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Telling All of Nothing

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

You’d have a hard time finding anyone more skilled than Doug Ericksen in turning away a question while making you think he’s answered it.

Constituents packed the auditorium at Meridian High School over the weekend, demanding to know about the state Senator’s many absences from legislative sessions and his simultaneous job with the federal government in Washington, DC. They left knowing little more than when they came, but remarking on Ericksen’s willingness to speak openly and frankly about issues. 

A state employee asked when the Senator’s going to resign from one of his two taxpayer- supported jobs, “so you can carry out your responsibilities.”

The responsibilities are being carried out very well, Ericksen responded. Doing two jobs well is not unheard of, he said.

“My wife can do eight jobs at once.”

The Senator declined to reveal anything about the federal part of his jobs—how much he’s paid, or what he’s paid to do. In a brief session with reporters after the constituent meeting, he suggested that he doesn’t know how much he earns, and that he may not be paid at all.

Question:  Did you figure out how much you’re being paid?

“Not very much. I’ll tell you this, I’m losing money on the deal, flying back and forth, trying to find a place to live in DC.”

Question: Every working American knows how much he or she is getting paid. It’s something you can find out in about 90 seconds…

“It’s very unique situation, John. Being on the transition team for the President of the United States is very unique. So, we’re working our way through all that stuff. I’d do it for free, you know. I basically have to lose money on the frickin’ deal.”

Question: What is it you do for the Environmental Protection Agency, day to day?

“I’m on the executive board of the transition team for EPA.”

Question: What does that mean?

“Well, we work with career professionals for the new administrator, working to keep the lights on and working with all the career professionals that are there.”

Question: Does that mean you’re the press guy for Administrator Scott Pruitt?

“It means I’m the communications lead for the transition team.”

Question: What does the communications lead for the transition team do?

“Lots. Lots.”

The 42nd Legislative District spreads across Northern Whatcom County from Blaine to Barron, and from the Canadian border to the middle of Bellingham. It’s home turf for the county’s conservative and Tea Party Republicans. But at Ericksen’s town hall meeting they seemed outnumbered, or at least out-shouted, by angry liberals. The Senator asked them not to heckle their fellow citizens, no matter how much they might disagree with what was being said.

“Boo me,” he said, and they did. “Don’t boo each other.”

Uniformed Sheriff’s deputies and well-muscled peacekeepers in blue T-shirts roamed the hall but had little to do, no one to remove. 

Relaxed in work day jeans and cowboy boots, Ericksen spoke smoothly of legislative issues including a controversial measure he sponsored. The Preventing Economic Disruptions bill would make it a felony to be part of a civil protest that interferes with commerce or transportation. He linked it to a congressional act, popular with progressives, meant to protect women seeking abortions. That was the model for his bill, he told the town hall crowd.

“You have the right to protest, but you have no right to prevent someone from entering a clinic,” he said. “I don’t believe you have a constitutional right to stand on a highway and block traffic.”

Ericksen’s bill died in the State Senate’s Law and Justice Committee.

“We spent two hours talking about the state issues that matter to Whatcom County—jobs, the state budget, our efforts to boost education funding without raising taxes, and what we’re doing to fix a state Supreme Court decision that threatens the right of rural property owners to drill wells and obtain building permits,’ Ericksen described the town hall in his own email to voters. “The conversation, spirited at times, was a model example of how people with different political outlooks can have productive discussions.”

Only two days before the town hall, a group of Ericksen’s constituents had filed a recall petition in Superior Court. They sought to remove him from his senate seat, for missing legislative sessions and committee meetings in January and February.

The recall effort quickly failed. Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis found that no law says our legislators have to do any particular thing, or anything at all. They don’t even have to be in Olympia, not even in the state, in order to draw their pay, currently $45,474 per year.

They are required to be there, however, in order to draw an expense allowance of $120 for each day they’re on the job, meant to defray the cost of traveling to Olympia and sheltering and feeding themselves on those unhappy occasions when no lobbyist is nearby with an urge to buy someone a steak and bourbon.

The group backing the recall says Ericksen claimed the expense allowance for at least three days when he wasn’t there.  His attorney, Jackson Maynard, told the judge that the senator claimed the allowance—mistakenly—on one of those three days, then paid it back. He said he had not yet checked with his client about the other two instances.

Michael Shepard of Bellingham, who brought the recall petition to court, says his group may take the expense allowance complaint to the Legislative Ethics Board. It has authority to reprimand a legislator, but little more.

