Doug Ericksen was scheduled to discuss how he’ll manage his twin roles as state senator and a member of President Trump’s transition team. But Ericksen couldn’t get back to Olympia in time for his own news conference.
OLYMPIA — Sen. Doug Ericksen was all set Wednesday to explain to reporters and the public how he can juggle his dual jobs as a state legislator and a Trump administration spokesman in Washington, D.C.
But the Ferndale Republican was forced to cancel plans for a morning news conference after he couldn’t get back from the East Coast in time for his own event.
“A flight cancellation prevents Ericksen from reaching the state Capitol until later Wednesday,” a spokesman said in an email Tuesday night. “Will advise when a new time and location is set, tentatively planned for Wednesday afternoon.”
It didn’t happen that afternoon, either. Ericksen did return to Olympia, chairing his legislative committee Wednesday evening for the first time in weeks. He rescheduled his news conference for Thursday.
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The change of plans rippled through the Legislature’s daily business. Lawmakers were originally scheduled to be on the Senate floor for votes late Wednesday morning. They didn’t get there until late afternoon.
As a consequence, two committee meetings scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday were canceled.
“The Senate isn’t functioning in this situation,” said Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island. “We can’t continue to accommodate Sen. Ericksen’s flying in and out.”
The glitch highlighted the challenges that Ericksen — and the GOP’s Senate majority — face as he serves as communications director for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s transition team.
Ericksen has argued he can handle both his responsibilities in Olympia and his new federal role.
“I am going to be racking up frequent-flier miles like you won’t believe,” he told The Seattle Times when he took the transition job.
Ericksen says he has conferred with lawyers who say his temporary role in federal and state government is legal. And he’s argued that taking the EPA gig could ultimately be good for his constituents in Whatcom County.
But his absence has led to canceled meetings of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, which he chairs.
And with Republicans holding a Senate majority by just one vote, Ericksen’s schedule has complicated the GOP’s plans to bring bills to the Senate floor for a vote.
Despite the change in Ericksen’s schedule, senators still voted Wednesday evening to approved the GOP’s proposed K-12 education-funding bill. It passed 25-24 on a party-line vote.
After the vote, Ericksen said he was back in Olympia at midday Wednesday and the Senate vote could have been taken earlier.
Republican Floor Leader Sen. Joe Fain of Auburn said that Ericksen’s absence hasn’t impacted operations on the Senate floor, because most bills haven’t made it through the committee process yet.
Ericksen was tapped for the EPA role along with former Vancouver state Sen. Don Benton, who is now a senior White House adviser in the environmental agency.
Both were rewarded for helping run Trump’s campaign in the state last year — at a time when many prominent Washington Republicans shied away. Between May and October, Ericksen was paid nearly $39,000 as deputy state director for the campaign, Federal Election Commission records show.
Meanwhile, some of Ericksen’s constituents in Whatcom County’s 42nd Legislative District are raising a ruckus, saying he can’t effectively represent the district if he’s spending much of his time working for Trump.
They’ve started an online petition with about 600 signatures as of Wednesday morning — demanding Ericksen resign or give up half his pay. They’ve also filed a complaint with the Legislative Ethics Board.
“We feel that he’s got a responsibility to the voters who put him in office,” said Michael Shepard, of Bellingham. “Particularly for someone who is a fiscal conservative — to be double dipping on the public dime is a degree of irony.”
Ericksen has not taken his legislative per diem — the $120 daily allowance lawmakers get beyond their salary during the session — since Jan. 15, according to Hunter Goodman, secretary of the Senate. But he continues to draw his $46,839 annual Senate salary.
Shepard acknowledged he and others leading the complaints against Ericksen have not been supporters.
Ericksen was elected to the state Senate in 2010 after serving six terms in the state House. He has established himself as a leading critic of environmental regulations and a chief foil for Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposals to impose taxes on carbon emissions to combat global warming.
He’s been a target for environmentalists, who are joining in the criticism of his absenteeism.
Alex Ramel, field director for the Stand.earth campaign, tracked Ericksen’s attendance and noted the senator has not attended a legislative committee hearing since Jan. 12.
As of this week, he noted, there were 47 bills stacked up in Ericksen’s committee waiting for a hearing. The committee voted out eight bills Wednesday night, a spokesman said.
“Important ideas aren’t being discussed in the Senate because Senator Ericksen is trying to do two jobs at once and failing,” Ramel said. His organization called on Ericksen to step down.
Terry Cox, chair of the Whatcom County Republicans, was not ready to pass judgment on Ericksen. She said she wanted to hear Ericksen’s explanation at his planned news conference.
“I think I want to hear how he plans to handle that. I am trusting he will let us know,” Cox said.
“Certainly, he’s in the throes of a transition now.”