Opinion

Trump job or Senate seat? He can’t have it both ways

From the Editorial Board

Whatcom County Sen. Doug Ericksen looks up at the gallery section of the Senate Chambers Monday before the start of the 2011 legislative session, his first after being elected to the Senate. Today, he’s a veteran senator also holding a position on a Trump administration transition team.
Whatcom County Sen. Doug Ericksen looks up at the gallery section of the Senate Chambers Monday before the start of the 2011 legislative session, his first after being elected to the Senate. Today, he’s a veteran senator also holding a position on a Trump administration transition team. Olympian file photo, 2011

To the victor go the spoils, and so it is with a small club of Evergreen state Republican office holders who pledged allegiance to Donald Trump months ago. State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, and former Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, are collecting paychecks in the new president’s administration.

If they can help bring Pacific Northwest sensibilities and Washington state issues to the White House, and if they believe they might have some influence on a president known for ignoring counsel and shooting from the hip, then more power to them.

The operative term for Dansel is “former” senator. He resigned with alacrity after taking a job with Trump’s Agriculture Department, and the seat was filled promptly.

Ericksen, however, is clinging to his legislative post, as well as its $46,839 salary, while spending much of his time in Washington, D.C., as a member of the Environmental Protection Agency’s transition team.

He should resign his elected position, and Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler should see to it that it happens quickly.

Trying to do two demanding government jobs on opposite coasts, and do them both well, requires superpowers of attention span, endurance and time travel that we don’t believe anyone possesses.

This would be Whatcom County’s problem alone if not for the fragile equilibrium of the Senate. Ericksen’s absence leaves a 24-24 tie between Republicans and Democrats on many days. The majority coalition is then reluctant to push bills out for a vote.

Ericksen has become an obstacle and a distraction as the truant chairman of the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee. The Bellingham Herald reported he hadn’t attended at least 75 percent of the committee meetings in January. That’s a serious disappearing act, considering most of a committee’s work comes at the start of the legislative session.

This week, the longtime 42nd District legislator gave a bad sign that he was starting to confuse his committee’s agenda with that of his new employer.

Ericksen invited Tony Heller, a mouthpiece for the national climate-change-denial movement, to give a presentation at the start of a committee meeting Tuesday. Speaking remotely by phone from D.C., Ericksen gave a warm introduction to Heller, who then spent 40 minutes rattling off piecemeal bits of data, building to his widely discredited conclusion that human-caused global warming is a myth. (Trump has also scoffed at climate change, calling it a Chinese hoax.)

At the end, true to form, Ericksen had checked out and was no longer on the line.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Reuven Carlyle of Seattle, described it as an “uncomfortable, awkward and embarrassing presentation.”

What’s worse, Ericksen’s out-of-state duties seem to be causing him to lose touch with in-state environmental priorities. Carlyle noted bills have stalled in committee addressing concerns such as cleaning up Puget Sound and meeting water needs in the Yakima Valley.

Ericksen refutes the criticism. “We’re getting the work done,” he said at a news conference in Olympia last week. (Tellingly, it had to be postponed a day because of a canceled flight from D.C.)

Just because holding jobs at two levels of government is allowed by state law and ethics rules, doesn’t make it right. Ericksen should step down for the same reasons we called on Sen. Pam Roach, R-Sumner, to resign her seat last year when she was running for the Pierce County Council.

Dual office-holding encourages double dipping, can tighten a politician’s grip on power, create potential conflicts of interest and deter promising new talent from entering the public service arena. Pierce County voters recognized these problems last fall by approving a charter amendment banning the practice locally.

Perhaps Trump will settle things by offering a permanent position to Ericksen, his former Washington state deputy campaign director. But for now, the senator does a disservice to his constituents and colleagues every day he tries to juggle jobs on two coasts.

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