Manka Dhingra Discusses Key Issues in Washington State Attorney General Race

Senator Manka Dhingra joins Hacks & Wonks for an in-depth interview to discuss her campaign for Attorney General and plans to address WA’s most pressing issues.

Manka Dhingra Discusses Key Issues in Washington State Attorney General Race

State Senator Manka Dhingra, Deputy Majority Leader of the Washington State Senate and Chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, is running for Attorney General. In an in-depth interview with Hacks & Wonks, Dhingra outlined her vision for the office and her plans to address pressing issues facing the state.

With a background spanning two decades as a prosecutor and behavioral health expert, Dhingra believes her experience and passion make her the ideal candidate to lead the Attorney General's Office (AGO). "The reason I'm running for Attorney General is because [...] it is an office that I have known for a very, very long time - I know a lot of the people that work there, I know the work that they do," Dhingra stated. "With Bob Ferguson going to the governor's office, this is a very natural next step for me - because all the issues I care about are front and center."

Dhingra emphasized her commitment to serving all Washingtonians, regardless of their background or identity. "I want to make sure this office steps up and does work for the people of Washington. This is not simply a stepping stone for me for higher office. This is an office I'm really passionate about and I have long ties to."

When asked about her strategies to address gun violence, Dhingra shared a personal story about a domestic violence survivor she worked with, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive gun safety measures. "As AG, I will be having specialized assistant attorney generals who are working on gun crimes on really making sure that the incredible laws that we have passed in the last seven years - that I've played a central role in each and every one of them - are actually being enforced."

Dhingra also discussed her plans to tackle substance use disorder and the fentanyl crisis, emphasizing the importance of a multi-faceted approach. "We have to make sure we have strategies at every level of the spectrum. You've got to make sure you're doing prevention work. You've got to make sure you have early intervention work. You have to make sure that you have access to treatment on demand."

On the topic of police reform, Dhingra highlighted her extensive work in the Senate. "I have led on police reform measures in the Senate for the last seven years. [...] We as a state have determined that our law enforcement officers are given the power to take a life. And with that power has to come greater responsibility and greater accountability."

Born in Bhopal, India, the site of the devastating Union Carbide gas tragedy, Dhingra pledged to be a strong advocate for environmental protection. "We cannot have our children drinking water that has lead in it, with PFAS in it. We need clean water. We need clean air. [...] you will find me as an environmental champion who is really making sure that we're holding polluters accountable because we need a planet that the next generation can live on."

Dhingra also addressed the importance of protecting workers' rights, stating, "I will always be a champion for workers' rights - really making sure that we are holding bad actors accountable." She emphasized her 100% voting record with unions and her belief that the decline in unions has contributed to the inequities in society.

Throughout the interview, Dhingra stressed her legislative accomplishments and her commitment to justice as central themes in her campaign to be Washington's next Attorney General.

About the Guest

Senator Manka Dhingra

State Senator Manka Dhingra (D-LD 45) is a candidate running for Attorney General and is the Deputy Majority Leader of the Washington State Senate. She brings two decades of experience as a prosecutor and behavioral health expert to her role as chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee. She also serves on the Health & Long Term Care Committee and the Ways & Means Committee.

While attending University of Washington School of Law, Manka began her legal career as a clerk for Justice Barbara Madsen at the Washington State Supreme Court and then at the State Attorney General’s Office, assisting with Sexually Violent Predator cases. Upon graduation, she went on to a two decade career as a King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor. There she worked on domestic violence and sexual assault crimes in addition to creating the first-in-the nation Therapeutic Alternative Unit. As Chair of that unit, Manka supervised the Regional Mental Health Court, helped create our Veterans Court, and the Community Assessment and Referral for Diversion program. As a Crisis Intervention Trainer (CIT) at the Criminal Justice Training Commission for over a decade, Manka has been at the forefront of pushing for change in police culture and helped create the 40-hour crisis intervention training for law enforcement. She brought this experience to the State Senate to find bipartisan common ground to improve behavioral health interventions. Manka has been proud to lead on the work revamping our state’s crisis response system through the implementation of the 988 crisis system, especially the first-in-the-nation Native and Strong Lifeline which emphasizes culturally appropriate and traditional healing for Indigenous community members.

