Nick Brown Discusses Key Issues in Washington State Attorney General Race

Nick Brown joins Hacks & Wonks for an in-depth interview to discuss his campaign for Attorney General and plans to address WA’s most pressing issues.

Nick Brown Discusses Key Issues in Washington State Attorney General Race

In an in-depth interview with Hacks & Wonks, Nick Brown, a candidate for Washington State Attorney General, shared his vision for the office and discussed his positions on key issues facing the state. Brown, who has served as Governor Jay Inslee's general counsel and as a U.S. Attorney, emphasized his extensive legal background and management experience, which he believes have prepared him well for the role of Attorney General.

Brown expressed his commitment to continuing the advancement and defense of gun safety measures in Washington state. Drawing from his experience in helping write and defend Initiative 1639, which raised the age to purchase assault rifles, Brown stressed the need to communicate the importance and impact of these changes to the public. He also advocated for investing in local programs and organizations to provide opportunities for youth and reduce violence.

Addressing the addiction crisis, particularly the alarming rise in fentanyl-related deaths, Brown called for a comprehensive approach. He emphasized the need to stop the influx of drugs, support policies that provide addiction services, and tackle root causes such as housing and employment. "Things like housing are important, not just because people need housing places to live, but because it's a public safety issue. When you have a safe and affordable place to live, you're much less likely to become a victim of a crime, you're much less likely to be suffering on the street," Brown said.

On the topic of police reform and accountability, Brown acknowledged the progress made in Washington state but stressed the importance of further improvements. He expressed support for the Office of Independent Investigations and increasing transparency in use-of-force cases. "Accountability is a big piece of that. And the way that you build trust and faith in government and in law enforcement is by holding wrongdoers accountable," Brown stated. He also called for enhancing state training for officers and implementing measures to prevent officers with problematic histories from moving between agencies.

Environmental protection is another key focus for Brown, who plans to build upon the work of the current Attorney General's office in this area. He aims to continue pursuing those who cause harm to the environment and collaborate with other states on policy and litigation. Brown emphasized the importance of working closely with tribal communities, recognizing their long-term perspective and expertise on environmental issues. "As we continue to face these challenges, we need to go to the people whose ancestors have been working these lands, and living in these lands, and prioritizing these lands for a lot longer than the rest of us," he said.

As a consumer advocate, Brown views the Attorney General's role as being "the lawyer for the people." He pledged to use the office's inherent authority to investigate and address concerns, even without resorting to litigation. "I don't have to necessarily sue you to make lives better for Washingtonians, but I think we need to use our inherent authority to say - What are you doing? We've heard concerns about this," Brown explained. He also discussed the importance of safeguarding private data and supporting data protection through robust IT systems.

Expressing concern about threats to democracy, Brown stated, "The undermining of our voting rights is happening all across the country…Undermining the faith in our elections is happening by folks of all levels of power. The misuse and misinformation is happening here in Washington. The attacks on our history, which is the foundation for our democracy, is happening in school boards in Washington. These things are real and have tangible impacts."

Throughout the interview, Nick Brown emphasized his commitment to addressing the pressing issues facing Washington state. As the race continues, voters will have the opportunity to further evaluate Brown's qualifications and vision for the office.

About the Guest

Nick Brown

Nick was raised in Steilacoom in Pierce County, and is the son of two veterans and career public servants. To help pay for college, Nick joined ROTC. He attended and graduated from Morehouse College, got his law degree from Harvard Law School, and then began his service in the Army.

As a JAG Officer, Nick fought to protect soldiers from fraud, worked to stop corporations from ripping off military families, and then went to Iraq where he worked to defend our troops. 

After his time in the Army, Nick returned home to Washington, where he first worked as a prosecutor, and then was appointed as General Counsel for Governor Jay Inslee. In his time with Gov. Inslee, he stood up to Donald Trump and his hateful Muslim ban, oversaw the governor’s work to end the death penalty in our state, helped appoint over 50 judges across the state, and worked on critical legal and policy issues.  

Nick then served as a partner at one of the premier law firms in the region, Pacifica, helping public, private, and non-profit clients navigate complex civil litigation and constitutional issues. 

In 2021, President Joe Biden nominated Nick to become the U.S. Attorney for Western Washington where he was praised for his work fighting drug cartels and sex trafficking, addressing the fentanyl crisis, and reducing violent crime. He also chaired the Attorney General’s Advisory Subcommittee on Civil Rights, and brought a focus to keeping every Washingtonian safe by preventing and prosecuting hate crimes, and protecting the most vulnerable and members of marginalized communities.

Find Nick on Twitter/X at @nickbrownnow.

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.

I'm very happy to welcome candidate for our State Attorney General, Nick Brown. Welcome to the show.

[00:05:07] Nick Brown: Thank you - it's good to be here.

[00:05:09] Crystal Fincher: Well, starting off - I'm wondering why you're running and what makes you the best candidate in this race?