Shepard acknowledges that it’s hard to prove whether or not the senator has visited the Capitol on any given day.

“We’ve asked his office repeatedly for his meeting schedule,” Shepard said. “We can’t get it. We even tried under the Freedom of Information Act, but there’s been no response.

“Our method now is to check TVW’s daily videotapes of committee meetings and floor sessions, to see if he shows up in the video.” TVW is Olympia’s public access channel.

But even if he doesn’t, is there a case for recall? Not really, Judge Montoya-Lewis observed.

“I don’t think there’s anything the court can find here that they (legislators) have a legal responsibility to attend a certain number of meetings,” the judge said in her ruling. “There’s no standard that’s laid out in the statutes. There’s no description. There’s no case law that indicates what discharge of his duties under his oath of office means,” she said.

Our state’s constitution does pay some attention to the issue of serving two masters, one in each Washington, and some Ericksen critics have wondered why the recall group didn’t go there.

Article II, Section 14 says no person is eligible to be a member of the legislature if they “hold a civil office with the United States or any other power.”

The section goes on to say that if a member of the legislature is elected or appointed to any federal office “his acceptance thereof shall vacate his seat.”

The section was recited to Senator Ericksen during his town hall gathering. He was prepared.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled on that back in 1936, he informed the audience. The judges decided it applied only to full time, permanent jobs—not the 120-day assignment to which Ericksen commutes.

The senator was asked about complaints from colleagues, who say Ericksen’s absences have created chaos in the state Senate schedule, with bills being held up pending Ericksen’s availability.

“Not true,” he told reporters. “Kevin Ranker has missed more votes than I have,” Ericksen said of the 40th District Democrat.

Question: Has it ever happened that things come to a stop while they wait to see if you’re going to be there?

“There are 25 members in the majority coalition, and they all have lives.”

Question: But your situation is a bit different this year?”

“There are different people gone on any given day. So it was inaccurate for him to say that, and Kevin’s being very partisan.”

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Origins and Evolutions Exhibit

11:00am

“Origins and Evolutions: Five Generations” can be seen from 11am-4pm Tues.-Thurs., and by appointment, at least through May 22 at Gallery Syre, 465 Stuart Rd. The show gathers together…

Tulip Poster Artists, Past and Present

11:00am

The fifth annual “Tulip Poster Artists, Past and Present” exhibit can be seen from 11am-5pm Wednesday through Sunday through May 2 in Anacortes at the Scott Milo Gallery, 420 Commercial Ave.…

Briggs Shore at Good Earth

11:00am

Vases, planters and drinking vessels by Briggs Shore will be on display and for sale from 11am-5pm Mondays through Saturdays (closed Tuesdays) and 12pm-5pm Sundays through April 30 at Good…

Recycled Art & Resource Expo

11:00am

A “Recycled Art & Resource Expo” can be visited from 11am-4pm Tuesdays through Saturdays through April 30 at Allied Arts, 1418 Cornwall Ave. In addition to providing a platform for…

An Artist's Universe

10:00am

View painter and mixed-media master David Syre’s latest installation, “An Artist’s Universe,” hanging throughout the corridors, lobby and dining room of Hotel Bellwether and the Lighthouse…

Art-iversary Exhibit

10:00am

From 10am-5:30pm Mondays through Saturdays through April 30, celebrate 20 years of ownership for Sheri Wright of Fourth Corner Frames, 311 W. Holly St. A wide variety of works are for sale as…

Scatter Sunshine

11:00am

From 11am-5pm Wednesday through Sunday, visit La Conner’s Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum, 703 S. Second St. Currently on display are “Scatter Sunshine: La Conner in Bloom…

Tulip Poster Artists, Past and Present

11:00am

The fifth annual “Tulip Poster Artists, Past and Present” exhibit can be seen from 11am-5pm Wednesday through Sunday through May 2 in Anacortes at the Scott Milo Gallery, 420 Commercial Ave.…

Spring Into Art

11:00am

View works by Stanwood-Camano Arts Guild members from 11am-5pm Wed.-Sat. in Stanwood at A Guilded Gallery, 8700 271st St. NW. A “Spring Into Art” regional juried art show can be seen through…

Briggs Shore at Good Earth

11:00am

Vases, planters and drinking vessels by Briggs Shore will be on display and for sale from 11am-5pm Mondays through Saturdays (closed Tuesdays) and 12pm-5pm Sundays through April 30 at Good…

Recycled Art & Resource Expo

11:00am

A “Recycled Art & Resource Expo” can be visited from 11am-4pm Tuesdays through Saturdays through April 30 at Allied Arts, 1418 Cornwall Ave. In addition to providing a platform for…

Whatcom Art Market

11:00am

Works by as many as 45 Whatcom Art Guild members can be viewed from 11am-5pm Tuesdays through Sundays at Whatcom Art Market, 1103 11th St.