In her professional capacity, Manka has also served as a member of Shoreline Police Department’s Advisory Group for Response Awareness De-escalation and Referral (RADAR) and participated in the Seattle Police Department’s Muslim, Sikh, and Arab Advisory Council to address hate crime. Manka led the Coordinated Crisis Intervention Response meetings where she regularly collaborated with law enforcement officers throughout King County to address complex inter-jurisdictional issues. As a longtime advocate for eliminating gender-based violence, Manka has spent her career working to protect survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking. This work has included the founding of Chaya (now API Chaya), reforms for survivors of gender-based violence, addressing the rape kit backlog, and the critical work serving on both the Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner as well as the Attorney General’s MMIWP (Missing Murdered Indigenous Women and People) Taskforce. Manka has strengthened protection order laws for victims of abuse and their families. She has also secured the nation’s strongest privacy protections for sensitive reproductive and health care data.

Manka has been humbled by the numerous times her work has been recognized nationally and locally, and she will be bringing this passion, hard work and collaboration to the role of Attorney General. Manka is excited to take this next step in her legal and advocacy career, continuing to work for all the people of Washington State as we confront national challenges to voting and access to reproductive rights. Manka will lead nationally on laws that safeguard worker rights, hold polluters accountable, and address substance use disorder and mental illness.

Find Manka on Twitter/X at @electmanka.

Podcast Transcript

[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review show and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at and in our episode notes.

Today, we'll be speaking with a candidate for Attorney General. But before we begin that conversation, let's talk about what the Washington State Attorney General's Office does and why it matters. The Attorney General's Office, sometimes referred to as the AGO, is a large operation - serving as the largest public law office in Washington with over 1,800 employees, including nearly 800 attorneys. They have offices in 13 cities across the state, ensuring that every corner of Washington has access to their services. One of the most significant aspects of the Attorney General's Office is its role in serving roughly 200 state agencies, boards, commissions, colleges and universities, as well as the governor and legislature. This means that the office provides legal guidance and representation to virtually every part of our state government, ensuring that our laws are upheld and our institutions are running smoothly. So what does the AGO do? We can break it down in five main areas. One, representing the state. The AGO's office represents the state in all cases involving Washington's interests, whether it's before the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, or trial courts. They also defend state officers or employees who are ethically acting in their official capacities. Number two, protecting public safety. The office pursues the civil commitment of sexually violent offenders, keeping them out of communities until they no longer pose a threat. They also investigate and prosecute crimes at the request of the governor or county prosecutors. Number three, enforcing consumer protection. The Attorney General's office is responsible for upholding the Consumer Protection Act and enforcing laws against anti-competitive business practices. This means they are constantly working to protect Washingtonians from fraud, scams, and unfair business practices. Number four, advising government officials. The office advises the governor, members of the legislature, and other state officers on legal issues, providing expert guidance to keep our government running smoothly and in compliance with the law. And finally, fifth, representing the public interest. In utility matters, the Attorney General's Office represents the public interest, ensuring that the needs of Washingtonians are being met and that their utilities are operating fairly and efficiently. Those are the ways the Attorney General's Office works to protect and serve the people of Washington. With its vast network of offices and attorneys, the office has unparalleled ability to impact the lives of Washingtonians in every corner of the state.

To understand what this looks like in practice, we can look to a few announcements from the AG's Office over the past two weeks, including: Attorney General Bob Ferguson won a court order in his consumer protection lawsuit against Labor Law Poster Service to stop the repeat scammer from contacting and accepting payments from Washington businesses. Attorney General Ferguson announced a $47.5 million settlement with Kroger to compensate the state for their role in the opioid epidemic. The resolution brings the Washington AGO's total recoveries directed to opioid abatement funding to more than $1.29 billion going to state, county, and city governments, with multiple ongoing and active cases against other drug companies still pending. And also, A.G. Ferguson filed 30 felony animal cruelty charges against a Sequim woman, stemming from the discovery of hundreds of dogs, turkeys, pheasants, goats, and more on the woman's property that were living in unsanitary conditions without access to food or fresh water.

So as voters and residents, it's crucial that we understand the importance of this office and the role it plays in our daily lives. The Attorney General's Office is meant to be our ultimate advocate as Washington state residents fighting for our rights and interests. Throughout the upcoming conversation and as we head into the next election, keep these responsibilities in mind as you consider who you want leading this critical office.

Today, I'm pleased to welcome State Senator Manka Dhingra, who is a candidate running for Attorney General and is the Deputy Majority Leader of the Washington State Senate. She brings two decades of experience as a prosecutor and behavioral health expert to her role as Chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee. Thanks for joining us, Senator Dhingra. So starting off, why are you running for Attorney General and what sets you apart from the other candidates?

