On the heels of a narrow re-election last fall, state Sen. Doug Ericksen blew through a gauntlet of warnings in March to ink a $500,000-a-year consulting contract with the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Despite his apparent ability to shrug off criticism from so many quarters, he should end his relationship with the controversial nation or step down from the Senate.
The Ferndale Republican said the firm he co-owns with ex-Rep. Jay Rodne works internationally to reduce human- and drug-trafficking, and bolster anti-terrorism efforts. He has also said his role is boosting trade, not politics, and that he will not work for Cambodia within Washington.
Despite these disclaimers, the situation continues to raise more questions than Ericksen has satisfactorily answered.
Cambodia’s political leader, Hun Sen, has held power for more than three decades through what Human Rights Watch labeled in 2018 “an abusive and authoritarian political regime.” The U.S. State Department describes a litany of abuses there, from “arbitrary killings carried out by the government or on its behalf” to abductions, child labor and civil-liberty violations.
Additionally, the White House last year criticized “anti-democratic behavior” in Cambodia.
Ericksen’s connections to Cambodia date from 2016, when he accepted an invitation from a government official to travel there during a family vacation.
He returned repeatedly to bond with Cambodian leaders, sometimes in the company of other Washington legislators. He should have followed the lead of state Reps. Drew MacEwen and Brandon Vick, who abruptly ended their visit alongside Ericksen last July after an audience with the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia.
Yet, Ericksen stayed to observe elections. The government forced the leading opposition party to dissolve, then won every Assembly seat. Ericksen praised the process.
This spring, Ericksen did not consult Republican Senate caucus leaders before his firm’s contract with Cambodia emerged in news stories. Legal advice, Ericksen said, assures him he is violating no known rules.
Asked for specifics about his work, Ericksen cited last October’s announcement Cambodia would allow the search for missing Americans’ remains from the Vietnam War to resume. This event predated Ericksen’s contract with Cambodia by nearly six months.
Leaders in the Cambodian immigrant community in Washington say Ericksen confers unwarranted legitimacy on Hun Sen’s rule. The senator responds by minimizing the widely recognized offenses of the regime.
The critics have a strong point. Ericksen’s answers have only muddied the waters, rather than satisfying the many questions Ericksen’s arrangement raises.
It’s a long way from Whatcom County to Angkor Wat, and Ericksen took an oath to represent the former. Washington state does paltry trade, comparatively, with Cambodia, our 81st-largest export market. The odds are microscopic that an Ericksen vote on hops or apples shipped to Cambodia would influence much.
Further, Ericksen and Rodne’s startup is one of just two American federally registered agents of Cambodia. The other is a lobbying firm that employs more than 200 attorneys in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.
As a state senator elected to serve Washington through 2022, Ericksen owes his constituency better than an unacceptable alignment with a reprehensible regime. He chose this path, and he should choose to end it.