived there for nearly 20 years in a 100-year-old farmhouse.
I think this gives me a very unique perspective on our state. I’ve represented both urban and rural communities. I’ve driven bulldozers, grown alfalfa and prosecuted drunk drivers. I understand the economies on both sides of the state and I have ideas on how to help those economies grow. There is incredible potential for our farmers to grow the next generation of biofuels, for example. And challenges on issues like health care, where access to doctors is often limited for those on Medicare and Medicaid.
If we want our state to fulfill its full economic potential, having a governor who can harness that potential from all corners of the state is essential, and I believe I can do just that.
As Governor, you are likely to oversee a time of rapid change and possibly uncertainty in our health care system. What role do you see for yourself and for nurses as national health care reform plays out in Washington?
Health care should be affordable and accessible for everyone, and there should be no delay in reaching that goal. I supported the ACA—reforms that Rob McKenna has been trying to overturn—which has already kept millions of young Americans from losing coverage, ensured health care for children with pre-existing conditions, and protected many others from double-digit premium increases.
As we move forward (and at the time of this interview, the health care ruling is still pending), nurses will continue to play a critical role in determining our health care policies and the implementation of those policies. We currently have a sick care system and I intend to move us towards a health care system. This means those working on the frontlines – like our nurses – will help me and other policy makers understand what best helps patients get the treatment they need, prevent illness and injury, and save money with efficiencies and safety measures in our hospitals and clinics.
I intend to continue my open-door policy and will work with all stakeholders to ultimately base state policy on the best evidence presented to us. I look forward to the results of the Health Care Authority’s Exchange comments and recommendations on our state’s exchange, which will be used to guide implementation.
Washington is projected to have a shortage of 24,000 registered nurses in 2020. How would you increase the supply of registered nurses in Washington?
This is an issue of both recruitment and retention.
We need to do a better job of training more nurses. An important aspect of my jobs plan focuses on workforce development and ensuring that we’re graduating students in high-demand fields. That’s one reason I support increasing designated nursing enrollment slots in two- and four- year programs.
But we also have to do a better job of retaining nurses. Statistics show that almost half of all new nurses will leave their nursing job after their first year. That tells me we have serious workplace problems that need to be addressed, for the health of our patients and for the sake of the nurses they rely upon to get better.
Would you support legislation that would establish statewide nurse staffing minimums in Washington? Why?
Yes. The evidence is clear: more nurses with more manageable workloads unequivocally means better outcomes. And from a budgetary point of view, those improved outcomes mean major cost-savings.
Collective bargaining has been under attack across the country and, in particular, the rights of public employees. Unions have been on the forefront of advocating for patient safety measures and giving nurses a voice in their workplaces. Many nurses, such as those at public hospitals, public health departments, school nurses, and university-affiliated hospitals are also public employees. What is your position on the rights of workers to collectively bargain?
As long as I’m governor, we will not allow the virus of Wisconsin into Washington State. I strongly believe in workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain, and I have worked to protect those rights throughout my career. In order to protect our workers, our middle class and our jobs, we need to support our workers and protect their right to organize and to join unions. The nurses of WSNA also work to ensure quality care for our patients and provide valuable insight into how to make our health care system work better for everyone.
Public health and public health nurses play a central role in keeping our communities healthy and safe including disease prevention and disaster preparedness. How would you ensure that we invest in this critical health infrastructure?
Economic growth in Washington is one of my top priorities. The disappearance of preventative programs in public health is a threat to the state’s economic vitality. Because of budget shortfalls, some local health departments have stopped providing vital preventative programs such as Maternity Support Services, Nurse Family Partnership, and Immunizations. These programs save the state millions of dollars by preventing avoidable disease and chronic illness. Public health nurses play a critical role in many of these efforts, such as providing immunizations for pertussis. I am deeply troubled by the recent pertussis epidemic in Washington and the preventable deaths that have occurred as a result.
There is clearly a need to reinvest in our health safety net. I look forward to working with the public health community in restoring and maintaining prevention-based programs. I’m committed to moving our state towards a preventative-based health care system, similar to the system King County implemented that resulted in savings of $61 million.
Advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs) play a critical role in ensuring access to specialty and primary care. Would you support efforts to require reimbursing ARNPs the same amount as physicians for the same service?
Yes, ARNPs deserve fair and equal reimbursement for the services they provide to patients. This is especially true as we move towards a system based on patient outcomes instead of the current fee-for-service system and as we work to improve access to care for people in underserved communities.
What advice do you have for people who want to get more involved in politics or have a bigger voice in state policies and laws?
The most important thing is to remember that your elected officials work for you. They want to hear from you. I’ve always made it a priority to talk with constituents who visit and to read the messages that come in to my office. The stories people share give me ideas and they give me motivation.
Getting involved can be as simple as writing a letter to your representatives and senator or leaving a message at their office. Find local organizations to volunteer with—it’s usually easier and more fun to get involved when you’re part of a group. Participate in a lobby day or visit the Capitol one day to watch a hearing on a bill that you’re interested in. Our democracy only works when people play an active part in it—when you don’t like how something is working, help your elected officials fix it.
— Full list of WSNA PAC Endorsements —