[00:05:27] Senator Manka Dhingra: The reason I'm running for Attorney General is because - I actually started my legal career at the Attorney General's office when I was in law school - for two years, I worked in the Sexually Violent Predator Unit. And when I graduated law school, I had the option of continuing at this office or going to the King County Prosecutor's Office. And my then-boss recommended that I go to the prosecutor's office because I would gain invaluable experience. So I'll just start by saying it is an office that I have known for a very, very long time - I know a lot of the people that work there, I know the work that they do. They have incredible talent at that office. And I ran for office in 2017 because we had just had a national election where an individual who boasts about sexually assaulting women, who makes fun of individuals with mental health issues and disabilities, and one who has such hateful rhetoric came into office. And I ran because my life's work was about working on gender-based violence, working on mental health issues, and working to address hate crimes. And now with Bob Ferguson going to the governor's office, this is a very natural next step for me - because all the issues I care about are front and center. When we talk about gender-based violence, when we talk about addressing hate crimes, when we take a look at access to health care - these are all the issues I've been working on my entire life. And I have a track record of fighting hard elections and winning, I have a reputation for working on tough problems and developing solutions. And that's why I'm running - to really make sure that I am an attorney general for all Washingtonians - no matter what you look like, how you identify, or where you come from. And not just simply for the adults, but also for the children of Washington.

And I think there are two ways in which I think me and my opponent are different. One, I would say, is I want to do the job of the Attorney General because I want to be Attorney General. I want to make sure this office steps up and does work for the people of Washington. This is not simply a stepping stone for me for higher office. This is an office I'm really passionate about and I have long ties to. This other thing that sets us apart is I have a track record of delivering results. I have always stood up and fought the hard fights. And I think my work, especially as a senator in the last seven years, shows that. I have been honored to have received awards from the regional NAACP and American Psychiatric Association. I've even been Legislator of the Year from Washington Police Chiefs and Sheriffs. So it is this record of delivering on hard work that sets me apart.

[00:08:12] Crystal Fincher: One thing that we are struggling with, both nationally and here in Washington state, is gun violence in all of its forms. What strategies would you employ to address gun violence in our state?

[00:08:26] Senator Manka Dhingra: You know, you're talking about an issue that's so dear to my heart. I have been working on gun crimes since I was a prosecutor in King County. But even prior to that, I actually started an organization called Chaya - it's now called API Chaya - they help survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking. And I'm just going to share a story on why I do so much work around gun violence. One of the very first clients we had at Chaya - and I did the articles of incorporation founding the organization and I was the first advocate - and this woman told me that she had suffered years and years of abuse. And very early on in the marriage, her husband had taken his gun, put it in her mouth, and said - I can pull the trigger anytime I want. And after that, anytime he needed her to do what he wanted her to do, he would just point to the closet where the gun was. The presence of that gun enabled him to control her. So the work that I have done in the Senate in the last seven years has been about making sure we are addressing coercive control, we are addressing individuals who are a danger to themselves or others - that they don't have a right to possess a firearm. We have to make sure we're closing loopholes on surrender of firearms. And as AG, I will be having specialized assistant attorney generals who are working on gun crimes on really making sure that the incredible laws that we have passed in the last seven years - that I've played a central role in each and every one of them - are actually being enforced. We were the only state, I believe a couple of years ago, that saw a 1% decline in suicides. And I firmly believe that is because we have laws that remove guns from individuals who are referred for civil commitment. Because the number one way in which people commit suicide is through guns. And if you remove guns for six months - when someone has been referred for civil commitment - you are taking away that tool that enables them to take their life. So I have been a huge proponent of addressing gun violence.

And it's not simply after the fact - I actually had the legislation that created the first in the nation statewide Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention. And the reason why it was important for me to create that office is because I had started doing work in King County around data collection and gun violence in our communities. And through this office, we take a look at data everywhere that gun crime is occurring, and then take a look at communities in which gun violence is occurring and develop intervention programs. Because you can't just address gun violence after it happens - you really have to try to figure out how you can intervene and prevent future gun violence. And what the public health experts will tell you is that gun violence is very similar to cigarettes. If you grew up in a family where people smoke, you're more likely to smoke. If you grow up in a family or around people who use guns, you are more likely to be a victim of gun violence or the perpetrator for it. So we really have to be smart about addressing gun violence in our state.

[00:11:31] Crystal Fincher: Another challenge that we are dealing with both nationwide and as a state is substance use disorder and drug trafficking. How would you address those in our state?