[00:05:15] Nick Brown: Why put myself through this? I've been a public sector lawyer for most of my career, working in various forms of state and federal governments. And really, it was when I went down to work with Governor Inslee for his first term as his general counsel - as soon as I got down to Olympia, I just realized that the things that I most cared about, was concerned about just as a resident of the state, that most of those decisions had been being made down in Olympia, or were state and local decisions. And for so long - even though I'd been kind of a political and policy wonk in some ways - I was very DC-focused, like what was happening or not happening in DC, what was going on with Obama and all these things. And then I got down to Olympia and realized that we could have an immediate impact on things that mattered on a day-to-day basis. And for so long, I hadn't been paying enough attention - and shame on me in many ways for not leaning in more to that realization - but really, from the very first jump, working with the Gov, started to have an impact on things. And we won some things, we lost some things, but it felt very real and tangible in an important way for me. And a big part of my role as the General Counsel was working with the Attorney General's office, being the principal liaison to Bob and his team, and got a lot of direct experience and exposure to some of the things that they were doing - and I enjoyed that experience. And then I think for me, what really ultimately helped push me here was - my last six months of working with the governor were the first six months of the Trump administration. And to see Washington lead - opposing the Muslim ban and to help with some of the initial work on that effort, working directly with the Solicitor General and his team - and to see this state up in the corner of the country that sometimes get forgotten have this national immediate impact was pretty inspiring for me. And as I thought about what I wanted to do in my career - most recently I was the U.S. Attorney - and that was a dream job in many ways to lead that office, I loved it. It was not easy to step down. It was not easy to write a letter of resignation to the president of the United States. My parents thought I was a little bit crazy, but it just felt like the right opportunity for me to get back to the state-focused work to where we could have the biggest impact because whether everyone realizes it or not, what the AG's office is doing matters. It has a tremendous impact on our day-to-day lives all across the state - on civil rights, on consumer protection, on representing state government, on making it a better place. And increasingly, the opportunity to have national meaningful impact was really appealing for me. And at the end of the day, I couldn't imagine being on the sidelines. I really did not want to be sitting around in November of 2024 watching what happened and not being a part of it. So ultimately made the decision to move forward.

In terms of what makes me the best - we have two other candidates in the race. There's a lot of distinctions that I have with the Republican running - I'm happy to talk about those. But there's another high-quality Democrat running and Senator Dhingra has been a good state senator for a long time and I don't have anything bad or negative to say about her. I do think what distinguishes me and makes me ready for this opportunity are a couple of things. When we're electing an attorney general, I think principally we're electing a lawyer and an executive. And in terms of pure legal background and experience, I've done a lot of things I think are directly relevant to this job and preparing me for the complexity of what it means to be the attorney general. I started my career as an army lawyer, but doing criminal defense work - so defending soldiers in the army accused of crimes. So my first introduction to the legal system was working with people accused of committing crimes and seeing the impact on them, their families, the power of the government to change their trajectory. It was a great foundation for me as someone who spent most of their career around criminal justice issues. So doing that - being a prosecutor, working on complex multi-jurisdiction litigation all across Western Washington as assistant U.S. attorney, working with the governor directly with the AG's office - gave me great exposure. I've also done complex civil litigation in private practice, mostly for government entities and nonprofits. So my law firm represents counties, cities, the state - I've served as a special assistant AG on numerous cases. And that private sector experience, I think, is really useful because it's really the bulk of what the AG's office does - is civil work. So that legal foundation, I think, is a great background to being the AG. But probably more than anything else is - the job of being the attorney general is largely a management job. There are about 800 lawyers in the AG's office, 13 offices across the state, and whoever's going to be that attorney general is going to walk into some immediate challenges on managing that office to serve the public. I think most recently having been the U.S. attorney, I know what it's like to lead a large public law firm, to set a vision, to hire people, to deal with all the personnel issues, to manage multiple offices. to manage a budget. And that, for me, was a culmination of years of various leadership responsibility in my professional career, working with nonprofit organizations as well. So I hope those combinations make me uniquely qualified for this - there's a difference between being an executive and being a legislator - and I think that I've got the right background for the job.

[00:10:37] Crystal Fincher: One of the biggest issues that we're facing in this country - and certainly Washington feels it too - is gun violence. It is plaguing many of our communities of all types, it's impacting people of every background and from every walk of life. What can you do as Attorney General to address gun violence in Washington?

[00:10:58] Nick Brown: This is obviously one of those issues where there is no magic button or lever that we push or pull to solve this because the impacts that we're facing today on a micro-level in our communities are built upon a legacy of policy decisions and the history of America that has led us to be one of the more violent places in the world. First and foremost, it's the proliferation of firearms across our country, across our community. There was actually just an article I was reading in The Seattle Times about the surge of gun sales that went up when we were passing gun safety measures. And that have slowly gone back down, I think in part because of some of the gun safety measures that were implemented. But we're dealing with a long, long legacy of gun culture here in America that is going to take a long time to get away from.

