Ericksen a tough out for Democrats in 2018

We take an early look at who is running for office this year in Whatcom County. Voters will elect a state senator, state representatives, a county councillor and prosecutor.

We take an early look at who is running for office this year in Whatcom County. Voters will elect a state senator, state representatives, a county councillor and prosecutor.

UPDATE: The campaign treasurer for Tim Ballew II, who is running as a Democrat against Doug Ericksen for his state Senate seat in the 42nd Legislative District, turned in two weeks’ worth of contributions to the Public Disclosure Commission Tuesday, April 17, after this article posted at 8 a.m. The article below has been changed as of 3:15 p.m. Tuesday to reflect the current total for Ballew’s campaign contributions: $14,105.

When it comes to the 2018 elections, the worst day for the local Democratic Party ​so far this year was Jan. 8. That’s when Doug Ericksen, the Republican senator from the 42nd Legislative District (north Whatcom County), announced he would seek reelection.

With its ideal climate for baseless political rumor, Whatcom County had been abuzz for a good year or more with word that Ericksen would not run again in 2018. That would have been good news for Democrats, who haven’t fielded a successful candidate in the 42nd since then-Rep. Kelli Linville in 2008. Despite Ericksen’s status as a major target for removal by Democrats, they came nowhere close to ousting him the last time he ran, in 2014. They had a known and respected quantity in candidate Seth Fleetwood that year, but Republicans successfully painted the former Whatcom County Council member and Bellingham city councillor as an outsider who had just picked up a 42nd District address in order to challenge Ericksen.

Democrats were eager to unseat Ericksen in 2014 because he was doing a lot of damage as chairman of the Energy, Environment and Technology Commitee when Republicans had a majority in the Senate. Ericksen was demoted for 2018 after Democrats took control of the Senate, but Ericksen’s approval rating with Democrats (assuming such a thing were measured) surely has fallen even closer to 0 percent after he served as a top official in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in Washington state and then worked a temporary Environmental Protection Agency job right after Trump took office. Moonlighting with the EPA while serving in the state Senate didn’t sit well with progressives, who launched a recall effort that went nowhere.

Fleetwood lost to Ericksen in 2014 by 17 percentage points. This year’s round of victims — er, candidates — are starting to line up on the Democratic side. So far, Bellingham Council member Pinky Vargas and former Lummi Indian Business Council chairman and current Whatcom County Council member Tim Ballew II have announced they will challenge Ericksen. (Former Bellingham Port commissioner Mike McAuley was in fact the first to announce a run for Ericksen’s seat as a Democrat, but he stepped aside to support Ballew.)

Among Ericksen’s many advantages is his well-endowed campaign fund. The money continues to roll in. Ericksen’s campaign raised $6,450 in March alone, according to state Public Dislcosure Commission records, bringing his total war chest to almost $49,000.

Between the two challengers, Vargas is getting most of the financial backing as the candidate of the city’s liberal establishment. Her campaign has raised more than $30,000 so far, including $1,000 each from Greg Linden of Seattle and Patrick Baker-Hinman of Bellingham.

Ballew has raised $14,105, including $2,000 from Jim Swift, owner of Rocket Donuts and other eateries (full disclosure: I’m a regular at Zane Burger); and $2,000 each from the Swinomish Tribal Community, based near La Conner, and the Spokane Tribe of Indians.

I’m encouraged by a possibility on the House side of the 42nd District. Chiara D’Angelo announced on social media early this month that she is considering a run for Rep. Luanne Van Werven’s seat. Shortly after, she posted on Facebook that she and her team had discussed which office would be best for her, and that she would announce her decision about whether — and where — to run during the week candidates file to get on the ballot (May 14-18). Rep. Van Werven has held Position 1 in the 42nd District since 2014. Republicans really have a stranglehold on the 42nd, and D’Angelo would be a longshot candidate. She is most well known for spending 63 hours in May 2015 on the anchor chain of the Arctic Challenger on Bellingham Bay, in order to prevent that vessel from joining an exploratory drilling expedition off the Alaska coast. (The U.S. Coast Guard initially fined D’Angelo $20,000 for her action; she told me the fine was reduced to $5,000 and was paid.) Since her action, D’Angelo has been tireless as an environmental educator and citizen lobbyist. I don’t live in the 42nd but if D’Angelo runs, I will almost certainly knock on doors for her. She would need an irreproachable campaign manager, so I’ll wait to see who she chooses.

The one other local seat in the state Legislature worth noting at this point is Kris Lytton’s, in the 40th Legislative District (south Bellingham, San Juan Islands, Mount Vernon, Burlington, Anacortes). Lytton, a Democrat, announced her retirement after eight years in the state House. The opening has attracted several candidates so far: Democrats Rud Browne, Tom Pasma, Alex Ramel and Debra Lekanoff; and Republican Michael Petrish. The Republican had no reported money raised as of Tuesday morning, April 17. Donors who prefer Republicans would do well to spend their money elsewhere, in any case. Democrats’ money likes Ramel so far. His campaign leads the field with $17,633 in contributions, which includes an in-kind contribution of $3,500 from Mark and Marisa Ramel of New York state, for “web design, branding and logo design.” Browne has raised $9,241. The restaurant king Swift has thrown his support behind Browne, to the tune of $2,000. Pasma, from Skagit County, has raised $5,479, including $1,000 each from Nan Haberman, Skagit River Chiropractic, Kob Retailers and “THC, a Division of the High Co.”