[00:11:44] Senator Manka Dhingra: Thank you. That is - especially with the fentanyl crisis - it is so front and center with the number of people we are literally losing to this crisis. And I'll just start off by saying that fentanyl is such a different beast than any other drug we have dealt with, so we have to really rethink what we're doing in terms of treatment and intervention - because it's so deadly. You don't have someone who's been using fentanyl for 10 years or 12 years, like you did with cocaine and heroin. People are just dying. So I think there are two components. One is handling the dealers and the other is the individuals who need help. In addressing the supply - this is where we have to make sure we're working with our federal partners, with local law enforcement on cross-jurisdictional issues, and really doing these task forces that can go in and interrupt the supply. We cannot do that without federal partners. This is also when a AG can be the convening body and provide the resources to run these task forces to help, but really it's the U.S. Attorney that I'm hoping will step in and do a lot of this work. In terms of addressing the users, we have to make sure we have strategies at every level of the spectrum. You've got to make sure you're doing prevention work. You've got to make sure you have early intervention work. You have to make sure that you have access to treatment on demand - no saying we don't have an opening, come back in three months. You've got to utilize civil commitment and involuntary treatment - I know people don't like that, no one does - but you've got to escalate on the level of care that you're doing. I created and ran the therapeutic court unit at the prosecutor's office. And there's a role for a mental health court and drug courts to play in this arena. I also think there's a role that if someone has been convicted of crime - that they have access to treatment. Because you have to make sure that when people enter our criminal justice system, they get access to the resources to improve their lives so they're not going back into the cycle of homelessness, addiction, and crime. And so working on ensuring whether they're in jail or Department of Corrections, they have access to the treatment they need to recover. And then you've got to invest in recovery services - because once people are clean, you got to make sure they can continue to stay clean. And I have led on a lot of this work in the legislature. And as attorney general, I will be making sure that we're partnering with our agencies, with the governor's office, with the legislature to continue to do this work to make sure we are addressing supply, but also addressing the individuals who are struggling with substance use disorder.

[00:14:17] Crystal Fincher: Some of what you talked about there was going to address the root causes of substance use disorder. I'm wondering, taking a broad view, how would you look to address the root causes of crime and how will you handle the tension that exists sometimes between investing in root causes versus investing in responses to crime?

[00:14:41] Senator Manka Dhingra: I think this is something we have to do hand in hand. It has to go hand in hand because everyone has a right to feel safe. I think people who engage in bad conduct have to be held accountable. But you have to then talk about what does accountability look like? And accountability looks different for different people. And this is where, when you're talking about accountability, you have to say - Why did someone commit the crime that they're accused of doing? What are the factors that led them to do that? And how can we address those factors? When we take a look at the criminal justice system, our concept of giving everyone jail time or prison time - that's not the answer. You really got to understand risk-needs-responsivity tools - I've done a lot of work with the Center for Court Innovation, I've done a lot of work around risk-needs-responsivity tools - and we just got to be smarter about crime. And we know how to be smarter about crime - you have to invest in it, but you got to have conversations about it. But the bottom line is we can make our society feel safe, and we can hold people accountable, and we can do it in a way that is humane, meaningful, and sustainable. That's why our therapeutic courts are so reliable and have been doing so well. We're doing a lot more work in restorative justice, and that is absolutely something we need to be doing more and more of. And I can tell you, when I have some conversations with my Republican colleagues and not everyone understands what restorative justice practices are, and I tell them, I say - Think about 30, 40 years ago, when you had a teenager who misbehaved. What would people do? Many times family members or community members would get a hold of that kid, take them to the store maybe where they stole something or the neighbor's house that they may have damaged, and they have a conversation and they tell that kid to either fix the damage they created, do community service, repent in a certain way - but they address that behavior together - that's restorative justice practices. And what has happened now - that instead of the community and the neighborhood and the families stepping in and taking care of it, they call the cops. And so we have to go back to those practices where we understand it takes a village to raise our children. And we all have to play a role in it. And that's the way it used to happen. And we need to go back to that - where we are taking responsibility for the youth in our neighborhoods, in our communities, and standing up and saying - Yes, we have a role to play in making sure that they are doing the right things. And we can provide them the guidance, the mentorship, and the resources to do the right thing.

[00:17:20] Crystal Fincher: Now, a lot of times when we do have public conversations about crime, we mostly focus on the perpetrators and not the victims or the survivors of crime. What can we do to better support victims and survivors?

