News

Absent Representation

Recall effort against Ericksen goes to court

Attend

What: Sen. Doug Ericksen Town Hall Meeting

Where: Meridian High School, 194 W. Laurel Rd., Bellingham

Cost: Free

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A hearing for the effort to recall Sen. Doug Ericksen is set for this week before Whatcom Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis.

The judge will decide whether there are grounds for the recall, which would allow supporters to continue to the next stage of collecting enough signatures to put the issue before voters.

The recall effort was started Feb. 9 by some voters in Ericksen’s 42nd District who said the Ferndale Republican wasn’t adequately doing his job as a state senator while also working in Washington, D.C., as part of President Donald Trump’s transition team.

Ericksen began serving as the communications lead at the Environmental Protection Agency in January, a temporary position lasting up to 120 days. Ericksen has said he can do both jobs.

The state Legislature started its 105-day session Jan. 9.

Ericksen chairs the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications committee, is vice chair of the Financial Institutions and Insurance committee, and serves on the Transportation and Rules committees.

“Since early January 2017 constituents of Washington’s 42nd District have been deeply concerned about the ethical and constitutional implications of Sen. Doug Ericksen’s decision to accept a communication director position in Washington, D.C., without resigning from his Senate seat,” petitioners noted in a press release. “We have attempted dialogue with Sen. Ericksen through phone, email, and personal visits to his office in Olympia. So far, our senator has not returned our requests for dialogue. Our senator has also not been available in Olympia to meet with his constituents. During this time, Sen. Ericksen continues to be absent from the majority of his expected legislative duties in Olympia.”

Ericksen has continued to take his state Senate salary of $45,474 a year. While Ericksen claimed in a news conference he would not submit receipts for his daily expenses, disclosure requests indicate he has in fact taken his per diem stipend.

“The record provided by Senate Council on behalf of the Secretary of the Senate’s Office as a result of a public records request, clearly shows that he has collected a $120 per diem payment for 16 days between Jan. 9 and Feb. 9,” notes Elizabeth Hartsoch, a resident of the 42nd District and representative of the Riveters Collective, a progressive civic action group in Whatcom County and neighboring communities. “These include two days when he missed 100 percent of his committee meetings, the day of the press conference when he said he wasn’t taking the stipend, the day of the originally scheduled press conference that he missed because he wasn’t in Olympia until late in the day, and the seven days where there were no scheduled meetings of his committees and therefore no easy way to verify whether he was present in Olympia.”

Ericksen has stepped up his public communications, assuring voters in the 42nd District that work is being done and that he is available for votes on the Senate floor, highighting several important measures that have moved forward this session. However, colleagues like 40th District Senator Kevin Ranker describe the scene as chaotic, with bills withheld and then rushed to the Senate floor depending on the availability of the Ferndale Republican.

The situation is untenable, with Ericksen unable to fully discharge his constitutional duties, according to documents filed with the court.

“This is not good government,” Ranker said.

A complaint against Ericksen was filed last month with the Washington State Legislative Ethics Board. The complaint requested the committee investigate ethical and constitutional violations related to Ericksen’s decision not to resign while being absent from his duties in Washington state. Parallel to that effort, a recall petition was filed with the Whatcom County Auditor’s Office. Under Washington law, that requires administrative review by Superior Court to move forward.

If the Whatcom County judge rules the complaint fits the criteria for a recall, supporters will then have six months to submit signatures from at least 18,600 registered voters in the 42nd District in order to have a recall election, according to the secretary of state.

If Ericksen is recalled, Whatcom County Republican Party officers would offer three names for the County Council. Council would then appoint one to serve out the remainder of Ericksen’s term.

If Ericksen is recalled before May 15, an election to replace him could be staged as early as the 2017 primary and general elections; if he is recalled after May 15, voters would pick his replacement in the primary and general elections in 2018.

Illustration by John McColloch. Portions of this article were compiled from Associate Press.

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