But that being said, there are really important things that we can do as the attorney general. First and foremost, we need to continue to advance and defend gun safety measures that have passed in the legislature. I do that in private practice. So my law firm and one of my clients is the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. So we help write and defend gun safety measures for them. One of the best things that I did prior to becoming a U.S. attorney was help write Initiative 1639, which raised the age to purchase assault rifles in Washington. And this was at a time when the legislature didn't have the political will to make that happen. And so the people passed the bill. So we wrote the law - it passed by 60 some percent. And then inevitably we got sued by the NRA and by the Second Amendment Foundation. And so me and my partners and the lawyers here continued to defend that case in federal court against challenges from the gun lobby and working really directly with the AG's office. I'm back now part-time in private practice while I'm running - so I can pay my mortgage while I'm running for office - and I continue to have gun safety cases. I actually have a case against the Republican who's running for office. And working directly with the AG's office on a myriad of cases, I think gives me a lot of exposure to what it takes to defend these measures. We continue to win, which is great, but obviously the Supreme Court is going in a different direction. So continuing to defend those cases is going to be really important and a big portion of the AG's office work.

We need to continue to advance gun safety measures. And we also need to find a way, I think, to communicate more broadly to the public about the importance and impact of the changes that we're making and what they have. And most of the gun violence and gun deaths comes from suicides. The mass shootings and the violence - that's what gets the headlines - but it's the suicides that is the number one cause of firearm-related death in America and certainly here in Washington. And one of the things that we've been able to show as a state in the last few years is that the gun safety measures we passed help save lives. This is not political. This is not debatable. It's a factual matter that we have gone markedly in a positive direction around gun safety. During COVID, suicide rates went up almost in every state across the country for a whole host of reasons - firearm availability, isolation, depression, anxiety, all the things that associated that period. But Washington actually went down. We went from having about the 9th most suicides in the country to somewhere closer to 20th. And there are lots of different reasons for that, but I think part of the reasons that we were successful in not seeing the same rise of other states is that we've passed a lot of things that reduce the likelihood of suicide. We passed the ERPO, Extreme Risk Protection Order legislation, which allows people to take firearms away temporarily from family members that they think might cause harm to themselves or others. That is a life-saving measure here in Washington. We passed safe storage requirements, which makes the incidence of going for that gun quickly and making rash decisions a little bit more delayed and more paused. These things saved lives. And I think that when we talk about it with people a little bit more cleanly around the suicide reductions - that's something people can relate to, because everyone has one degree, two degrees of separation from someone in their family, a coworker, what have you, that has attempted suicide or committed suicide. And there is no doubt in my mind that some of the things that we've done have continued to save lives. But reducing gun violence is also going to be at a very micro-local level as well. We need to invest in programs in our cities, in our counties that give opportunities for kids to do things other than roaming the streets and getting into trouble. We need to fund people working at the local level that are violence interrupters. We need to fund organizations that are community-based - that go directly and have the sort of authority and accountability more directly to the community than some politician or some government actor. So there's a lot of things that we need to do, but the level of gun violence that we face on a day-to-day basis is still shocking. And we've become sort of numb to it in a way that's frustrating and sad - we just gotta keep fighting on it.

[00:15:40] Crystal Fincher: A lot of those factors you just talked about also play into the addiction crisis we're in - whether it's fentanyl, which certainly is troubling and getting a lot of headlines right now, or opioids or alcoholism - we are facing a significant substance use disorder crisis. What can you do as the attorney general to combat that?

[00:16:03] Nick Brown: That's another thing where I think most of us can relate to it - even if we're not personally dealing with those issues, we're one or two degrees of separation from a family member or friend, what have you. And just to step it back a little bit, the level of youth overdoses that we're facing here in King County in particular, but as a state as a whole, is really, really shocking. And we have a disproportionate number of that. And we should recognize that the number of youth overdoses that we're facing - we're leading the country almost. The last time I saw - Washington and Oregon were actually at the highest end per capita of youth overdose deaths. So we're at the exact opposite end of where we should be when it comes to that. Fentanyl presents a uniquely dangerous reality in ways that are different than other drugs we faced in recent time. And I think it really needs to be kind of an all-hands-on-deck approach. I do think we need to do everything we can to stop the influx of these drugs into our communities. Certainly, that was the work that we did in the U.S. Attorney's Office. But the hard part about that is that even if we were doing everything we could and doubling down resources to stop drugs from coming into the country - in our best case, we stopped 10%. Because they're coming through the border, they're coming through the mail, they're coming through the airport - so even if your idea is that we just need to crack down with law enforcement to solve this - on your best day, you stop a fraction of what's coming into the community. And what that tells me is that all these other things that get people off drugs and reduce addiction are really, really important. And so we need to continue to support policy at a state and local level to provide services for people that are dealing with addiction issues. The AG's office deals with a lot of just cases around people suffering from mental health problems, drug problems, and the like. So we need to continue to do those cases and try to find more problem-solving opportunities within the state litigation cases that we're doing. But we need to advocate around these issues in a more robust way because folks are dying. The other thing - like many other big, hairy, hard problems - there's got to be multiple solutions. Things like housing are important, not just because people need housing places to live, but because it's a public safety issue. When you have a safe and affordable place to live, you're much less likely to become a victim of a crime, you're much less likely to be suffering on the street, obviously. And so housing, jobs, education - these are all things that actually make recovery possible beyond just the direct services that we often talk about.