[00:17:38] Senator Manka Dhingra: I'm so glad you asked this question because given all the work I've done in gender-based violence, I talk a lot about survivors. And I also talk about the fact that survivors are unique and different. People like to lump them in one category or the other, and that is not who survivors are. I talk a lot about - when people experience trauma, that trauma many times lends itself as a reaction in their life. It's not just a memory. So you have people who have experienced trauma in their life who actually get involved in the criminal justice system. And so we actually have perpetrators of violence who are survivors of trauma. And so when you talk about survivors and victims, this is not a one-size-fits-all. We don't have this concept of a perfect survivor who's done nothing wrong in her life and simply has been a victim - those are myths that don't really exist. So we really have to make sure that in our system, we are providing survivors the resources they need to recover. We're providing them a framework where they can feel heard - that what they want is taken into account. And many people just assume that - oh, the prosecutors represent the victims. That is not true. The prosecutors represent the state. And many times the victim's voice and what she - and I'm going to say she very, very deliberately because the vast majority of victims of crime do tend to be women - women want. And then we also have to divide up what we're talking about - gender-based violence is a different beast than property crimes. And so you really have to, again, make sure you have a individualized process for handling these individuals. But for survivors of crime, there's a lot more our society has to do to make them feel seen and heard. For cases like domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking - those are still crimes that we do not do a good job in making survivors feel safe. A lot of the work that I've done in the legislature and with the Attorney General's Office, I mentioned - starting with the Sexually Violent Predator Unit when I was still in law school - is around ensuring we have trauma-informed, evidence-based practices to help survivors of violence.

[00:19:52] Crystal Fincher: How do you feel about victim compensation, particularly for hate crimes, but for all of them? And what strategies would you use to make sure that adequate resources are available?

[00:20:04] Senator Manka Dhingra: This is a struggle that we have in the legislature all the time - is how do we fund victim services? Victims have to be made whole. That is really the whole concept behind our legal system - it is about making people feel whole. Now, the way people think about it is in a very monetary way. They think about if your car has been damaged, how do we fix your car? That might work in a car situation. It's very different when you talk about a domestic violence situation or a sexual assault situation. That's just not the monetary damages you're out. That is the emotional pain you have felt that you may need therapy for for years. That may mean that you actually need some job counseling because your work has suddenly decided you're not performing at the level you're used to because of your trauma. So making victims feel whole, making survivors feel whole - again, it's very different depending on the type of crime you're talking about, but the state does have to step in to do that work. We now are the first state - and hopefully more will follow - we actually pay for the forensic examination for survivors of strangulation. We pay as a state to do the forensic examination for a sexual assault kit. That's how it starts - is from the very beginning - making sure you're not billing a survivor of rape or domestic violence for doing a forensic examination to see the level of strangulation and damage she has on her throat. It starts from there, but it has to go all the way until we can provide therapy and get that individual back on their feet. So we have a long ways to go. I will tell you, I'm very proud of the work we have done in the last couple of years where we have created a task force to take a look at survivor services in the state of Washington. And really take a comprehensive look at what are the different buckets of funding we have as a state for survivors, and how we can more fully address how we need to compensate survivors for the hurt that they have gone through and how to make them whole.

[00:22:09] Crystal Fincher: I want to talk about police reform. We've certainly seen a number of incidences where police themselves and their communities have said actions of particular officers and certain events have not met their standards, have gone against the values of their community. And yet we've seen that not been met with any kind of accountability - too often. Where do you stand on police reform and what specific measures would you advocate for from the Attorney General's office?

[00:22:41] Senator Manka Dhingra: Thank you, Crystal, for this question. I have led on police reform measures in the Senate for the last seven years. As a King County prosecutor, I actually helped create the 40-hour crisis intervention training at the Criminal Justice Training Commission and trained law enforcement in crisis intervention for a decade. This is the time when Sue Rahr became director of the CJTC, and the conversations and the culture was really about how do we change that culture from needing warriors on our street into having guardians of our community. And that is a culture where you have to start off with. I have been an agent of change my entire life - from starting Chaya to the Therapeutic Courts Unit and the work I've done in the Senate - and that's the culture I'm going to bring to the Attorney General's office. I love quoting superheroes - I do think they're amazing - in Spider-Man, they say with great power comes great responsibility. And we as a state have determined that our law enforcement officers are given the power to take a life. And with that power has to come greater responsibility and greater accountability. I know so many law enforcement officers, and so many of them want to do the right thing - they want to hold their colleagues to the right standards. And so we have to change that culture where it is very acceptable - in fact, appreciated - when officers stand up for the right thing and speak out. So we have been building that culture. We have to continue to do that. And I think we really have to double down on where we're hiring officers from, the training that they're receiving, and enabling them to do their work correctly. I'm very proud to have prime sponsored the bill on duty to intervene and duty to report, where we have to make sure law enforcement has a responsibility to intervene when they see wrongdoings occurring - they have a duty to report that wrongdoing. And we have to make sure, like we now do in the state of Washington, that we have a decertification process along with the certification process that we have for law enforcement. That when there are misdeeds - that they don't simply go away because someone chooses to resign and move to another jurisdiction, but they stay because we have a decertification process. So these are a lot of the measures that we have put into place. I'm very proud of the setup that the Office of Independent Investigation has been doing, and I'm very excited to see what that office does. And I know we've got to have an Office of Independent Prosecution in the state, and we're working towards doing that. But as Attorney General, I bring all of this experience with me to address police accountability.

