No, We Should Not Name the Ferndale Thornton Overpass Project for the Late Senator Doug Ericksen / Glenn Stewart

Click this computer image of a vehicle overpass to view it and information about the Thornton Street Overpass Project on the City of Ferndale website.

June 10, 2022 Glenn Stewart

Any ‘opinion piece’ about the late senator Ericksen must begin with an acknowledgment of the tragedy of his death.  “Every man’s death diminishes me…” His friends, allies and opponents alike both sympathize and empathize with his loved ones; he was father and husband and more.  He died far too young.

Whatever else one thinks about the three Councilmembers’ plea in their Cascadia Daily News op-ed advocating the naming of the Ferndale Thornton Overpass Project after the senator, it’s over-the-top political, and is itself the only reason I’m bothering to push back at all.  If you’re gonna frame the late senator entirely in the context of his political efforts, and only a small sample at that, you’re asking for pushback.  

Had you gone with something like, “We humbly request the citizens of Ferndale name the new bridge for the late Senator Ericksen, who had a major hand in getting it built”—I wouldn’t have bothered.   But you didn’t.  Instead, you wrote a piece laden with such political/ideological bon mots as, “Ericksen had his opposition.  If he didn’t, he wasn’t doing his job.  And his community supported him year after year…”

“Sure, Doug was controversial only because he was courageous and consistent in his conservative convictions…”

“We…invite supporters and opponents of the late senator to let the better angels of our nature reign…”—

(The above are excerpts from a Cascadia Daily News guest commentary, June 8, 2022.)

There isn’t space to dig into every claim the authors of the op-ed make in their piece, but there is space to expand the list, to provide a fuller picture of the late senator’s career as an elected official.

“And his community supported him year after year…”  Sure, in a way.  In 2010 he bested his opponent by 12,000 votes out of 60,500 cast.  That year the Republicans famously plastered the Democratic Party nationwide.  In 2014, Ericksen won by a smaller 8900 votes of 51,400 cast.  By the time of his 2020 re-elect, he won by 46 votes of 72,600 cast.  It’s hard to imagine anything more divisive than an attempt to officially elevate a politician that half of all voters rejected at the ballot box less than two years ago.  

But if that’s not enough to stop any notion of naming a major community asset after the late senator, the op-ed certainly invites more…

“Sure, Doug was controversial only because he was courageous and consistent in his conservative convictions…”   He was in fact ‘controversial’ for a number of reasons that had nothing to do with conviction or courage.  To wit:

State senator Ericksen visited Prime Minister Hun Sen (not for the first time) in Phnom Penh in March 2019, where he stated his belief that the 2018 Cambodian general election was “Free, just, and non-violent,” a quote given us by the Cambodian media, who elevated Ericksen to “U.S. Senator.”  Cambodia’s elections were thought almost universally by Republicans and Democrats alike to be a sham.  Human rights groups, international observers and no less than the Trump administration issued a statement, (rare for that administration), declaring the Cambodian vote “Neither free nor fair, and [it] failed to represent the will of the…people.”  

Up to that point most of us thought him merely a misguided ideologue, an entrenched career Republican who seemed fascinated with semi-authoritarian leaders, but not much more than that.  He was after all a State Senator, not a ‘U.S. Senator’ as his Cambodian friends declared, so how much harm could he do?   The answer turns out to be interesting, even if it cannot be found in any of the glowing testimonials so far proffered by his friends and political compatriots.  Read on…

The month after his “official” visit to Cambodia, in April 2019, Sen. Ericksen registered as a foreign lobbyist for—you guessed it—the Cambodian government.  Indeed, his consulting company was set be paid $500,000 a year by the Cambodians to arrange visits to their country for business leaders (see “Pay to play comes to Ferndale” by this writer in the Oct. 24, 2021 Noisy Waters Northwest blog).

Meanwhile a fellow Republican, U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho sought to sanction Cambodia’s “Brutal dictatorship.”  Once while praising the Salvadoran legislative election, Sen. Ericksen expressed delight at the “Country’s large military and police presence at polling places.”  He called it “reassuring.”

It is a matter of record that some of his Cambodian junkets were paid-for using campaign funds, which State law requires may be used only for official duties.  

As  “Fox News,” no doubt the late senator’s favorite network likes to say, “You decide.”

The point is that he is the wrong choice for naming a community asset, even one he had a lot to do with.  He was a divisive figure, and the pleas from his friends and allies are equally divisive by virtue of being entirely political by nature.  

The Council should respectfully decline to pass the resolution the proponents put forth.

Glenn Stewart

Ferndale, WA