[00:18:23] Crystal Fincher: I want to talk a little bit more about addressing root causes, which is crucially important. And the tension that exists in our public conversation and in many ways between addressing root causes and responding to crime that has happened - whether it is funding, resources allocated to them, attention. How can we do a better job addressing the root causes? Can you lead from the attorney general's office? And how do you manage that tension that does exist between those two?

[00:18:53] Nick Brown: I think the best place to start, as someone who's been in the public sector for a long time - this is the first time I've run for office since eighth grade student body president - but I've been around government politics for a while and certainly being the U.S. attorney was a public position, although not an elected one. I think one of the most important places to start is to be a truth teller about these issues. And what I mean by that is so many politicians, so many leaders - they try to present easy solutions to these to the public. And I get that pressure - people want easy solutions to complex problems, but we cannot continue to pretend that there is something that we're going to do and it's going to solve these problems and make them go away. So being a truth teller about the complexity of the problem and the scope of the problem is something that I aspire continuing to do. And part of that for me means when crime goes up or perception of crime goes up - and the perception piece is an important distinction from actual crime - in some very important ways, crime is legitimately up compared to the last few years. It is still remarkably lower than it was when I was growing up in the 90s. So the distinction on levels is an important one. But also things like poverty and homelessness, which are not crime, often get lumped into this sort of tension around rising crime. And I believe thoroughly that there is a law enforcement role to play in making us safer - policing and prosecution is an important tool - but that is all temporary. Even if we arrest and remove harm or remove danger, it's all short term. 97% of the people that we put in our state prison are going to get out, and we need to be more focused on what do we do to build sustainable safety in our communities. And sustainable safety, in my mind, relies on some of the things that we were talking about earlier - an economy that keeps people jobs and gives people an opportunity to actually get by on a day-to-day basis. It relies on an education system that gives people an opportunity. It relies on housing that's affordable, safe, and available for them. All of those things, in my mind, are public safety solutions. But when the public gets scared or the crime rates go up, they often revert to - Well, we need more cops or we need to lock people up longer, et cetera. And I get that because it feels tangible in a way, but it's all temporary. We can keep going through these cycles of arrest and repeat and rinse and getting people back out, and that's not going to be ultimately, at the end of the day, a safer place. So when I think about that tension, it's both. My 22 years as a lawyer - most has been around criminal justice matters as a defense lawyer, as a prosecutor, as a U.S. attorney. Again, I think there's a really important role for those actors to play in the system, but we need to more robustly and fully support things that actually reduce harm and actually build safety in a sustainable way. A lot of that can come from state leadership, but that has to be done also at a local level - to bring more attention and resources and programs at a local level to really make it last. And more collaboration with local government is going to be important for the AG. I also think at a larger level, working with other states is going to be important. As we go after corporations or companies, drug providers that are providing drugs and opioids without much safeguards and controls - it's one thing for Washington to take on that litigation, it's another thing when a collection of states do that same work. So looking for opportunities to partner with other AGs is also going to be part of the plan starting in 2025.

[00:22:13] Crystal Fincher: In public and media conversations about crime, the focus a lot of times is on the perpetrators of the crime, the mechanisms of addressing that - and not on the people who have been harmed. What can you do or what will you advocate for doing in your role as attorney general to better support victims and survivors?

[00:22:32] Nick Brown: It's interesting. A lot of people think of the attorney general as sort of the top cop. And in some states, that's actually true. In Washington, the amount of criminal work is really small. There's some direct jurisdiction over very small set of cases, and then there's opportunity to do casework directly on a local level when the local prosecutor requests assistance or when the governor requests the AG to intervene - we've seen more of that, particularly around police accountability issues, happening in the last five years or so. But for the most part, criminal cases are being managed at a local level. But as someone who's worked as a prosecutor and a defense lawyer, we need to make sure that we're keeping in mind the people that are most directly impacted by crime. So that means continuing to support policy measures in the legislature that provide resources for victims. There's lots of things the state can do and has done increasingly in the last few years to provide more opportunity for victims to have their voices heard, to make sure that they're fully included in the process of the court system, and to provide whatever medical or counseling treatment that they might need. Because funding that at a local level is not sustainable, particularly for smaller jurisdictions, but even in big jurisdictions because of their caseloads. So I think the state needs to continue to support that and help fund some of those programs that provide services for victims. As the U.S. attorney and as a former assistant U.S. attorney, I worked with victims on all my cases. And I did mostly violent crime work when I was a direct prosecutor, a lot of work with tribal communities - so dealing with victims of crimes from tribal communities across western Washington - and I know how meaningful it is when they're included in the process in a very human way and in a very personal way, and so providing more opportunity to do that is really important.

[00:24:13] Crystal Fincher: And with that, I want to talk about police reform and accountability. What's your view on that? And do you think we need more? And what can you advocate for or what are your plans as attorney general to help make police more accountable?