[00:25:18] Crystal Fincher: Would you support that Office of Independent Prosecutor within the Attorney General's office?

[00:25:22] Senator Manka Dhingra: Absolutely.

[00:25:25] Crystal Fincher: What role do you believe the Attorney General should play in environmental protection, and how would you decide when and how to intervene in environmental cases?

[00:25:35] Senator Manka Dhingra: So, Crystal, I don't talk a lot about this, but I will share with you that I was actually born in Bhopal, India - that is the site of the Union Carbide gas tragedy. And my father actually worked at the Union Carbide plant. And I remember, as a young child, waking up in the middle of the night because he had to go to the plant because there were problems there. And I remember he would constantly complain about safety violations and he was not taken seriously. So he ended up resigning. And a few years after that, he actually got colon cancer and died at the age of 40. His parents lived to be in their 90s, so it was not genetic. And my mother, a young widow at the age of 33, moved to this country with my brother and I. And so the fact that I'm running for attorney general in this country, given my life journey, is actually surreal to me at times. But I tell you this story to say that environmental protection is very, very important to me. We cannot have our children drinking water that has lead in it, with PFAS in it. We need clean water. We need clean air. We have to take a look at cancer clusters. And this is where the Attorney General's office can play a much larger role. I'm really proud that Bob Ferguson has set up a department to take a look at environmental issues, but we've got to make sure we're enforcing them so that we do have clean water, that we have clean air. If you take a look at the health issues that our young children are dealing with - the level of asthma, the level of allergies - that's all environmental related. And you will find me as an environmental champion who is really making sure that we're holding polluters accountable because we need a planet that the next generation can live on.

[00:27:19] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. I also want to talk about workers' rights. How would you protect workers' rights, particularly in cases of wage theft, safety, and ensuring the right to unionize?

[00:27:32] Senator Manka Dhingra: I am a huge union supporter. I was actually part of the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Association, so I've been a very proud union member. And I'll tell you, I'm the only candidate in this race that has 100% voting record with unions. I just want to say one thing before I dive into these issues - I fundamentally believe that the inequities we're seeing in our society today is because we've seen a decline in unions, and they have played such a critical role in ensuring that there's equity. And this is why we need to ensure that we are supporting the unions, that we are ensuring they have a right to unionize, we are ensuring that there is no wage theft. This is so fundamental because the only thing that we can never get back in our life is our time. And if we are using our time to work, we have to make sure we get paid for it. Because to me, that is the ultimate theft - because you are taking something away that you can never, ever get back in life. I will always be a champion for workers' rights - really making sure that we are holding bad actors accountable. When I talked about accountability in the criminal justice system, I talk about accountability throughout the system. And this is where, again, what accountability looks like has to matter - for our corporations, it cannot be business as usual. You cannot simply violate the law and think it's okay to pay a small fine and be done. Accountability in this regard means that you have to make it painful so that you change behaviors - so they're not going to engage in wage theft, they're not going to engage in having unsafe working conditions - because it is painful for them to do so. And this is where the monetary issue comes in when we're talking about our economy - because that is about monetary ramifications - so we have to make sure that our penalties are such that they change behaviors.

[00:29:29] Crystal Fincher: How do you view your role as a consumer advocate for the residents of Washington, and what actions would you take to protect residents from unfair or deceptive business practices?

[00:29:40] Senator Manka Dhingra: The manner in which all of us are targeted for fraud is getting more and more sophisticated, especially the manner in which our elderly are targeted. And I can tell you, people with last names that sound like mine are targeted in different ways as well. One of the things the AG's office really needs to do more of is actually go out into the community and do education and outreach. Most people have no idea what their rights are, or the role the Attorney General's office can play in helping them. And we have to have that relationship with the community so that they understand what their rights are and how to leverage government. Unfortunately, Bob's been so super busy dealing with Trump and the federal government - and he's been doing a lot of great work in consumer protection, but we have to build on that work and really take it to the next level by doing that community engagement. And I'll tell you, before Bob, if you asked anyone - What does the AG's office do? - people would not be able to tell you. And so we got to build on that momentum and really tell people and educate them about the options for the role of the Attorney General - and so we have to make sure we do that. I'm very proud to have worked on My Health, My Data - that was the privacy bill in the state of Washington. Lots of people have been trying to work on a lot of privacy bills and they haven't gotten through, but this one did. And so I am someone who will always be taking a look at data privacy, taking a look at how information is sold. And frankly, I think we need to do a lot more in protecting our personal identifying information, like Europe does. You will find me as an AG who is an activist in this arena. I do think given the number of technology companies we have, we need to be leaders in ensuring that Washington and America are leading in this arena, not just the European Union.

