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Candidates line up early for Whatcom seats in state House

Republicans like their chances in 2022

By Ralph Schwartz Staff Reporter

Elections for state House of Representatives seats are several months away, but candidates are already lining up in the legislative district that includes north Whatcom County. 

A decade ago, voters in the 42nd District — north Whatcom County, north Bellingham and much of the South Fork Valley — could be counted on to elect Republicans. Since then, the district has trended Democratic, with Sharon Shewmake wresting one House seat from a Republican in 2018, and Democrat Alicia Rule winning the district’s other seat in 2020.

“The district has proven itself to be competitive again,” said Richard May, who is running this year for a 42nd District House seat. 

May, a longtime political observer and Democratic Party official, said redistricting after the 2010 census had made the 42nd safe for Republicans. By May’s count, the redrawn district map moved 3,500 reliable Democratic votes into the already highly Democratic district that includes south Bellingham and most of western Skagit County.

Since then, May said, demographic trends have erased what the state Redistricting Commission had wrought. Tech-savvy workers from the Seattle area brought their liberal voting tendencies to Whatcom County, where they could move into a much larger house without disrupting their work-from-home routine.

“That’s one of the biggest factors,” he said.

May, a Blaine City Council member, hopes to ride that trend to Olympia in this November’s elections. He’s got plenty of competition, however, in a race that won’t include an incumbent. Shewmake is vacating that seat to make a run for the Senate position in the 42nd, held for 11 years by Doug Ericksen. May is one of four candidates so far, and the deadline for getting on the ballot is still three months away.

Tax reform is a high priority for May. He proposes a fix to the state business and occupation tax that would make it less financially painful to unprofitable businesses. He also likes the idea of reducing the state portion of the sales tax for regular goods and raising it for luxury items.

Joe Timmons also entered the race as a Democrat. Timmons lives in Bellingham’s Columbia neighborhood and works for Gov. Jay Inslee as his northwest region representative. In an interview, Timmons said any flood mitigation proposals should take into account not just affected communities in the floodplain, but also tribes and salmon. 

Timmons’ top priority is affordable housing. He also thinks the state should invest in quality education, from pre-kindergarten through career training.

On the Republican side, Dan Johnson and Kyle Christensen announced their runs for the same 42nd District House seat. Johnson recently owned a towing company and now hosts a political video podcast. In a video posted to Facebook Feb. 8, Johnson said he would work to ensure more local control of school districts, protect property rights and create jobs. Johnson did not immediately respond to an interview request.

Johnson and Christensen are both strong advocates for law enforcement. In an interview Friday, Christensen, who just completed a term as mayor of Sumas, said police reform laws passed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature in 2021 have prevented officers from doing their jobs properly.

“There’s going to be a lot of conservative voters that are going to come to the polls because they’re not happy with where Washington state is right now.” — Kyle Christensen, 42nd District candidate

“I think we’re going the wrong way,” Christensen said. “I think we need to be increasing law enforcement personnel and giving them more resources and more tools to do their jobs safely.”

After stepping down as Sumas’ mayor, with that city and nearby Whatcom communities still reeling from the November floods, Christensen was hired to fill a one-year position as a county flood recovery manager to support ongoing flood-relief efforts. As a state representative, Christensen said he would advocate for “permanent solutions” to Nooksack flooding. 

“There’s definitely not just one thing we need to do,” Christensen said. “There’s a combination of two or three things that we really need to do to mitigate the flooding that we’re seeing.”

While May was confident the north county is trending in Democrats’ favor, Christensen sees reasons for Republican optimism in the 42nd District.

“There’s going to be a lot of conservative voters that are going to come to the polls because they’re not happy with where Washington state is right now,” Christensen said. “We don’t need higher taxes. We need to spend the money we have and be responsible for it at the state level.”

If Rule seeks re-election in the other House seat in the 42nd, she will have at least two Republican challengers: Tawsha Dykstra Thompson and Kamal Bhachu. Thompson, a former Bellingham police officer, applied for a Senate appointment to replace Ericksen. In a questionnaire Thompson completed as part of her application, she said public safety legislation would be her top priority. On issues she was less familiar with, she would listen and address issues from multiple angles. Thompson was not available for an interview on Friday. 

Kamal Bhachu also filed as a Republican to challenge Rule. Bhachu couldn’t be reached for an interview either, but his campaign website indicated that he, like the rest of the Republicans in the field, would seek to ensure that law enforcement agencies are well funded and fully staffed. He wants to address homelessness through school drug-prevention programs such as DARE, and he would support small businesses and Cherry Point industries in providing living-wage jobs.

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