[00:24:28] Nick Brown: Well, it's obviously been an issue that has been highly debated in the legislature here over the last few years - part of the national trend to bring more accountability. I think we've made some important strides in the state. The Office of Independent Investigations, I think, is a step in the right direction to provide an independent voice where there are use-of-force cases across the state. And continuing to support and grow that office is going to be an important piece. I know the director of that agency fairly well, and I know the work that he has ahead of him in building a team and also building credibility with law enforcement, with stakeholders in the legislature. But I think that's a step in the right direction. I think we need to do things to continue to bring more transparency to these cases. The more the public is aware of, I think the more trust and faith that they have in our systems. We need to continue to improve our state training system to make sure that not only new officers are getting the training that they need, but seasoned officers continue to get the training and support that they need. This is one of those trends where we can train these new young recruits at BLEA, the basic law enforcement education, but then once they go off to their home districts and they get ingrained in the culture and the practices of the people that have been more senior, and they quickly lose some of the de-escalation and training practices that they've had. Accountability is a big piece of that. And the way that you build trust and faith in government and in law enforcement is by holding wrongdoers accountable. And in Washington and in every state, we've had trouble doing that - even when we see things that look very apparently to be wrong and illegal. So I think the AG has continued to lean into those cases and take on some really hard cases. I know there's been a lot of debate and discussion about whether an Office of Independent Prosecution is also a tool that we should have. I think that's an idea that we need to continue to evaluate. I think if we build it, it should probably live in the AG's office because that's an agency that has expertise to do that moving forward. That kind of thing builds credibility in the public. We also have this trend - that I'm sure you're aware of - where a law enforcement officer gets in trouble in one district and goes to another district and gets rehired very quickly. We saw that most recently with the Manny Ellis case. Those officers were acquitted and they had the right to be hired elsewhere, but it was disturbing to me to see someone who had just gone through this - and even if not found guilty, obviously was involved in a very tragic and disappointing, to put it mildly, situation. Then for that officer to get immediately rehired at a neighboring district really cuts against the public trust that needs to be built. So I think that's really important too. So trying to find ways that we limit people who have actually been found violating policy or violating the law - making sure that they don't continue to bounce around our state - or officers coming from other states with that past. behavior coming to agencies here. So we need to find ways to build more transparency into the system that we're guarding against that and preventing that through legislation if necessary.

[00:27:19] Crystal Fincher: What role do you think the Attorney General should play in environmental protection? And what would you advocate in that area?

[00:27:27] Nick Brown: Well, I am a proud Inslee alum. And I don't think there's anyone who has ever worked closely with the Gov like I have, who doesn't come away infused with his enthusiasm for environmental protection. And I joke about it a little bit, but he, I think, deserves a lot of credit for getting us to the place we're at now. It's not everything that we need, it's not everything that I think that he would hope for and want for. But I've seen him and the team around him push that ball up the hill repeatedly and to make great progress, culminating most recently with the passage of the Climate Commitment Act, which is obviously subject to a very important ballot challenge this year that would be disastrous in multiple levels. But it's actually one of the things that, in AG Ferguson's legacy, that I don't think he gets enough credit for either. There is now an environmental enforcement division that largely did not exist before Bob came into office. So he built that division and we need to continue to build up and do more work there. We used to partner with them when I was U.S. attorney because there's obviously lots of federal and state overlap in terms of some of the enforcement actions. But we need to continue to go after people that are causing harm to our environment. And a lot of wrongdoers are doing it quite deliberately or quite knowingly, so we need to make sure that we have the authority to investigate and hold them accountable civilly, or criminally if necessary. So my hope is to build more resources into that environmental enforcement division because that's going to be really important. I think sort of similar to going after drug companies - more collaboration with other states is going to be really important too because so many of the climate challenges that we're facing, they obviously don't stop at our Washington borders. So collaborating with Oregon and California, BC where it's appropriate on policy and litigation - I think it's going to be an important safeguard moving forward. The other thing that sometimes gets lost in the conversation, at least for people that are working on it quite frequently, we need to do a better job working with our tribal communities on these issues. One of the things that I learned and have learned working with tribes for much of my career now is that they do a much better job, not only on the substance of these issues, but they think generationally. So much of our politics, our policy development is what is best for the immediate short-term and not what is best for my grandchildren or my grandchildren's grandchildren. Tribes have a very different. perspective. And I don't want to make tribes seem like some monolithic entity because there's lots of distinctions across the 29 federally recognized tribes and others in the state. But as a general matter, their ability to think long-term about environmental impacts is so much more advanced than non-tribal members. So going to the people that have been doing this work for generations is going to be really important. I'm happy to have a lot of support from tribal communities for the campaign - I think it's a recognition of a long investment working with them on a myriad of issues. But as we continue to face these challenges, we need to go to the people whose ancestors have been working these lands, and living in these lands, and prioritizing these lands for a lot longer than the rest of us. And so I think that's going to be important. And we're going to have some really big energy decisions coming in the years, as we continue to figure out alternative resources - wind and solar, and all these other things that are going to be necessary as we continue to grow as a state. We need to be leaning into that work.