[00:31:26] Crystal Fincher: I want to talk a little bit more about that because the role of data and surveillance, both from a commercial and law enforcement perspective, is increasing in our daily lives. How should we approach the evaluation and usefulness of tools that use data versus the implication on our privacy and civil liberties?

[00:31:49] Senator Manka Dhingra: This is something we're going to continue to struggle with for quite a while now, because as you mentioned, this is becoming more and more pervasive. First, I want to divide up government surveillance versus corporation surveillance. Because right now, the amount of data companies have is frankly unlimited. When you take a look at the number of Ring doorbells, you take a look at our phones - most people I don't think pay attention to the permissions they are granting on their phones. We have to have digital literacy so people understand how to turn on and off the different options and how to control their data. We have to make sure that's easier. I will also tell you that there are some benefits to technology. I have seen how, in the developmental disabilities community, it has enabled people to do amazing things and participate in our economy and in our community in ways that were not possible earlier. There are these apps that actually can tell people when they are at risk of reusing substances because they can see their activity level, they can see. what they're browsing, they can see their mood based on how they're listening to music. And so they can send them an alert saying - Hey, you need to go to a meeting because you look like you might be at risk of using, relapsing. There are apps that actually can tell individuals that they are starting their cycle of depression because of what's happening. Those are good things, but they should be apps that people have given the permission on, they understand what data they're collecting and how they're using it. We get into problems when we don't fully understand the data that's being collected, and how it's being used, and how people are selling their information. This is where the personal identifying information - and how we categorize it and how we use it - comes into play. I think people should own their data. And right now in America, they don't - the companies do. So we have to make that shift where people own their own data.

Now, in terms of law enforcement, this is where I think we can have a lot of rules and regulations around it that are easier to enforce than - with the companies, it gets a lot trickier and this is why we need to make sure people own their data. With law enforcement, again, I think there are ways in which it can be useful and ways in which it can be extremely detrimental. I struggle greatly when it comes to technology in law enforcement. I have seen eyewitness identification not work. This is where, when you have individuals from different ethnic backgrounds, there's a huge problem in them identifying the right perpetrator. Now, would technology be able to help in that? I actually think it might, because if they caught someone on camera, I'll trust that over a person identifying someone. So I do think there are risks and benefits. I do worry when that data is allowed to be used by law enforcement without a warrant. I don't think people should just be able to browse cameras and other things without a legitimate need for looking at it. And so this is an area where I think we have to continue to be very, very vigilant. I know speed cameras are now being installed everywhere, and I really wanted to make sure that those footage is not going to be used for nefarious purposes. So we're going to continue to have to see what we do in this country. Other countries - the level of surveillance has increased dramatically - and I think there are a lot of lessons that we can learn from them as well.

[00:35:17] Crystal Fincher: I'm also wondering, in terms of AI - which everybody's talking about, certainly now - and whether it's algorithms or AI in new application - you talked about identification using tools where they don't know who the person is on video, but they're trying to use AI to match that to pictures of people in different databases and using biometrics. Or, buying commercially available information to assist in investigations. Do you think that more regulation should be put there? Do you think that the uses of that that we're seeing right now are fine? Where do you stand on that?

[00:35:57] Senator Manka Dhingra: Oh, I think we absolutely need more regulation around that. So my husband - we've been married for twenty, gosh, seven years - when I met him nearly 30 years ago, he was building and racing robots using AI technology. That was 30 years ago - he still does that. But AI is here to stay. Organic computing, all the stuff - what the public knows is actually behind where the researchers are, so we're here to stay. Now we have to make sure that there is regulation, absolutely, because AI technology is only as good as the users who are inputting the data. And so you have to take a look at who is developing this, what are they relying on when they're coming to their conclusions? I can tell you as a Sikh woman, my husband was a turban and has his full beard - AI technology in identifying him does not work. You know which other racial category doesn't work on? Black women. So we have to fully acknowledge and understand that AI technology is not race neutral and that it has the biases of the people who programmed it. So absolutely it needs regulation. It also needs people who understand what is going on and how it is developed in order to do that regulation. We need people who have a background in technology or are comfortable talking about technology to do this work. I often joke and say my husband thinks he's a lawyer because we've been married for 28 years. I think I'm an engineer because I've been married for 28 years. But there is - when you're familiar with the technology, when you're familiar with people who are doing that work, you are more ready to dive into that. And I am someone as Attorney General who will be diving into the manner in which we're using technology, especially AI - the purposes for it, and frankly, in the manner in which it is developed.

