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State Senate and EPA: Can Doug Ericksen balance it all?

Then-candidate Donald Trump, in the red hat, shooks hands with Sen. Doug Ericksen at a 2016 rally. Credit: Facebook

The Trump administration has already directly affected Washington’s lawmakers in at least one way: Wednesday, the state Senate found itself waiting on Washington, D.C.

Or, on someone coming from D.C.: State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, who was slated to be back in Olympia from duties with the Trump administration. President Donald Trump recently appointed Ericksen to a post as part of his transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency.

But word quickly circulated around the legislative building that Ericksen’s flight was delayed and he wouldn’t be back until later in the day.

With Ericksen absent, the Republican-led Senate, which needs his vote to maintain its one-vote majority, held off on a major floor vote on education scheduled for Wednesday morning. To accommodate the delay, Senate Republican leaders cancelled two major committees that normally meet in the afternoon, and pushed the whole-chamber vote into the 3:30 slot. The delay was relatively minor, but Democratic leaders complained it was a bad sign for Ericksen trying to do both jobs.

“My members are here, but we can’t proceed because his flight’s delayed,” said Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island. “It’s not a functioning Senate at this point without all its members present.”

Ericksen, who arrived to the Legislature later in the day, defended his ability to do both jobs. Even in D.C., Ericksen said, he had been communicating with his staff to schedule bills in the state Senate’s Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, which he chairs. Ericksen also said he has consulted with staff lawyers, outside lawyers and ethics officials at the EPA, and has not been advised of any conflict.

“It’s an incredible honor when the president asks you to be one of his first 200 people on his transition team,” Ericksen told Crosscut. “We’ll be here for the key votes.”

But, pressed on how he would be able to avoid repeating a delay like the one Wednesday, Ericksen faltered, first suggesting that the Senate hadn’t been delayed on his account, then saying that he would “work with Alaska Airlines to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Some committee work appears to have already been delayed, although not necessarily beyond recovery. In his committee, where as chair his vote is crucial to passing bills that are a priority for Senate Republicans, 31 bills are currently awaiting votes. Ericksen has been absent from the committee since Jan 12.

Sen. Kevin Ranker, who is a leading Democrat on Ericksen’s committee and represents a legislative district adjacent to the Ferndale senator, said he has been getting “dozens of calls a day” complaining about Ericksen’s absence.

Ericksen’s commuting and the Senate’s floor schedule also caused him to miss something else: his own press conference. Republican staffers had sent out notice Tuesday of the event; questions had been raised by reporters in previous days about his ability to do the Olympia job and the transition work. But late that night, another notice followed: The event would be rescheduled to Thursday.

For his part, Ericksen said that he had been getting encouraging calls from his district. “It truly is a temporary job,” he said.

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