In the northwesternmost corner of Washington state, campaigning has begun for the competitive and valuable state senate seat representing the 42nd district.
The seat had long been held by Republican Doug Ericksen, who died in December 2021 after testing positive for COVID-19. Ericksen was re-elected in 2018 by just 45 votes.
After Ericksen’s death, the Whatcom County Council appointed 22 year-old Simon Sefzik to the position. Sefzik, a Ferndale resident, former staffer in the Trump White House and summa cum laude graduate from Patrick Henry College, is running to retain the position.
Although he is the youngest person to ever serve in the Washington state Senate, Sefzik sees his age as a potential benefit rather than a drawback.
“The decisions being made in Olympia and Washington, D.C. are going to affect my generation far more than they’re going to affect the generation of the people making those decisions,” Sefzik said. “It’s important for young people to have a voice at the table because these decisions are going to affect all of us, whether we like it or not.”
Identifying as a moderate conservative, Sefzik’s legislative priorities include reducing the cost of living, bolstering law enforcement and promoting governmental transparency.
“Sometimes, my rule of thumb is that if you have frustrations from people on the far-left and people on the far-right, typically I take that as a sign that I’m doing my job well,” Sefzik said. “Most people are towards the center on some of these things.”
Sefzik’s campaign officially began June 16 at a kick-off event at the Bellingham Fishermen’s Pavilion. The event hosted guest speakers such as District 2 Port Commissioner Ken Bell, former Port Commissioner Dan Robbins and Jeff Kent, a former KGMI talk radio host and chairman of the Rules Committee of the Republican Party.
Kent, who has served in RNC leadership for over 20 years, symbolized the party’s strong support behind Sefzik’s campaign. In his remarks, Kent emphasized the need for Republicans to win the 42nd district seat alongside a handful of other key races in order to take control of Washington’s legislature.
The kick-off event was able to raise $60,000 for the campaign, according to Sefzik’s official Facebook page. Sefzik’s campaign has currently raised over $236,000, while Democratic challenger Sharon Shewmake has raised approximately $131,000 and Republican primary opponent Ben Elenbaas has raised around $102,000, according to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.
Elenbaas, a Custer farmer, employee at Cherry Point Refinery, member of the Whatcom County Council and a graduate of Western Washington University’s College of the Environment, announced his candidacy in January. According to his campaign website, his priorities are agriculture and energy. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment on his campaign.
Elenbaas, who has served on the council since 2020, was also considered to replace Sen. Ericksen.
Challenging both Republicans is Democrat Sharon Shewmake, who serves as state representative for Position 2 of the 42nd district. Elected to the legislature in 2018, Shewmake’s priorities are housing, cost of living and environmental sustainability.
Shewmake is also a professor of economics and energy policy at Western, and holds a Ph.D. in agricultural and resource economics from the University of California, Davis. She said she feels these credentials add to her capabilities as a candidate and legislator.
“I’m the only economist in the legislature – I think that’s a really useful skill set, to be able to think through unintended consequences, especially when we’re proposing economic proposals,” Shewmake said. “I also think it’s really helpful to have a research background.”
Shewmake also sees the importance of the 42nd district state senate seat, which she emphasized that, if lost by Republicans, would prevent a Republican majority in the state legislature.
“I’m an empirical economist,” Shewmake said. “That means that I take data, and I try to answer questions that matter to me, to policymakers, to people in our nation – I think that the evidence-based approach is found much more in the Democratic Party than the Republican Party.”
Shewmake also emphasized that access to abortion is on the ballot, as Republican parties across various states pass restrictions on abortion. Sefzik has not specified how he would vote on abortion-related legislation.
“Several initiative processes have established Roe as being the leading law in Washington,” said Sefzik, who was interviewed prior to the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. “I don’t anticipate, if Roe were to get overturned, anything changing at the state level.”
The issue that Sefzik, Shewmake and Elenbaas seem to agree on – in interviews and on campaign websites – is that Whatcom County faces an affordable housing crisis.
“I worry deeply that Bellingham is going to only be for millionaires if we don’t do more work on the housing front,” Shewmake said. Sefzik echoed a similar sentiment, lamenting he felt he couldn’t afford to live in the county he represents.
The primary election will continue until Aug. 2, when the contest will be narrowed down to two candidates to be elected on Nov. 8. If you are a resident of Washington state, you can register to vote at votewa.gov. You can also visit the official campaign websites of Rep. Shewmake, Sen. Sefzik and Councilmember Elenbaas.
Finn Kurtz (they/he) is the Opinion and Outreach Editor of The Front for summer quarter. He is a history and political science double major and a journalism/news editorial minor in their fourth year at Western. In his free time, he enjoys looking in bookstores, going on walks in the woods, and trivia.
They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.