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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Hundreds show up at town hall meeting

By Asia Fields

Sen. Doug Ericksen faced a divided room at his town hall meeting as a mix of roughly 700 supportive and angry constituents filled the auditorium at Meridian High School to maximum capacity.

Ericksen, who was an early supporter of Donald J. Trump, is a state senator representing Washington’s 42nd district, which includes north Bellingham. He was appointed as the temporary communication director of the EPA in January, a job he holds in tandem with his position as senator.

Michael Shepard was one of the organizers of the effort to recall Ericksen from his senate position. He feels Ericksen has been unengaged with local issues because of his role in the EPA.

Photo by Asia Fields

“I’m one of many constituents in the 42nd district who have been really frustrated with the lack of attention, attendance and prioritization that our senator has had for issues of our county, our district and our state,” Shepard said.

Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis ruled the recall petition was based on insufficient grounds Thursday, March 2. Shepard said constituents would still put pressure on the senator.

He said that over 600 people contacted him calling for the town hall meeting with Ericksen.

The Riveters Collective helped organize the town hall and distributed papers urging constituents to ask Ericksen to choose between his two positions.

Those critical of the senator questioned his ability to fulfill his duties as state senator. Ericksen has missed 75 percent of scheduled committee meetings this legislative session, while maintaining his full base salary.

Senior Galen Herz submitted written testimony in support of the recall effort. Herz sees the lack of minimum standards for senators in Washington as an issue.

“There are times when new evidence comes forward, when people make new discoveries. I think it’s always funny when people say the science is decided. Every single time they have been wrong, going back in history.”

Doug Ericksen

“He seems to have covered his bases legally and there’s no legal reason that he can’t do both jobs [but] it’s morally wrong,” Herz said.

Ericksen spoke to the division in the room, calling for respectful dialogue. Despite rules prohibiting yelling, audience members shouted in support and opposition to the senator’s statements. Some yelled that Ericksen was a “double dipper” throughout the meeting.

Photo by Asia Fields

In response, Ericksen said that while he has missed some meetings and votes, he has been productive in committees. He responded to an audience member who claimed he had missed the most votes of all senators in Washington.

“To date in Olympia, I have missed 10 votes on the Senate floor,” Ericksen said. Ericksen then named three of the four state senators who have missed more votes than him.

Ericksen said he received legal counsel before accepting the position in the EPA and that he is not violating any state or federal laws.

Elizabeth Hartsoch, a research analyst in the Office of Survey Research at Western, was one constituent who believed Ericksen should still have to choose one position.

“Every day when I show up for my job, I think about all of you who are paying my salary. I try to honor that investment in my time and really value that I need to do a good job,” Elizabeth Hartsoch said. “My question for you, Senator Ericksen, is: when are you going to resign one of your jobs so that you can do justice to your constituents?”

Herz, who is co-president for Students for Renewable Energy, was also concerned with Ericksen’s stance on climate change.

“He did a lot of redirection and went really vague. It made it seem like he was trying to address hard questions but [he] really wasn’t too specific. And one of the things that stood out for me was his climate denialism,” Herz said.

An audience member challenged Ericksen, saying a majority of climate scientists believe climate change is real and caused by human activity.

Photo by Asia Fields

“When you throw those numbers at me, you have to take a long, hard look at who’s producing those numbers and what it actually means,” Ericksen said.

Ericksen implied most of the scientists who believe climate change is human-caused are under-qualified.

“A lot of these people are anthropology majors or Ph.D.s, they have Ph.D.s in economics,” Ericksen said, with loud boos cutting him off. “I’m just letting you know what’s going on. There are many people who say humans have an impact on climate. [But] what is the magnitude of that impact?”

Ericksen argued that these climate scientists’ claims should be questioned.

“There are times when new evidence comes forward, when people make new discoveries. I think it’s always funny when people say the science is decided. Every single time they have been wrong, going back in history,” Ericksen said.

The statement was met with loud mixed reaction. Despite his stance, Ericksen said he supported research and development of clean energy.

Ericksen’s proposed Preventing Economic Disruption Act also came under fire. It seeks to increase penalties for protesters who negatively impact economic activity, such as by blocking freeways or railways.

Photo by Harrison Amelang

“I do not believe you have a constitutional right to go stand in the middle of the freeway and block traffic. If you decide that you want to take that action, you have to understand that you’re breaking the law. And the legislature has the right to create a sentence enhancement for you,” Ericksen said.

Ericksen said that the bill also holds liable those who fund such protesters.

Ericksen said the bill was referred to the Law and Justice Committee, and wouldn’t pass this year, evoking some applause.

Charlie Gilbride, a Bellingham Technical College student, was one audience member who disagreed with the bill. Gilbride said that the civil rights movement is an example of why disruptive protests are sometimes necessary.

“A lot of people paint that movement to be really peaceful and it really wasn’t. One of Martin Luther King’s famous quotes is, ‘A riot is the language of the unheard,’” Gilbride said.

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