The last thing I'll say is - over the last few years, we've actually passed lots of good climate policy as a state - I think we made some real progress. The hard part is the next part, and that's the implementation. We can write a lot of good laws and have them on the books and feel good about ourselves - which often happens with legislation that gets passed - but now it's upon the executive branch to actually implement that policy. That means building regulations and policies that allows these new laws to take effect. It means building programs that allow money to be distributed to impacted communities - because I am very worried that we're not ready for it, and I think anybody who's paying close attention knows that we're not ready for it. We don't have the staff, the resources, or the focus on implementing these good bills - which means what's going to happen is a lot of these programs that have been designated or this money that's been allocated, it's just going to go to waste. It won't get out the door. And a lot of that's going to require lawyers. The Department of Ecology, Fish and Wildlife, all these agencies that are empowered now or have requirements now to implement policy - they're going to need good legal advice and dedicated resources to help with siting decisions, and program building, and regulations, and enforcement, all these things. So I don't want us to get complacent because we've done some good things, because the implementation piece matters more at this stage to me than the next new policy. Let's get this policy implemented that we've done over the last few years before we turn to the next big hard thing.

[00:32:01] Crystal Fincher: That is an excellent point, and I appreciate you making it. I'm also wondering about how you view protecting workers' rights, particularly in cases of wage theft and ensuring the right to unionize.

[00:32:14] Nick Brown: This is one of the things I'm really excited about, and for a host of reasons. First off, as a starting point, my parents - they were both veterans - started their professional careers in the military and then were mostly state government workers. But their path to the military in part came from the ability of my grandfather on my mother's side to be a union member. He was a proud machinist and would take my mom and her brothers to the union hall - it was a big part of his personal identity. But his membership in the union gave my mom the opportunity to go to college because she had some basic level of security, even though she grew up fairly poor. So but for that foundation, I wouldn't - I don't think - be in the same position that I am today. But it's also remarkable to me that I think my generation - and I'm in my 40s - but I think my generation kind of missed the significance of unions in America and the foundational role they play for building a middle class, for bringing worker protections, all of the things that we now take for granted as employees of various companies. A lot of that is built on the union movement that was a generation before me. But we're at a good time now because over the last few years, there's been much more national, prominently noteworthy union organization efforts, strikes, et cetera, that I think a lot of people are now sort of turning their attention back to that. So one of the things that I propose doing is creating a new division within the AG's office, specifically around labor and work protections. We have done some really good work here as a state, but it seems to me at least a little scattershot. And I looked around the country and there are, I think, six or seven different AG's offices that have organized in this way. And what that does is a couple of things. One, it allows the efficiencies and collaboration to happen in that division rather than people operating more in their silos. But it also signals to people about how important of a priority this is going to be for me and the work that we're going to be doing as AG. And the reason that matters - to get sort of the heart of your point - is the underground economy. Wage theft is quite literally stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from workers all across the country. There is more lost through wage theft and the underground economy than there is from all the criminal types of theft - from larceny and burglaries - exponentially more losses to money that should be going in workers' pockets escapes that way than from crime. And it is fascinating that if we just talk to the general public - if you go to your Target and you see somebody steal whatever, a television from Target, most people in the public are like - Well, that's a crime, that person should be held accountable in some ways. But at the same time, we have companies quite literally stealing hundreds of thousand dollars, if not millions of dollars, from their workers. And at most, it's a civil violation - if you can enforce it. And I'm not for over-criminalizing new things. I think we actually have too many criminal laws. But we need to change our focus and perspective on what is crime or crime-like activity. And we need to bring the same level of concern to someone stealing their television versus a corporation stealing from their workers. And that requires, I think, more resources, more ability to investigate, more opportunity to work with the community and impacted labor unions and others to learn about some of the problems they're having in their communities. This is one of the reasons that we've been able to make some positive steps around protecting farm workers and laborers working in our agricultural fields - because they've been given more opportunity to have their concern raised because of some very direct outreach to community groups and to government groups who are empowering them in ways that we haven't heard before. So we've been able to make some improvement for them. So it requires not only whatever Nick Brown's brilliant ideas are on this, but going to the source of people and understanding from them - how can we be a resource? What do you guys need? What are you hearing? Which companies are practicing correctly, which companies are not? But I think the best way to do that, for me, is to have a new division organized in the office that can be the focal point for this work.

[00:36:15] Crystal Fincher: How do you view your role as a consumer advocate? And what actions are you going to take to protect Washingtonians from unfair or deceptive business practices?

