Politics Blog

Concerned about climate change, WWU students seek to revoke ‘climate agnostic’ Ericksen’s degree

This isn’t an election year for state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, but challengers do seek to wrest something from him — not his elected office but rather one of his college degrees.

A group of students with ties to Huxley College held a meeting at 5:30 p.m. today, Thursday, May 7, on campus, to start what promises to be an uphill — if not Quixotic — battle to convince university administration to strip Ericksen of his diploma.

Representatives of the group who sat down for an interview — Chiara D’Angelo, Evelyn Kennedy and Emily Krieger — understand that an action that serious typically requires a serious breach of the university’s trust, say proof of plagiarism or some other form of academic cheating.

While the group doesn’t claim to have evidence of something that egregious, it decided to give this interesting attack on Ericksen a try anyway. The idea of challenging his WWU degree may have come up in a joking, stress-relieving conversation during the 2014 Seth Fleetwood campaign, D’Angelo said. Fleetwood unsuccessfully challenged Ericksen for his Senate seat. D’Angelo and Krieger worked on the Fleetwood campaign.

Ericksen, who earned a degree in 1995 in Western’s master’s program in political science and environmental policy, declined to comment for this report.

Why try to revoke his degree?

“It gives students a point of agency, some kind of power,” Kennedy said. “People want to know more and want to know our vision for this campaign, what we want to get out of it.”

The group’s plan has generated buzz on campus, the three women said. They expect Thursday evening’s meeting to be well attended.

“The Western degree is what gives us more of a personal connection to this,” Krieger said. “People we talk to say, ‘He has a Western degree?’”

“We’re framing it in a more radical way,” D’Angelo said. “We’re not just trying to have a conversation with him or hold him accountable. We’re trying to revoke his degree and get people to pay attention.”

The Republican senator has been at odds with Democrats over how to craft policy on climate change and carbon reduction. He butted heads with Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, on the Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup. Ericksen removed language in the bill creating the workgroup that mentioned “climate change” and the threat it posed to the state.

The group, split evenly along party lines, failed to reach consensus over carbon reduction. In this session, Democrats led by Inslee and Ranker, and Republicans led by Ericksen, introduced separate carbon reduction plans. Neither has passed so far.

The students refer to Ericksen as a “climate denier” on their Facebook page. He told this blogger a couple years back he was a “climate agnostic,” which may be more accurate. While he stripped the words “climate change” from the 2013 Climate Legislative and Executive workgroup bill, he at least conceded the possibility of human-caused climate change in 2015 legislation that would give utilities more flexibility in meeting state-mandated alternative energy goals. (Ericksen’s bill, SB 5735, passed the Senate on March 9 but has not yet made it through the House.)

In an amendment Ericksen introduced, the bill’s intent section reads, “The Legislature finds that climate change is real and that human activity may contribute to climate change.”

When pressed on the reality of human-caused climate change, and the scientific studies that support this reality, Ericksen indicated on the Senate floor he wasn’t sold on those studies.

“We can spend all night going back and forth between my study and your study,” Ericksen said. “That’s not productive. What’s productive is the underlying bill.”

Democrats in the Senate were unhappy with the agnostic “may,” and the bill passed the Senate along mostly party lines.

Ranker had this to say during the floor debate March 9: “Are we literally debating the science of climate change on this floor right now? Are we saying that science does not very clearly show that climate change is human caused? Because it is. Climate change is human caused. It is not a debate any longer. … We need to stop waffling on this.”

The Western student group would agree. By next week, the group will be seeking petition signatures to have Ericksen’s degree expunged.

“As a Whatcom County resident I really care about this region, and I think it’s a really important area in so many ways environmentally,” said Kennedy, who lives in Ericksen’s 42nd Legislative District. “I just don’t think I’m heard by him.”