[00:37:46] Crystal Fincher: Now, in the office - it's not talked about a lot, but one of the roles that you have is going to be as a manager, you're going to be running that office with a full staff. What experience do you have managing people and what will your approach to running the office be?

[00:38:04] Senator Manka Dhingra: Oh, I love that question so much. It's very easy to come into an office that's already well-functioning and run it. In my life, I have actually created systems and I've created HR departments - and that is what I will bring to this job. I mentioned starting API Chaya and running it. Setting up that entire office, setting up protocols, procedures, all of that - that takes a lot of thought on the culture you want to create, how you want to treat employees, what's the relationship between managers and employees. I have done a lot of that - for that organization, I did that for NAMI Eastside when we transitioned from the first executive director to becoming a much more professionalized organization, I've done donor development work, strategic planning for other organizations. I created and ran the Therapeutic Alternative Unit at the prosecutor's office. During the recession, I had to go out there and write grants to try to get money to keep that unit afloat. And then when I came into the Senate, I realized we did not have an HR office. We did not have a code of conduct. And this is all the partisan staff, the nonpartisan staff, leg tech, all of that. I chaired our Facilities and Operations Committee. Now in the Senate, we have an HR office, we have a DEI coordinator, we have roles and responsibilities, we have a code of conduct. We have a process where employees have a role to play in their job description, in promotions. They have a role to play in hiring individuals. And so I have helped set all of that up. So the management experience I bring to this job is not simply coming in and running an organization that's already well run, but really taking and developing systems and creating space so that the employees feel valued. I believe in trusting your employees. I think when you empower people to step up and take accountability for their work area, they will step up and do exactly that. People leave jobs because of culture and managers, not because they hate their job - most of the time, some people actually hate their jobs. But you have to create that culture where people feel valued, they feel seen, they feel heard, and they have the agency to make the changes that improve their work-life balance. That is what I have done for over 25 years, and those are the skills I will bring to managing the Attorney General's office.

[00:40:36] Crystal Fincher: Now, as we are about to conclude this conversation - obviously, I've asked a number of questions, but sometimes there are things that you know or that you're passionate about that you see that just aren't on other people's radar. So what important issue or issues do you think that the public isn't generally aware of, but that you feel is critical to address as attorney general?

[00:40:58] Senator Manka Dhingra: One of the things that is critical to address is actually the role the Attorney General's office has in the advice they're giving agencies on how to implement laws. Over and over again, we see legislation that is passed that looks amazing, but the implementation doesn't just go quite right. I do think the AG's office has a role to play in it. I want to make sure we empower assistant attorney generals to have a relationship with their clients, with their agencies - in order to actually have government show up in the manner in which people now expect government to show up. Things have changed. We expect more of government. I've done a lot of work around the Poverty Reduction Task Force, done a lot of work in gender-based violence. Things have changed. When we take a look at our universities, and if their first response is to protect the perpetrator, my question always is - Why do you think it's your job to protect bad actors? And as assistant attorney generals, we have to make sure that we're not just worried about agency liability - that we are playing a role in getting agencies, in getting the people of Washington the right results. I think it's been an extremely long time since we've had an attorney general who has come from the legislature, who has that trust and experience with legislators, who has a great relationship with our next governor - I'm assuming it's going to be Bob. And I think there is a very unique role for me to play, given these relationships and my experience, in really changing the dial on how Department of Social and Health Services shows up to do their job, in being a partner in how Department of Corrections is doing its job, in really being a problem solver when it comes to Department of Youth and Social Services. And I'm really excited about that and really being a partner and empowering our assistant attorney generals to be partners in solving problems, not just giving liability protection advice to their clients. So I know that's a little bit in the weeds, but I think there's a lot more we can do in that for how government is showing up for people.

[00:42:57] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And your point is well taken. The implementation of laws is as important as the passage of it and has proven to be challenging sometimes, so very important issue. Appreciate you for raising it and appreciate you taking the time to join us for this conversation today. Thank you so much.

[00:43:15] Senator Manka Dhingra: Thank you so much, Crystal. It's always a pleasure.

[00:43:19] Crystal Fincher: Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks, which is produced by Shannon Cheng. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on every podcast service and app - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at and in the podcast episode notes.

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