Origins and Evolutions Exhibit

11:00am

“Origins and Evolutions: Five Generations” can be seen from 11am-4pm Tues.-Thurs., and by appointment, at least through May 22 at Gallery Syre, 465 Stuart Rd. The show gathers together…

A Road Well Traveled

12:00pm

“Max Benjamin: A Road Well Traveled” can be seen from 12pm-4pm Thursdays through Sundays at La Conner’s Museum of Northwest Art, 121 First St. The solo exhibit featuring the work of the…

Great Skagit Scavenger Hunt

12:00pm

Individuals and teams can participate in COVID-safe activities and challenges during the Great Skagit Scavenger Hunt taking place April 16-18. Participants will have the opportunity to earn…

Seeds of Culture at Whatcom Museum

12:00pm

View “Seeds of Culture: The Portraits and Voices of Native American Women,” “Fluid Formations: The Legacy of Glass in the Pacific Northwest,” “Jac Trautman: The Specter of the Indigenous,”…

Tiptoe Through the Treasures

9:00am

Peruse collectibles, vintage treasures, furniture,  dishes, crystal, home decor and housewares the Skagit County Historical Museum has been collecting when you reserve a spot to attend the…

An Artist's Universe

10:00am

View painter and mixed-media master David Syre’s latest installation, “An Artist’s Universe,” hanging throughout the corridors, lobby and dining room of Hotel Bellwether and the Lighthouse…

Art-iversary Exhibit

10:00am

From 10am-5:30pm Mondays through Saturdays through April 30, celebrate 20 years of ownership for Sheri Wright of Fourth Corner Frames, 311 W. Holly St. A wide variety of works are for sale as…

McKnight and DeLacy

10:00am

Mixed-media works by Bainbridge Island-based artist Aaron McKnight and sculptures by Marceil DeLacy can be viewed from 10am-5pm Fridays through Sundays through April 25 in Edison at Smith &…

Spring Into Art

11:00am

View works by Stanwood-Camano Arts Guild members from 11am-5pm Wed.-Sat. in Stanwood at A Guilded Gallery, 8700 271st St. NW. A “Spring Into Art” regional juried art show can be seen through…

The Work of Jesus Guillén

11:00am

“The Work of Jesus Guillen: An Artistic Legacy of Love and Courage” can be seen from 11am-4pm Fridays through Sundays through May 2 in La Conner at the Skagit County Historical Museum, 501 S.…

Briggs Shore at Good Earth

11:00am

Vases, planters and drinking vessels by Briggs Shore will be on display and for sale from 11am-5pm Mondays through Saturdays (closed Tuesdays) and 12pm-5pm Sundays through April 30 at Good…

Whatcom Art Market

11:00am

Works by as many as 45 Whatcom Art Guild members can be viewed from 11am-5pm Tuesdays through Sundays at Whatcom Art Market, 1103 11th St.

Scatter Sunshine

11:00am

From 11am-5pm Wednesday through Sunday, visit La Conner’s Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum, 703 S. Second St. Currently on display are “Scatter Sunshine: La Conner in Bloom…

Rock, Paper, Paint

11:00am

“Rock, Paper, Paint” shows from 11am-4pm Fridays through Sundays through April 25 in Edison at i.e. gallery, 5800 Cains Court. The exhibit features new “drop” oil paintings by Allen Moe, rock…

Tulip Poster Artists, Past and Present

11:00am

The fifth annual “Tulip Poster Artists, Past and Present” exhibit can be seen from 11am-5pm Wednesday through Sunday through May 2 in Anacortes at the Scott Milo Gallery, 420 Commercial Ave.…

Sculpture Northwest Exhibit

11:00am

The works of 15 Sculpture Northwest artists can be viewed both indoors and out from 11am-5pm Fridays through Sundays (and by appointment) through April 23 on Camano Island at Matzke Fine Art…