Whatcom County prosecutor, the only county-level partisan race, will be interesting for the first time in decades. Dave McEachran will not seek a 12th four-year term in that seat, which he has held since 1975. While McEachran’s formal announcement came just last week, it’s been widely understood in political circles that McEachran, a Republican, was in his final term. Two men so far have filed documents with the PDC indicating their intent to replace McEachran: Bellingham Assistant City Attorney James Erb and Eric Richey, chief criminal deputy prosecuting attorney for Whatcom County, aka McEachran’s right-hand man when it comes to criminal cases. Erb and Richey have both declared themselves to be Democrats. Erb has been the more active campaigner so far, attracting $13,997 in donations and already spending $6,519 of that. In one campaign email, Erb associated himself with the teenager-led movement against school violence and expressed support for stricter gun laws. Sure, Erb would be in a position to aggressively prosecute defendants accused of gun violence, but as prosecutor he would have no direct role in making gun-control laws. So that mailer came across as riding the coattails of a popular movement more than saying anything substantive.

Erb seemed even more disingenuous when he tried to take credit for McEachran’s retirement announcement in another mailer.

“Clearly our movement is getting traction because just this week the incumbent publicly announced that he will not seek another term,” read Erb’s flier, dated April 11. This statement rings false after a quick review of PDC filings. Richey, McEachran’s No. 1 on the criminal side, registered his campaign on Feb. 21, five days before Erb announced his own campaign. Now would Richey really launch a campaign against his own boss, if he were running yet again? Here’s hoping the Erb campaign keeps its communications within the scope of reality and relevance. No more overstating his clout or glomming on to causes that have little to do with the day-to-day work of county prosecutor. Educated voters know better.

Finally, a Whatcom County Council seat is up for an off-year election this November. The seat vacated by Todd Donovan after he ran for a different seat on the council was filled temporarily by Ballew, appointed in January in a 5-1 vote of council. Ballew told council that if he were selected, he would not seek to fill out the final year of the term in the November 2018 elections. This open, nonpartisan seat so far has drawn two candidates: Carol Frazey, who is liked by Democrats; and Eric Bostrom, who just won’t go away. Bostrom is a Bellingham street preacher with an anti-Christian message of intolerance. His run last year for Bellingham City Council showed that his burn-in-Hell message has limited appeal. He couldn’t get 20 percent of the vote, despite the bump that should come with the endorsement of the Whatcom Republicans. Has the county GOP learned its lesson? It’s one thing to back someone who spreads hate and intolerance. It’s something else altogether to back a hateful, intolerant loser. Someone tell me how Republicans benefit from associating with Bostrom.

The full slate of candidates for all local races will be known after the week candidates in Washington state must file to get on the ballot: May 14-18.

About Ralph Schwartz

Posting Citizen Journalist • Member since May 23, 2014

After writing for NWCitizen for five years, Ralph Schwartz helped launch a new Whatcom County newspaper, Cascadia Daily News, joining the staff in December 2021 as government reporter. Before the Daily [...]

Comments by Readers

Dick Conoboy

Apr 17, 2018


Thanks, at least now I know who the players are.

Maybe Doug can use that money he got for all his work in DC while still on the legislature dole in Olympia to reimburse Whatcom County for the costs of the Trump visit to Lynden.  A token of his appreciation so to speak and a demonstration of his comittment to his home state and county.

As for “Between the two challengers, Vargas is getting almost all of the financial backing as the candidate of the city’s liberal establishment.” I think you left off “neo” in front of “liberal”.   That be where the Dems are nowadays.

Chiara has a long, long row to hoe as you suggested.  Maybe she needs to cut her teeth on some local boards, commissions and get the lay of the land first.  A brave young woman but that is not enough.




Michael Riordan

Apr 22, 2018

Ralph, you ignore the fact that 2018 is not 2014, and a Great Blue Wave is washing over this nation in reaction to a real estate mogul turned accidental president. Witness the Alabama senate race and what happened in a deep-red Pennsylvania congressional district that he won by 20 points. By contrast, the 42nd went for Hillary by four thousand votes and Patty in a landslide. Not exactly fertile  ground for a Republican candidate with an 800-pound orangutan on his back.

And besides, Doug will probably accept a good offer for a position in the Trump regime if it comes his way between now and November, leaving his party in the lurch. He’s gotten too accustomed to the high six-figure salary rate he was receiving at the EPA. Doug is probably just running to hold the seat for the GOP, after which he’s planning to leave for higher-paid work, since he’s already secured his state pension no matter what happens later this year.

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