February 20, 2017 Sandy Robson
Washington State Senator Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale), has been in hot water with constituents in the 42nd Legislative District he represents in Whatcom County, Washington, since late January. The lawmaker has drawn an outpouring of criticism from his constituents who feel Ericksen is under-representing them because of his current dual role as state senator, while also having recently accepted a position as Communications Director with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Republican senator was appointed on January 23, 2017, to a role with the EPA under President Donald J. Trump’s Administration. Ericksen told the media in January that his role is temporary, expected to last approximately 120 days, but that it could lead to a permanent position with the agency.
According to a January 31, 2017 article published in The Bellingham Herald, Senator Ericksen, as of the date of the article, had “missed at least 75% of the committee meetings he was scheduled to attend so far this legislative session.” His job with the EPA has caused him to spend much of his time in Washington, D.C., instead of attending to the senatorial duties he would typically perform during legislative session in Olympia, Washington.
As of February 15, 2017, Ericksen had missed a total of 31 legislative committee meetings. The fact that Senator Ericksen has been absent to the extent he has been in the state legislature in terms of representing his constituents in Washington state, has caused many of them to feel neglected, and frustrated. So much so, that an effort to recall Ericksen was initiated in early February. The absentee senator has even attracted the displeasure of those outside of his legislative district, as evidenced by Tacoma’s The News Tribune’s February 8th editorial, in which the editorial board calls for Ericksen’s resignation.
Senator censors comments on his public figure Facebook page, some constituents banned from commenting altogether
Compounding those feelings of frustration for constituents, are the senator’s recent activities on his “Doug Ericksen @SenEricksen” public figure Facebook page which have caused some people to feel disregarded and dismissed by their legislator. Ericksen uses his public figure Facebook page to communicate with constituents, while also maintaining a separate personal Facebook page.
The senator has been deleting (or his Facebook admin person has been deleting) comments made by his constituents on his “Doug Ericksen @SenEricksen” public figure Facebook page, and even blocking some of those commenters from commenting at all, on that page.
A February 17, 2017 article published online by CBS Baltimore, reported that the ACLU recently sent a letter to the governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, about a similar issue regarding allegations from some people who wished to connect with the governor to express their opinions, but instead got blocked from his Facebook page that he uses to communicate with his constituents. The article reported, “David Rocah with the ACLU says what the governor is doing is unconstitutional.”
The ACLU’s letter said the blocking or banning of people’s comments is not only wrong, but is also illegal. According to the article, the ACLU is now representing seven people in Maryland with similar stories of having their comments deleted from Governor Hogan’s official Facebook page, who have proof that their comments were deleted. After seeing the ACLU news story posted on social media, several people who had commented on Senator Ericksen’s Facebook posts, whose comments had been deleted, vowed to contact the ACLU regarding their experience in being censored by their senator.
Ericksen also recently demonstrated what many of his constituents considered to be his incomprehension of the significance of the courage and determination exhibited by a young African-American child who in 1960, was instrumental in desegregating an all-white elementary public school in Louisiana. The Bellingham Herald published a February 15, 2017 article about the heavy criticism Senator Ericksen received for his post on his “Doug Ericksen @SenEricksen” public figure Facebook page about the controversial cartoon.
On February 14th, the senator posted (or his Facebook admin person posted) a February 14th article published in The Bellingham Herald, reporting on the outrage expressed on social media from people reacting to an editorial cartoon that had been published in the Belleville News-Democrat, in Belleville, Illinois.
Ericksen’s February 14th Facebook post contained the following text placed above The Bellingham Herald article link:
“In 1960 Democrats were outraged that a black girl entered a white school. in (sic) 2017 Democrats are outraged that a conservative woman would enter a public school. Democrats are full of rage.”