[00:36:26] Nick Brown: Well, obviously the AG wears lots of different hats and different roles. But at the base, I think you are the lawyer for the people - that is what people are voting for. I and the team will represent government entities, but at the end of the day, the reason that I think we have a separately constitutionally elected AG is to represent the people. And the sort of most consistent tool we've had to do that work in our state's history has been our consumer protection laws. And I think AGs - of all political stripes, frankly - have been doing good work in that field. The summer before I went to law school, I was an intern at the AG's office when Governor Gregoire was then-Attorney General Gregoire. And I remember she came and spoke to all the interns, and I was all blown away because she had just come off of the tobacco litigation, which Washington state led. And there's lots of states involved in that, but it had a huge impact on people - huge financial settlement, but also helped reduce public health problems by bringing more honesty and transparency to the dangers of smoking. And to know at that time that this AG had led that effort and been such a point for me, I was - remember, I was just sort of wide-eyed, like, Oh, this is great. I also remember, like, she spoke for 30 minutes without notes, and I was, Oh, my gosh, how did she do that? - now I do that kind of thing all the time. So she deserves a lot of credit. I actually think AG McKenna did some good work in consumer protection practice as well, so this is not a partisan thing necessarily. But it's been nice to see Bob and his team take it to the next level, I think, and really be more of a consumer advocate. It gets a lot of attention - pursuing various companies and the like - but I think for the most part, people are for it. We need to sue companies to keep them honest and to make sure they're not misleading companies. When I was U.S. attorney, we did. consumer protection work as well, but I think the state has more opportunity to be more robust and aggressive. And I think it's one of the principal duties of being the attorney general - is to represent the people, to make sure companies are not stealing their money or not misleading them with their practices, are not putting dangerous products into our communities. And so one of the joys of being the attorney general is you have this independent authority to bring cases on behalf of the people. The last thing I'll say on that is not every problem gets solved with litigation. Suing people is obviously one of the important tools of the office, but I think there's a lot of problem solving that the AG needs to bring to the office. And that is something that I've continued to learn in my own career - about how important it is not only just to fight, but to bring people together and to collaborate, or just to use your inherent authority to investigate. One of the things that I did when I was brand new or newish as U.S. attorney - the summer before I got into that office, the Department of Corrections here in Washington had faced a pretty significant number of complaints and concerns about the heat conditions in their prisons across the state. Because the summer before had been very hot, a lot of their prison facilities were not properly ventilated, and people incarcerated and their families were rightly concerned. And that was raised to me when I came into the office as the U.S. attorney. So what we did is I simply wrote a letter to the Department of Corrections saying - Here are all the problems that we are aware of from last year. What have you done to improve your conditions in your prisons? I didn't sue them, I didn't threaten litigation, I just started asking questions. And I got a pretty thorough response about - Here's what we did to improve our systems, here's the work that we have to do. But it put them on notice that the U.S. attorney for the Department of Justice was asking questions - and I know because a lot of people were cc'ed on the response back to me. So I think bringing that same lens to bear as the attorney general is going to be very important. I don't have to necessarily sue you to make lives better for Washingtonians, but I think we need to use our inherent authority to say - What are you doing? We've heard concerns about this. This is pretty important, I think, in the healthcare space as well. When we hear about hospital facilities or healthcare facilities reducing services or consolidating, possibly - sending them a letter or convening a meeting and saying - What are you doing to make sure that healthcare is still available for people in this area? Why are you consolidating? What's going to be the impact? I think there's a lot of inherent authority in the AG's office. And when the attorney general for the state signs his or her name down on a letter or invites people to a meeting, you're going to get a response. It may not be what you want, but at least puts people on notice that you're looking at this, and you're representing people, and you're fighting for their rights and protection. So that is a tool that we need to bring to bear as well.

[00:40:39] Crystal Fincher: Surveillance, both in person and online with data, is playing an increasing role in all of our lives. What will your approach as AG be to the utilization of data in surveillance? And how should we approach the evaluation of the usefulness of tools that rely on that versus the implications on our privacy and civil liberties?

[00:41:01] Nick Brown: Yeah, that's a good one. And I will profess I have a lot more questions than answers on this one because the technology is always evolving and the scope of privacy invasion is so widespread. Part of that is because we have acquiesced to a lot of it - we carry our cell phones around with us wherever we go, our cars have tracking devices - almost all the time, we have affirmatively given some entity access to our whereabouts, our location, our finances, whatever. So in some ways, we have to be more mindful of ways that we have participated in the surveillance state that we see all around us. But government obviously is most often many steps behind the technology. And too often, I think we build regulations or new laws, what have you, in response to things that we don't quite understand the scope of. I am really concerned about maintaining people's private data - that when they go and they participate in public entities, hospitals, schools, jobs, whatever - that we do everything we can to safeguard their data within our system, both on limiting the type of data that we intake and developing policies that we don't just ask for everything unless we actually need some data. Government has this bad habit of - tell me everything and your firstborn child and all these things, where it's not really relevant to the reason that you're interfacing with that government entity. So working across state agencies to make sure that they have best practices in place is going to be important. Supporting all of the data protection through our IT systems is going to be really important. Obviously, during COVID, state government ran into a lot of trouble because they became victims to hacks and they had some bad practices internally, so safeguarding against threats from some nefarious actors is going to be really important. But continue to develop good policy as well, and policy that is understandable for the public. There's been a lot of attention around AI - in what this means as well, because AI is obviously getting data from lots of different sources and coming up with all sorts of, frankly, amazing uses of that. And the state is now grappling with it, but there's a task force. And oftentimes I think task forces are just a way to punt things and not really deal with things. In this particular case, I think it's actually a good thing because we don't understand what AI quite means yet - the implications, how we should regulate it or not regulate it. So that task force is under the AG's office. So the next AG will have that responsibility of shepherding that work forward. I think that's actually going to be a really positive one. But the privacy implications of all this work is really important. And like many of these problems, going to the people who understand the work the best, and the technology the best, and the people that represent stakeholders is going to be really important to make sure we're proceeding in the right direction.

