With Gov. Jay Inslee opting not to try for an unprecedented fourth term and current Attorney General Bob Ferguson looking to replace Inslee as governor, Brown’s entrance is the latest in a flurry of campaign announcements for open statewide positions next year.
Brown, 46, had been expected to run after he stepped down last month from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In an interview, he touted his work on criminal cases and protecting people’s civil rights, including from white supremacists, and vowed to “keep our community safe.”
“Public safety is first and foremost right now, for many folks in the state … everyone wants to feel safe in their neighborhoods,” he said, adding: “In my time as the U.S. attorney, we spent a lot of our time trying to address the fentanyl crisis, going after as many drug cartel operations as we could.”
Earlier, Brown was in the U.S. Army, where he served as an attorney, including for a year in Iraq, and went on to work for the U.S. Department of Justice. He served as Inslee’s general counsel, or top lawyer, for several years. And years before those more official jobs, he competed on the Survivor reality TV show.
As attorney general, Brown said, he would work to reduce gun violence, improve the state’s mental health system and help with affordable housing.
“There's a role for the attorney general to make sure housing is affordable, accessible and free from discrimination,” he said.
Candidates for state office won’t officially file until next May. More Democrats, Republicans or candidates from other parties have plenty of time to jump in. But for now, the race for one of the highest-profile state offices focuses on Brown and Dhingra.
Comprising 27 legal divisions and 1,800 staffers – including nearly 800 attorneys – the Attorney General’s Office tackles many responsibilities. It represents the state in court, enforces the Consumer Protection Act, and provides legal services for more than 230 state agencies, commissions and boards. During the Trump administration, Ferguson and the office frequently and successfully challenged the actions of the president and his administration in court.
Dhingra, 48, is a Democrat from Redmond and senior deputy prosecuting attorney with the King County Prosecutor’s Office. Voters from the 45th Legislative District first elected her in a competitive 2017 special election that brought the Senate back under Democratic control. Dhingra is known, among other things, for her work on the state’s mental health system, and she currently chairs the Senate Law & Justice Committee.
“I think my experience, my background, really prepares me well to do this job in a way that Washingtonians will see the results,” she said.
In an interview last month, Dhingra laid out her own priorities for the office. Like Brown, she vowed to protect access to women’s reproductive health, voting rights and the LGBTQ+ community, and continue work to keep consumers safe from fraud.
She described it as “making sure we’re protecting Washingtonians from what’s coming at the federal level” and “making sure we are holding our companies accountable.”
That includes protecting people of color from scams, said Dhingra, who related how scammers unsuccessfully targeted a family member of hers, and that the attorney general’s office could do more to let people know they can make a complaint.
Among other things, voters might be looking at Dhingra and Brown within the broader context of how the Democratic Party wants to approach law enforcement and the legal system, said Crystal Fincher, a progressive political consultant.
“Manka has a long record that people can examine; it’s not the same with Nick,” she said. “I would think he would be more moderate than Manka.”
Dhingra described herself as practical, pointing to negotiations and votes she ultimately made this year on compromise legislation to loosen some restrictions on when law enforcement can engage in vehicle pursuits, and to pass a new gross misdemeanor drug-possession law that emphasizes treatment.
Brown’s campaign hasn’t yet reported any fundraising. Dhingra's campaign has roughly $121,000 cash on hand, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
It remains to be seen if the GOP will field a candidate who can gain traction. Alex Hays, a Republican consultant, said earlier this year that he believes the Democratic candidates will be considered “offensively extreme” to some and that a qualified, moderate Republican could have a shot at winning statewide. He cited the fact that Seattle voters elected Republican Ann Davison for city attorney. Voters, Hays said, were feeling a “massive suffering from crime” as murders, car thefts and other offenses increase.