Democrats think they can do it.
If only they can motivate voters to turn in their ballots in numbers comparable to a presidential election year, then Democrats say they can win the 42nd Legislative District. Up for reelection this fall, seeking his third term, is Doug Ericksen, the Republican senator from Ferndale who really knows how to piss off liberals.
Ericksen over the years has been much maligned by the left for trash-talking about environmentalists (“the environmental industrial complex,” as he called them) and giving scientists who don’t understand basic science, such as Don Easterbrook, time in the Senate’s environmental committee. Then, Ericksen helped lead Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign in Washington state, which included a stop in Lynden. After Trump won, his administration offered Ericksen jobs with the Environmental Protection Agency—which probably needs a name change as long as Trump is in office.
Despite the D.C. job offers, a recall effort last year and rumors—or simply wishful thoughts—that Ericksen wouldn’t run again, the incumbent senator is still the senator for north Whatcom County, and he intends to keep the job.
Democrats will make a game of it. Two heavyweights are ramping up their campaigns to attack Ericksen from the left: Bellingham City Council member Pinky Vargas and Tim Ballew II, who hosted a campaign kickoff April 26 at Pioneer Pavilion in Ferndale. Ballew served as chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council for five years. He was appointed to the Whatcom County Council for a one-year stint in January.
Ballew is aiming his political sights even higher. Speaking at his kickoff, Ballew said leadership means “going outside of your comfort zone, which is what I am doing by running for Senate.”
His guiding principle, he said, was “to make decisions that are good for all of our families in the end.”
Ballew is credited with helping to resolve the contamination of the Salish Sea ecosystem after the spill of Atlantic salmon from net pens off Cypress Island, defeating Gateway Pacific Terminal, and brokering an agreement with dairy farmers to protect water and shellfishing.
Ballew’s campaign hopes the goodwill established between Ballew and north-county farmers during the creation of the Portage Bay Partnership will help him come November. But first, Ballew must defeat Vargas in the August primary.
Vargas was the pink elephant in the room at Pioneer Pavilion last week. None of the speakers mentioned her, even though Ballew’s first opponent is Vargas, not Ericksen. The incumbent will face off against whichever of the two Democrats survives the primary on Aug. 7. (This assumes no one else steps into the race—and unlikely prospect at this late stage.)
According to the Public Disclosure Commission website, as of Tuesday, May 1, Vargas’ campaign had raised $30,303. The $14,622 listed for Ballew on Tuesday did not include the $9,000-plus he reportedly raised at last week’s kickoff.
In addition to the monetary advantage, Vargas has a who’s-who of local Democrats and progressives endorsing her. The list posted on her campaign website has more than 200 names, including Ericksen’s liberal alter-ego in the 40th District, state Sen. Kevin Ranker; Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville and most of the Bellingham council; three members of the Whatcom County Council, including Rud Browne and Satpal Sidhu, who both attended Ballew’s kickoff; and the two members of the U.S. House of Representatives whose districts include Whatcom County.
To show just how split Democrats are between Vargas and Ballew, some individual Democrats have shown support for both. Sidhu’s name appears on the endorsement list for Ballew as well as Vargas. Browne, a Vargas endorser, donated $50 to the Ballew campaign before the kickoff.
Elizabeth Hartsoch, a founder of the local progressive Riveters Collective movement, gave the main address at Ballew’s kickoff, which the campaign says 200 people attended. Hartsoch said in an interview after the event that she likes Vargas and Ballew both. The Riveters endorsed Vargas in her run for reelection to the City Council last year.
“I am thrilled that we have two strong candidates challenging Doug Ericksen,” Hartsoch wrote in her response to my interview questions, sent via Facebook Messenger.
“I have known Tim Ballew II, and admired his leadership, for more than a decade. His effectiveness in collaborative problem solving is well documented,” Hartsoch added. “The scope of his expertise and experience working with various governments and private entities is remarkable. His knack for transcending party politics, his occupation as a commercial fisher, and his existing relationships make Tim a particularly good candidate for the 42nd District. Tim has remarkable focus and clarity of vision; he is committed to making our community better for our families. I don’t want to miss the opportunity to have Tim serve as my state senator. He makes me want to be a better person, to take more risks and live with more grace. I am also grateful for Pinky’s service at (Puget Sound Energy) and the city of Bellingham. My support of Tim should not be read as a negative statement about Pinky.”
At the kickoff, Hartsoch implored attendees to get out of their own comfort zones and ring doorbells this year to get Ballew elected. She noted that in presidential election years, Democrats Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Jay Inslee all won the 42nd.
“The 42nd District is winnable and getting more so,” she said.
The thing is, Democrats will need to show up in droves. Somehow, the energy Hartsoch projected at the kickoff will need to be maintained. In the off years for elections, for example 2014, Democrats have fared poorly. Ericksen four years ago defeated his Democratic opponent, Seth Fleetwood, by 17 percentage points.
Democrats locally and nationally have a history of beating themselves by attacking other party candidates publicly and holding grudges after they lose. We’ll see if the Dems can show more maturity and grace this time around, in a unified effort to unseat Ericksen.
For his part, Ballew said in an interview he had “all the respect in the world” for Vargas. When asked how he would handle the challenge of a strong Democratic opponent, Ballew spoke more about how Democrats could defeat their common enemy.
“I think the community wants change in the seat and a representative of the community who’s willing to engage in healthy, respectful dialogue,” he said. “They key will be to engage voters early and often, and make sure they show up for both the primary and the general election.”