Origins and Evolutions Exhibit

11:00am

“Origins and Evolutions: Five Generations” can be seen from 11am-4pm Tues.-Thurs., and by appointment, at least through May 22 at Gallery Syre, 465 Stuart Rd. The show gathers together…

Recycled Art & Resource Expo

11:00am

A “Recycled Art & Resource Expo” can be visited from 11am-4pm Tuesdays through Saturdays through April 30 at Allied Arts, 1418 Cornwall Ave. In addition to providing a platform for…

Spring Juried Exhibit and More

12:00pm

A “Spring Juried Exhibit,” “Winter Textile Explorations,” Lisa McShane’s “A Decade of Landscapes,” and Ron Pattern’s “The Seasonal Forest” can be viewed from 12pm-4:30pm Thursdays through…

Seeds of Culture at Whatcom Museum

12:00pm

View “Seeds of Culture: The Portraits and Voices of Native American Women,” “Fluid Formations: The Legacy of Glass in the Pacific Northwest,” “Jac Trautman: The Specter of the Indigenous,”…

A Road Well Traveled

12:00pm

“Max Benjamin: A Road Well Traveled” can be seen from 12pm-4pm Thursdays through Sundays at La Conner’s Museum of Northwest Art, 121 First St. The solo exhibit featuring the work of the…

Green Home Tours and Talks

10:00am

Sustainable Connections’ first virtual Green Home Tours & Talks takes place Saturday and Sunday on Zoom. Attendees at the online event can take virtual tours of six green homes in Bellingham…

Art-iversary Exhibit

10:00am

From 10am-5:30pm Mondays through Saturdays through April 30, celebrate 20 years of ownership for Sheri Wright of Fourth Corner Frames, 311 W. Holly St. A wide variety of works are for sale as…

McKnight and DeLacy

10:00am

Mixed-media works by Bainbridge Island-based artist Aaron McKnight and sculptures by Marceil DeLacy can be viewed from 10am-5pm Fridays through Sundays through April 25 in Edison at Smith &…

An Artist's Universe

10:00am

View painter and mixed-media master David Syre’s latest installation, “An Artist’s Universe,” hanging throughout the corridors, lobby and dining room of Hotel Bellwether and the Lighthouse…

Briggs Shore at Good Earth

11:00am

Vases, planters and drinking vessels by Briggs Shore will be on display and for sale from 11am-5pm Mondays through Saturdays (closed Tuesdays) and 12pm-5pm Sundays through April 30 at Good…

Rock, Paper, Paint

11:00am

“Rock, Paper, Paint” shows from 11am-4pm Fridays through Sundays through April 25 in Edison at i.e. gallery, 5800 Cains Court. The exhibit features new “drop” oil paintings by Allen Moe, rock…

Sculpture Northwest Exhibit

11:00am

The works of 15 Sculpture Northwest artists can be viewed both indoors and out from 11am-5pm Fridays through Sundays (and by appointment) through April 23 on Camano Island at Matzke Fine Art…

Spring Into Art

11:00am

View works by Stanwood-Camano Arts Guild members from 11am-5pm Wed.-Sat. in Stanwood at A Guilded Gallery, 8700 271st St. NW. A “Spring Into Art” regional juried art show can be seen through…

Scatter Sunshine

11:00am

From 11am-5pm Wednesday through Sunday, visit La Conner’s Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum, 703 S. Second St. Currently on display are “Scatter Sunshine: La Conner in Bloom…

The Work of Jesus Guillén

11:00am

“The Work of Jesus Guillen: An Artistic Legacy of Love and Courage” can be seen from 11am-4pm Fridays through Sundays through May 2 in La Conner at the Skagit County Historical Museum, 501 S.…

Whatcom Art Market

11:00am

Works by as many as 45 Whatcom Art Guild members can be viewed from 11am-5pm Tuesdays through Sundays at Whatcom Art Market, 1103 11th St.

