Local Election

Ericksen, Fleetwood debate partisanship, education, gun control at Bellingham City Club

Partisanship, the state Senate’s “unique” Majority Coalition Caucus, education funding and gun control initiatives were the main points of contention during a Bellingham City Club debate between the two candidates running for the 42nd Legislative District seat.

As could be expected, Republican incumbent Sen. Doug Ericksen and challenger Seth Fleetwood, a Democrat, disagreed Wednesday, Sept. 17, on many of the issues raised for discussion by moderator Dean Wright, a member of City Club’s program committee.

In his opening statement, Ericksen said he would like to continue to build on bipartisan success in the Senate. He touted the Senate’s bipartisan Majority Coalition Caucus, which he said was “the only bipartisan governing caucus in the country.”

“We want to show that Olympia is not like Washington, D.C.” Ericksen said.

While the coalition, formed when two moderate Democrats said they would vote with Republicans, was certainly unique for Washington state, it was not the only coalition of its kind in the country. At the same time Washington’s senators were forming the MCC in December 2012, a handful of dissenting Democrats branched away from their party to join with Republicans for control of the New York state senate.

Fleetwood opened by mentioning his love of public service. He said he disagreed that the MCC was an effective tool for overcoming partisanship.

“There’s enormous gridlock going on in Olympia right now,” Fleetwood said. “I’m trying to end extreme partisanship in Olympia.”

Later in the debate, a club member asked the candidates to clarify their statements.

In a unique move, the MCC offered the position of chair or co-chair of several committees to both Democrats and Republicans, Ericksen said. But some senators like Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, turned down those offers, Ericksen continued.

“Who is more partisan, the person who offers you a chair in the coalition or the person who rejects it?” Ericksen asked.

Fleetwood followed up by saying partisanship is not just a Republican problem, but something members of both parties participate in.

Following the recent state Supreme Court decision holding the Legislature in contempt for not fully funding K-12 education as the McCleary decision mandated, Wright asked how the two candidates would raise revenue or make cuts to fund K-12 education.

“In Olympia we don’t have revenue. We have taxes. I don’t believe we need to raise taxes in Washington state,” Ericksen said. “Over the past 20 years (of budget growth), general government grew more than twice as much as education.”

So the most recent biennial budget dedicated 13 percent of growth to K-12 spending, Ericksen said.

But Fleetwood questioned the source of those funds and said he would like a complete cost-benefit analysis of the plan.

“I believe we need a compromise,” Fleetwood said. “We need to look at where cuts can occur.”

The Senate Democratic Caucus has looked at closing corporate tax loopholes, Fleetwood continued.

“Some are outdated and no longer accomplishing what they were intended to,” Fleetwood said. “They at least could be looked at.”

Ericksen countered that tax incentives for BP Cherry Point refinery and Alcoa aluminum smelter are essential to keeping those industries running in Whatcom County.

“If you lose those, you’re talking thousands and thousands and thousands of jobs you’re putting at risk at Cherry Point,” Ericksen said.

As for gun control, both Fleetwood and Ericksen agree that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants citizens the right to own guns.

There are two gun initiatives on the Nov. 4 general election ballot: I-594, which would extend universal background checks for all gun sales or transfers, and I-591, which would prevent state restrictions on gun sales from being more strict than national standards.

Fleetwood said he would support I-594.

“The reasoning for having the background checks we have now should be the same for private sales,” Fleetwood said.

Ericksen said he wouldn’t support either initiative.

“I-594 would make it illegal for us to go out to the gun range and for me to hand Seth my gun,” Ericksen said. He was met with groans from the mostly liberal-leaning audience. “You cannot transfer your gun to other people under 594.”

For more on the forum, including the candidates’ answers to questions about oil transportation safety, ocean acidification, and campaign finance, look for a video in the next few days at bellinghamcityclub.org or check the club’s YouTube account.