Democrats are eager to win back control of the state Senate in Washington. That means they need to take two seats from the Republican majority. One of the most hotly contested races is Whatcom County’s 42nd District, where incumbent Republican Doug Ericksen faces Democrat challenger Seth Fleetwood.
It’s more conservative than a traditional swing district. But outside money is pouring, in and framing this contest as a battle over environmental interests.
The Big Spenders In The Race
The top two spenders among Political Action Committees in Washington state this year are California-based NextGen Climate Action funded by billionaire Tom Steyer and the Washington Conservation Voters. Shannon Murphy, president of the latter, says it’s true — they’ve put a green bullseye Ericksen’s back.
“Well, yes," said Murphy with a nervous laugh. "Sen. Ericksen is someone we just think is no longer working for us."
Enviros: Ericksen Too Friendly With Big Oil, Big Coal
The district is largely rural, but also includes Bellingham, two oil refineries and the controversial proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point, which Ericksen supports. The Washington Conservation voters oppose it.
And Murphy says the senator, who previously served 12 years in the House, has a 4 percent lifetime voting record on Washington Conservation Voters issues.
“Doug Ericksen’s record speaks for itself. He’s consistently put the interests of big oil and big coal and other polluter industries ahead of the interests of the constituents in this state,” Murphy said.
Ericksen Unapologetic About Record
Ericksen, who was found in a recent investigation to be one of the state's top recipients of lobbyists' meals, is unapologetic about his bias. He says he works to hear everyone's concerns; energy companies are some of Whatcom County’s best employers, and proposed tax increases on them would kill good jobs. He says he’s proud of his environmental record, such as directing money toward clean-up of toxic sites, but that’s not his central concern in this election.
“Well first off, I would say that the billionaire’s money out of California is not about the environment; it’s about an agenda to raise taxes and have bigger government," Ericksen said. "So I would not agree with the premise that this is environmental money coming in to Washington state. This is front money for Democrat organizations that want to tear down the bipartisan majority coalition caucus and replace it with one-party control in Olympia.”
Opponent Fleetwood Points To Gridlock In Olympia
His opponent is Seth Fleetwood, an attorney and former member of the Bellingham City Council and the Whatcom County Council. Fleetwood says Ericksen’s campaign is backed by deep pockets in the state Republican party, which is funded by billionaires such as the Koch brothers.
But Fleetwood agrees that partisanship is the main issue in this election, not the environment. He says the majority coalition caucus is not truly bipartisan because the two Democrats who caucus with it are very conservative. It's causing gridlock in Olympia, says Fleetwood, citing the lack of a transportation package or more funding for K-12 education as examples.
“We have a failure to pass even basic legislation. And that’s a problem. So I want to go to Olympia with a different attitude,” Fleetwood said.
Another big miss, he says — and one that the Washington Conservation Voters like to highlight — is the legislature's failure to pass an oil-by-rail safety bill, even though one made it out of the state House last session. Ericksen never gave it a hearing in his committee and says his competing measure would have been the strictest in the nation.
It’s expected to be a tough race, but win or lose, Washington Conservation Voters say it's hoping to send a strong message. The group will be campaigning hard from now until Election Day.