A false equivalence
The editorial cartoon compared Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, having been confronted by protestors at a middle school in D.C. that she was visiting, to then (in 1960) six-year-old African-American student Ruby Bridges, who was the first African-American child to desegregate an all-white elementary school in Louisiana, which occurred during the New Orleans desegregation crisis. There had been significant backlash from white residents of New Orleans towards desegregating, after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education case, which found segregated public schools to be unconstitutional. After numerous death threats had been made against young Ruby Bridges, she and her mother were escorted to school by four U.S. marshals during the first year she attended the school.
The editorial cartoon that many people consider offensive was drawn by cartoonist Glenn McCoy. In his drawing, McCoy referenced, indirectly, the famous 1963 painting entitled, “The Problem We All Live With,” by artist Norman Rockwell.
Rockwell’s painting shows Ruby Bridges walking on her way to the all-white, William Frantz Elementary School, escorted by four U.S. Marshals, on November 14, 1960. On the wall shown behind Ruby Bridges, a racial slur (the n-word) and the letters “KKK” are written, and a splattered red tomato that was thrown against the wall by white protesters can be seen.
McCoy’s cartoon depicts Betsy DeVos in place of Ruby Bridges in his allusion to the Rockwell painting, and instead of the n-word written on the wall behind her, the word “Conservative” is drawn.
The cartoonist’s comparison of the public criticism of DeVos, a billionaire, white woman of privilege, to a six-year-old African-American girl who had endured frightening and humiliating taunts and violence from white protesters, and death threats during that period of desegregation, shocked and offended many people viewing the cartoon.
If you can’t take the heat, get out of the political arena
As indicated by his February 14th Facebook post, Senator Ericksen agreed with the cartoonist’s arguably inappropriate comparison. The senator’s post resulted in an outpouring of criticism in the form of comments from a sizable number of his constituents under his February 14th Facebook post.
Apparently, Senator Ericksen could not tolerate his constituents voicing their disapproval for his February 14th Facebook post, because the next morning, on February 15th, he deleted (or his Facebook admin person deleted), his entire Facebook post along with the accompanying comments made by his constituents.
Making matters worse, according to some of Ericksen’s constituents who had posted comments on his February 14th Facebook post, they were subsequently blocked or banned from commenting at all on his Facebook page.
Sometime that same morning, on the 15th, the senator then posted (or his Facebook admin person posted) the same Bellingham Herald article, but with a slight revision to the text that had been placed above the article link. The revised text read:
“In 1960 some people were outraged that a black girl entered a white school. in (sic) 2017 some people are outraged that a conservative woman would enter a public school. Some people are just full of rage.”
His revised February 15th post also included a note added at the bottom of his post. It read: “(note; My original post said Democrats and I have changed that to some people. Using the word Democrats was too much of a generalization. However, the people who are outraged in these two situations do tend to identify as Democrats).”
By the afternoon on that same day, nearly 300 of Ericksen’s constituents had commented on his revised February 15th post. Many had voiced their criticism of his post, some opined on his legislative absences due to his new EPA position, and some expressed discontent about their comments having been deleted from his original February 14th post on which they had offered their opinions to their state senator.
Ericksen doubles down: more deletions, more censorship
Senator Ericksen, showing his seeming inability to receive, on his public figure Facebook page, commentary that is contrary to his ideology or critical of his political actions, then deleted (or his Facebook admin person deleted) the revised post along with all of the comments from people, most of whom are his constituents, who had posted comments on his revised February 15th post.
Apparently, undeterred by his constituents’ recent deluge of indignation about having had their comments deleted on the senator’s public figure Facebook page and being blocked from commenting, Ericksen doubled down this past weekend on his social media authoritarianism.
On February 19, 2017, Senator Ericksen (or his Facebook admin person) posted a Facebook post featuring a livestream video of President Trump’s campaign rally held one day earlier in Melbourne, Florida. Numerous constituents commented that same day under the post. Around a half-dozen comments were deleted, and some commenters reported on social media that they then were blocked from making comments on the senator’s public figure Facebook page.
One of the commenters whose February 19th comments were deleted, Dena Jensen, who goes by the name “Dena Louise” on Facebook, said she was then immediately blocked from commenting in the future on the senator’s public figure Facebook page. She is a constituent who resides in the 42nd Legislative District. (Full disclosure: Ms. Jensen runs and manages the blog site, Noisy Waters Northwest, in which this article is published.)
