By Meg Olson
Washington state senator Doug Ericksen prefaced his appearance at the Point Roberts Taxpayer’s Association AGM with a stop at Kiniski’s Reef Tavern for a couple pints of beer before heading off to face a less than friendly crowd, some of whom had thoroughly enjoyed the opening wine and cheese reception.
Ericksen was the featured speaker at the July 13 annual general meeting of the taxpayers’ association, held on the barge at the Point Roberts marina. The turnout was impressive, remarked association president Mark Robbins, and the 5:30 p.m. meeting got rolling with a members and guest wine and cheese reception, followed by the association’s business meeting.
Ericksen, who represents the 42nd legislative district, arrived at the tail end of the association business and began his comments with observations about the factors affecting our region and recent significant legislation in Olympia.
“In our world today, we are currently living through the largest mass migration of people in history,” he said. “It’s interesting to look at that and see how that shapes our policies, how that shapes everyday lives, everything we decide from transportation to education. The fundamental rub point is really nationalism versus globalism.”
After covering property tax changes to address education funding, Ericksen found himself interrupted by Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee president Joel Lantz, who asked, “Can we talk about Point Roberts? That’s what all these people are here for.” Still, as Ericksen began to take questions from the floor the flavor was more global than local.
“You have consistently been a climate change denialist and I want to know why,” said association board member Arthur Reber, prefacing his remark with his credentials as a scientist and elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “It is virtually unanimous that climate change is not only real, it is probably the single most dangerous and devastating event that is occurring to our planet.”
His comments were met with applause from the audience and skepticism from Ericksen. “There’s no such thing as consensus in science,” he said. “Once you use that word, you’re being a politician. There is a natural trend to climate. There are cycles.” Stating that climate change data was “being tampered with” by “NASA and the federal government,” Ericksen was repeatedly challenged from the floor about his positions on climate change.
“Are you climate denier or not?” Lantz asked. “Yes or no?”
“Sir, would you just power down a sec,” Ericksen responded, asking that the discussion be less antagonistic. “Let’s have a good conversation without being negative.”
While Robbins managed to steer the meeting back under control, audience members continued to question whether Ericksen, as a state senator, would support using state funds to “backfill” the cuts the Trump administration, in which he plays an interim role, has planned for environmental protection and Medicaid.
“Simply spending a dollar at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not improve the environment the same way spending a dollar on K-12 education does not make a kid smarter,” he said. “I appreciate everyone’s questions tonight, I might just have a different viewpoint.”
Over an hour into the meeting a question from Reber brought the conversation back to Point Roberts. He asked the senator why he had withdrawn his support for a proposed bill that would change the state language to add more flexibility to how funds are collected through the local gas tax.
“Your problem is you wanted to use transportation dollars for transit and that’s opposed to the state constitution,” Ericksen said. Robbins and Reber countered that the constitution prohibits using state transportation taxes for other purposes, but that the local transportation benefit district is not a state tax. “You won’t back us will you?” Reber said, in trying to get a clearer interpretation of the constitutional hangup. Ericksen suggested the community look at a local transit taxing district.
After an hour and a half at the podium Ericksen had the thinned-out crowd docile again and wrapped up his remarks on a positive note.
“We are very lucky to live in the 42nd district,” he said. “We have such great opportunities.” A balance of well-paying jobs and a healthy environment was a key to maintaining that, he said, “and I’ll keep working to protect both of those.”
As for his experience tangling with Point Roberts locals he added, “This was a little more than I bargained for, I have to admit.”