[00:43:42] Crystal Fincher: So we've covered a lot in our conversation today, you certainly have a lot of conversations around the state with folks. What is generally not on people's radar? What haven't we talked about that's really important, from your perspective?

[00:43:59] Nick Brown: You know, I've done lots of interviews and meetings, Crystal, I think that's the first time I've been asked that question. Well, the one thing I'll say at first is - I've actually been surprised how similar the issues are as I travel. I live here in Seattle, I'm from Pierce County - running a statewide campaign, you travel, you get a lot of different places. But I had this realization two months ago - I was in Bingen, Washington. I don't know if you've ever been to Bingen, or ever heard of Bingen, but it's near White Salmon - it's along the Columbia River with the Oregon border. And I was out there meeting with some folks - and the first issues they brought up were the same things that I had been hearing living here in King County. Housing, homelessness, fentanyl, and democracy - how do we protect democracy? I was like - Man, that sounds like Seattle. Obviously, there are different ideas of solutions, but I do think it's important on a whole host of issues - as much division that we have in our politics, in a lot in our culture, sometimes we lose sight of the fact that we generally want the same things. We often have very different ideas about how we get there, but we generally want the same things. And when I was U.S. attorney - I'm getting a little far afield here, but I hope you forgive me - when I was U.S. attorney, early on in my tenure, I got invited to speak at the WASPC conference, the Sheriff's and Police Chiefs Conference, to keynote one of their luncheons. This was October of 2021. And this is generally an audience of more conservative people - almost 95% white men - and here I am walking into the space. I'm a Biden appointee, I'm an Inslee alum, I'm the first Black U.S. attorney, and I've supported some pretty progressive things in my life in the criminal justice space. I led the governor's effort to end the death penalty in Washington in 2014 - I did all his clemency and pardon work for him. And so I had reason to suspect that this audience would be suspicious of me, even though I spent a lot of my career working pretty closely with law enforcement - and I think doing so effectively. So when I was preparing my remarks, I was thinking - Do I want to burn this room down? Do I want to just placate? How do I want to approach this? And what I did then and what it sort of reminded me of in your question is - I tried to keep them focused on the fact that what they want as sheriffs and police chiefs is safe communities. It's the exact same things that people protesting in the street wanted - they want safe communities, they don't want to be victims of crimes, they don't want gun violence in their neighborhoods, they want to be treated fairly when they encounter law enforcement. That is the exact same things that I think most sheriffs and police chiefs want. How we get there, obviously, we've got a lot of disagreement. But so often we lose focus on the fact that our solutions might be different, but we want the same thing. And I think if we focus more on wanting the same thing, our politics will be better and more productive. It's not going to solve everything, I'm not Pollyannish about it. But I think it helps to refocus people. So I've been sort of pleasantly surprised traveling across the state about how much people are focused on the same things. To your question more directly, I think people are talking about this, but I don't quite think we have fully embraced what this might mean - and I do think legitimately the threats to our democracy are so real. It used to be very cliche to say that, it used to be fear-mongering. And I actually have a good friend who - we disagree on politics a lot - and he was talking to me, he said, I'm so tired of people fear-mongering about democracy. I was - Well, easy for you to say, but these things are real. The undermining of our voting rights is happening all across the country. The just undermining the faith in our elections is happening by folks of all levels of power. The misuse and misinformation is happening here in Washington. The attacks on our history, which is the foundation for our democracy, is happening in school boards in Washington. These things are real and have tangible impacts. And I don't pretend to have all the solutions there, but I don't think we fully have embraced the severity and the seriousness of what that could potentially mean - not necessarily for me, but for my kids, their kids moving forward. If we continue on this spectrum, it's going to be bad. And so I worry about it in a very serious way. I'm thinking and talking to folks about what could I do as one AG to help protect and defend our democracy. And again, every time I say it, it sounds a little bit patriotic cliche stuff, but I do think it's real. And certainly if we're dealing with another Trump administration, it'll be real and immediate because the threats that we might face from that administration are exponentially worse than we did from his first administration. The plans that he is talking about now and his team are talking about now are so much worse than they were before. The other day, one of his policy advisor folks was talking about immigration and was talking about mobilizing Republican national guards to do enforcement in Democratically controlled states. It's like - What the hell are you talking about, man? That is what a civil war looks like. One state army coming into another state. And it just - it didn't really make the news very much - like it did for 24 hours. But these are concrete plans by senior members, potentially, of that administration. Which means we're going to need good and ready and prepared state AGs to defend against this stuff. So people are talking about our democracy and the threat of it, but I am more concerned than I hear in most of my friends and neighbors.

[00:49:18] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for joining us today - appreciate hearing your perspective, learning more about where you stand, and we will certainly be following the race as it continues to unfold. Thank you so much.

[00:49:31] Nick Brown: Thank you, Crystal - appreciate it.

[00:49:32] 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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