Senator ignores letter from his local county government asking his assistance
After demonstrating a pattern of ignoring and erasing some constituents’ voices in his legislative district, and in Whatcom County as a whole (the county in which he resides), Senator Ericksen has also shown his willingness to disregard the highest level legislative body in Whatcom County government, the Whatcom County Council.
After multiple requests last year from Whatcom County residents (including myself), the County Council approved, on September 27, 2016, a resolution requesting reimbursement for public safety costs directly associated with the May 7, 2016, Donald J. Trump visit to Whatcom County for his campaign rally held at the Northwest Washington Fair & Event Center, in Lynden, Washington.
The County Council’s resolution sought reimbursement for “no less than $53,000,” which was the amount of expenditures by the Whatcom County Sheriff’s office for public safety associated with the campaign rally. That figure did not include the cities within Whatcom County which responded (Bellingham, Lynden, Ferndale, and Sumas). The total public safety costs figure for all of the responding agencies within Whatcom County was nearly $130,000.
Besides cities within Whatcom, there were neighboring cities’ law enforcement departments, and the Washington State Patrol (WSP) which responded to the May 7th Trump campaign rally in Lynden. Those responding police departments were from the cities of: Seattle, Bothell, Everett, Bellevue, Lynwood, Mukilteo, Edmunds, and Skagit. The public safety costs incurred by WSP as a result of its agency’s response totaled $93,713 according to WSP spokesman Kyle Moore.
The grand total for the public safety costs directly associated with the May 7th Trump campaign rally in Lynden was over $300,000.
The Whatcom County Council sent a September 28, 2016 letter to eight entities and/or individuals which were associated with the Donald J. Trump campaign, asking them for the proper agents to notify in order to provide reimbursement for public safety costs incurred by the County, as a result of the May, 7, 2016 Trump campaign rally held in Lynden. One of those eight entities and/or individuals was Senator Doug Ericksen, who, at that time, was a Deputy Director for the Donald J. Trump campaign in Washington state.
I recently checked with the County Council office to see if there had been any response to the September 28th letter the County sent out, to first, confirm that the letter was, in fact, sent to Senator Ericksen, and second, to see if there had been a response.
According to a staff person in the County Council office with whom I spoke on February 17th, the County received “zero responses” to the letter which was sent to those eight various entities and/or individuals.
Additionally, I checked with Council Chair Barry Buchanan, who was the signer on the September 28th letter that was sent out to all eight parties, to see, if instead of a written response from Senator Ericksen, somehow the senator may have contacted him via phone or in some other way, in response to the letter. Chair Buchanan responded in a February 18th email, and said that he did not receive any response from Senator Ericksen.
Leaving a financial burden for county taxpayers, while getting a leg up with Trump Administration
It seems unacceptable and unprofessional that Senator Ericksen would ignore any communication sent to him from any county government, let alone a communication from the government of Whatcom County, the county in which he resides and represents as a legislator, especially in light of the fact that Senator Ericksen played a significant role in bringing the May 7, 2016, Trump campaign rally to Whatcom County.
Ericksen’s heavy involvement in the Trump campaign in Washington state as Deputy Director, and his role in the Trump campaign having selected Whatcom County as a last-minute venue for the May 7th rally, appear to have propelled him to his current appointment by Trump’s Administration to a role with the EPA, which could become permanent after his expected four-month, temporary position with the agency.
It’s unfortunate that Senator Ericksen has left the taxpayers of Whatcom County to bear the burden of the nearly $130,000 total cost for public safety associated with the campaign rally.
It is reasonable to expect that Ericksen, having been in an influential position as a Deputy Director of Trump’s Washington state campaign, and being in an influential position as a state senator from Whatcom County, would have at the very least, tried to help Whatcom County officials who were seeking reimbursement for no less than $53,000 of the nearly $130,000 cost to county taxpayers.