Hearing for Sen. Ericksen recall goes before Whatcom judge Thursday

A hearing for the effort to recall Sen. Doug Ericksen is set for Thursday before Whatcom Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis.

The judge will decide whether there are grounds for the recall, which would allow its supporters to continue to the next stage of collecting enough signatures to put the issue before voters.

The recall effort was started Feb. 9 by some voters in Ericksen’s 42nd District who said the Ferndale Republican wasn’t adequately doing his job as a state senator while also working in Washington, D.C., as part of President Donald Trump’s transition team.

Ericksen began serving as the communications lead at the Environmental Protection Agency in January, a temporary position lasting up to 120 days.

The state Legislature started its 105-day session Jan. 9.

He has continued to take his state Senate salary of $45,474 a year.

Ericksen has said he could do both jobs while flying back and forth, expressing confidence he could keep up with what was going on in his committees in Olympia while he was in D.C.

“We’re definitely getting the work done,” Ericksen said in an interview Wednesday, adding that he hadn’t missed any votes on the Senate floor. “And, by the way, many people have two jobs and three jobs who work in the Legislature.”

“This is obviously a partisan effort,” he added, characterizing the recall effort as a “partisan PR stunt” coordinated by state and national political interest groups.

Michael Shepard, a Democrat and voter in Ericksen’s district, is among those leading the recall effort along with the Riveters Collective group.

“We are all private citizens doing this in our spare time. No one gets a salary for this work. None of us have any time or energy for PR stunts,” Shepard said in an interview.

Bellingham resident Elizabeth Hartsoch, founder of Riveters Collective, described her group as having progressive values but said she considers herself an independent.

She believes Ericksen’s D.C. work essentially has amounted to an extended job interview – Ericksen said he was interested in a local role, such as leading the EPA’s regional office – adding that he would be replaced with another Republican if he resigned his Senate post for a permanent job.

“We are aware of that. We don’t have any misunderstanding of how that works,” said Hartsoch, who also is a 42nd District constituent, in response to Ericksen’s partisan accusation.

Recall steps

State officials can be recalled in 19 states as well as D.C., according to the National Conference of State Legislatures website, which also noted such attempts at the state level don’t often succeed.

Of those, eight states require that there be specific grounds for recall. In Washington state, those grounds are for malfeasance or misfeasance while in office, or violation of the oath of officeprovisions that have been tough to meet.

If the Whatcom County judge rules the complaint fits the criteria for a recall, supporters will then have six months to submit signatures from at least 18,601 registered voters in the 42nd District in order to have a recall election, according to the secretary of state.

If Ericksen is recalled, the Whatcom County Republican Precinct Committee officers would offer three names for the County Council to appoint one.

How long that person serves depends on when the vacancy occurs, according to Brian Zylstra, spokesman for the secretary of state.

If Ericksen is recalled before May 15, the election to replace him would occur during the 2017 primary and general elections; if he is recalled on or after May 15, voters would pick his replacement in the primary and general elections in 2018.

Ericksen won re-election in 2014, getting more than 58 percent of the vote. His current term runs through 2018.

The judge’s decision can be appealed.

Both sides believe they will prevail.

Ericksen has said he checked with ethics staff at the EPA, the Washington State Legislature, and with outside legal experts to make sure working at both jobs would be allowable. He was confident the recall charges will be thrown out.

Those behind the recall effort say his D.C. responsibilities are keeping Ericksen from showing up for the job to which he was elected, and is being paid for, in Washington state.

Ericksen is chairman of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications committee, is vice chairman of the Financial Institutions and Insurance committee, and is on the Transportation and Rules committees.

Since he was selected to his temporary position with the EPA, the senator has gone to seven of the 29 committee meetings he serves on – or a little less than 25 percent – according to a Feb. 21 legal memo filed by the supporters of the recall effort.

In addition to the stated concern over his absenteeism in Olympia, recall supporters also argued that Ericksen violated the state constitution when he accepted a managerial position in the federal executive branch while keeping his elected position in the legislative branch in Washington state.

On Wednesday, Ericksen said he still was trying to decide if he was going to appear at the hearing before Montoya-Lewis.

If he comes, Ericksen said, he would be missing important floor votes.

“They’re concerned I’m missing votes but the action they’re taking is going to force me to miss votes,” the senator said.

Michael Shepard’s title was corrected at 11:45 a.m. Feb. 27, 2017.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

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