Recycled Art & Resource Expo

11:00am

A “Recycled Art & Resource Expo” can be visited from 11am-4pm Tuesdays through Saturdays through April 30 at Allied Arts, 1418 Cornwall Ave. In addition to providing a platform for…

Origins and Evolutions Exhibit

11:00am

“Origins and Evolutions: Five Generations” can be seen from 11am-4pm Tues.-Thurs., and by appointment, at least through May 22 at Gallery Syre, 465 Stuart Rd. The show gathers together…

Tulip Poster Artists, Past and Present

11:00am

The fifth annual “Tulip Poster Artists, Past and Present” exhibit can be seen from 11am-5pm Wednesday through Sunday through May 2 in Anacortes at the Scott Milo Gallery, 420 Commercial Ave.…

Spring Juried Exhibit and More

12:00pm

A “Spring Juried Exhibit,” “Winter Textile Explorations,” Lisa McShane’s “A Decade of Landscapes,” and Ron Pattern’s “The Seasonal Forest” can be viewed from 12pm-4:30pm Thursdays through…

A Road Well Traveled

12:00pm

“Max Benjamin: A Road Well Traveled” can be seen from 12pm-4pm Thursdays through Sundays at La Conner’s Museum of Northwest Art, 121 First St. The solo exhibit featuring the work of the…

Seeds of Culture at Whatcom Museum

12:00pm

View “Seeds of Culture: The Portraits and Voices of Native American Women,” “Fluid Formations: The Legacy of Glass in the Pacific Northwest,” “Jac Trautman: The Specter of the Indigenous,”…

Tulip Pedal Bike Ride

7:00am

Choose from 20-, 40-, and 60-mile routes to ride on your own as part of a modified Tulip Pedal Bike Ride taking place from 7am-4pm near the tulip fields between Mount Vernon and La Conner…

An Artist's Universe

10:00am

View painter and mixed-media master David Syre’s latest installation, “An Artist’s Universe,” hanging throughout the corridors, lobby and dining room of Hotel Bellwether and the Lighthouse…

McKnight and DeLacy

10:00am

Mixed-media works by Bainbridge Island-based artist Aaron McKnight and sculptures by Marceil DeLacy can be viewed from 10am-5pm Fridays through Sundays through April 25 in Edison at Smith &…

Sculpture Northwest Exhibit

11:00am

The works of 15 Sculpture Northwest artists can be viewed both indoors and out from 11am-5pm Fridays through Sundays (and by appointment) through April 23 on Camano Island at Matzke Fine Art…

Scatter Sunshine

11:00am

From 11am-5pm Wednesday through Sunday, visit La Conner’s Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum, 703 S. Second St. Currently on display are “Scatter Sunshine: La Conner in Bloom…

Whatcom Art Market

11:00am

Works by as many as 45 Whatcom Art Guild members can be viewed from 11am-5pm Tuesdays through Sundays at Whatcom Art Market, 1103 11th St.

The Work of Jesus Guillén

11:00am

“The Work of Jesus Guillen: An Artistic Legacy of Love and Courage” can be seen from 11am-4pm Fridays through Sundays through May 2 in La Conner at the Skagit County Historical Museum, 501 S.…

Tulip Poster Artists, Past and Present

11:00am

The fifth annual “Tulip Poster Artists, Past and Present” exhibit can be seen from 11am-5pm Wednesday through Sunday through May 2 in Anacortes at the Scott Milo Gallery, 420 Commercial Ave.…

Rock, Paper, Paint

11:00am

“Rock, Paper, Paint” shows from 11am-4pm Fridays through Sundays through April 25 in Edison at i.e. gallery, 5800 Cains Court. The exhibit features new “drop” oil paintings by Allen Moe, rock…

Briggs Shore at Good Earth

11:00am

Vases, planters and drinking vessels by Briggs Shore will be on display and for sale from 11am-5pm Mondays through Saturdays (closed Tuesdays) and 12pm-5pm Sundays through April 30 at Good…

A Road Well Traveled

12:00pm

“Max Benjamin: A Road Well Traveled” can be seen from 12pm-4pm Thursdays through Sundays at La Conner’s Museum of Northwest Art, 121 First St. The solo exhibit featuring the work of the…

Seeds of Culture at Whatcom Museum

12:00pm

View “Seeds of Culture: The Portraits and Voices of Native American Women,” “Fluid Formations: The Legacy of Glass in the Pacific Northwest,” “Jac Trautman: The Specter of the Indigenous,”…

Commemorative Group Reading

4:00pm

Red Wheelbarrow Writers and Writers on the Wall will join Village Books for a Commemorative Group Reading at 4pm on Zoom. The virtual event will commemorate loss in the year of COVID. Those…

Kitchen Table Tunes with Robert Blake

5:00pm

Bellingham-based singer and songwriter Robert Sarazin Blake hosts a “From the Kitchen Table” concert from 5pm-7pm on Facebook Live. Tonight, he’ll be joined by Willie Carlisle. The livestream…