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State Sen. O’Ban: AG Bob Ferguson can’t be trusted to defend I-976 in court

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

With the stage set for a legal challenge to I-976, Republican State Sen. Steve O’Ban is voicing concerns over the lawyer who will be trusted with defending the $30 car tab measure in court.

How a legal challenge to I-976 might play out in court

As Washington State’s Attorney General, it’s Bob Ferguson’s responsibility to present the defense for an approved ballot measure when it’s challenged in court. O’Ban, though, sees a couple problems with that, including Ferguson’s past vocal opposition to I-976.

“There’s no question but that he has a conflict of interest,” O’Ban told KTTH’s Jason Rantz Show. “He’s actually vigorously defending the very statute — the unfair evaluation schedule — that 976 repeals.”

In addition to Ferguson’s own stated position on the $30 car tabs measure, O’Ban points to an active lawsuit the attorney general has against I-976’s sponsor, Tim Eyman.

“He’s been pursuing the prime sponsor of I-976, Tim Eyman, in a campaign finance suit that he’s brought,” he described. “He’s essentially doing it to shut down Tim Eyman from being in initiatives like 976.”

Ferguson is in the process of suing Eyman for $2.1 million dollars, in addition to hundreds of thousands of dollars in court contempt fees.

The suit alleges the renown anti-tax activist laundered contributions to initiatives through out-of-state charities, and pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations. If he loses, he could face a lifetime ban from handling finances for political committees attached to ballot measures.

Washington’s $30 car tab debacle could have been avoided

Because of that ongoing lawsuit, O’Ban suggests that Ferguson recuse himself from the I-976 lawsuit entirely, and hire outside counsel to step in.

“There’s a way to resolve this,” he said. “You hire someone who doesn’t have that conflict to bring the defense of 976.”

Ferguson balked at this suggestion, pointing out in a recently-released written statement that “it is the job of the Attorney General’s Office to defend (an) initiative against legal challenges.”

In his statement, he cites his past defense of Eyman initiatives, including of I-1366, which would have required a two-thirds vote for any tax increase in Washington state. That measure was struck down in 2016, with a court labeling it an end-around to adding an amendment to the state’s constitution (something that legally can’t be passed in an initiative).

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