Modern life presents many difficult choices. For voters in Whatcom County’s 42nd legislative district, choosing a state senator in the Nov. 8 election is not among them. Sharon Shewmake of Bellingham is the superior candidate.
The race has drawn broad regional and even national attention (and campaign money) and pits two-term legislator Shewmake against GOP political newcomer Simon Sefzik of Ferndale, appointed in January to finish the term of deceased state Sen. Doug Ericksen.
Voters who are focused on the skills, ability and experience of their legislator will conclude that Shewmake is by far the more capable representative.
State Senate candidate Sharon Shewmake meets with the Cascadia Daily News editorial board for an interview on Oct. 7. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
Shewmake, 42, impressed Cascadia Daily News with uncommon knowledge — both broad and deep — about state-level issues. The Western Washington University economics professor comes across as a diligent student of the mechanisms of representative democracy — and, critically, ways to protect and improve them.
Her political positions line up with the majority of 42nd District constituents. Shewmake vows to combat homelessness via analytical models to examine rents, vacancy rates and other factors. But she balances that scientific approach by showing simple human compassion for homeless individuals. We take Shewmake at her word to continue to work in Olympia for enhanced services for those struggling with mental illness and other problems contributing to homelessness and crime.
Shewmake, in two House terms, has been a leading voice for increased child care opportunities. With two children in local schools, she is a champion of public education.
She wisely separates gun control issues between traditional American gun ownership and the more recent explosion of sales of military-style weapons, which she connects directly to the sharp increase of mass shootings in schools and public places. She supports a ban on the sale of high-capacity magazines in Washington state for that reason.
Unlike her opponent, she leaves no chance for confusion on her position on women’s reproductive rights. She advocates the expansion of existing state protections.
“We should do the [state] Constitutional amendment” to codify abortion rights, Shewmake said, noting it would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, followed by a popular vote. “I think we’d get the vote of the people,” she said. “The problem is in the Legislature.”
Shewmake takes a measured approach to improving and reducing the cost of health care, focusing on price controls for needlessly expensive medications such as insulin and EpiPen.
State Sen. Simon Sefzik joins the CDN editorial board candidate interview over Zoom on Sept. 29. (Audra Anderson/Cascadia Daily News)
Sefzik, 22, is a disarmingly polished political candidate, given his youth and lack of meaningful experience. He has learned to say the right things to appeal to a targeted base. He is likable, enthusiastic and impressive, in a debate-club sense.
But that is almost literally the depth of his political experience, aside from his brief Senate placeholder role and a stint at what he described as a largely logistical job as an intern in the Trump White House.
Sefzik is out of step with a preponderance of local voters on issues, such as gun control. He dismisses common-sense measures such as a ban on sales of high-capacity magazines as “radical.” He could not explain to CDN’s editorial board why a local resident could claim a need for a high-powered semiautomatic rifle with large-capacity magazines.
It's unclear whether Sefzik has compiled enough life experience to form his own opinions. During a CDN endorsement interview, he repeatedly evaded questions regarding his policy positions and his own political philosophy, turning most into attacks on the record of his opponent, while injecting his admiration for Abraham Lincoln countless times. He should come back to the table when he has more to offer.
42nd District House, Position 1: Rule gets nod over Thompson
While Cascadia Daily News was impressed by the passion and candor of GOP electoral newcomer Tawsha Dykstra Thompson, our choice on the strength of experience, leadership and overall fitness is current state Rep. Alicia Rule.
Rule, a Blaine Democrat and fifth-generation Whatcom resident who runs a therapy practice, brings a people-oriented approach to legislative problem-solving. She is strong on issues raised by CDN reader/voters, with an impressive track record on combatting the local mental health crisis, in particular. That effort has a direct impact on local homelessness, she believes.
Rule supports reasonable gun control measures she believes will help combat mass shootings, including banning the sale of rifle magazines with more than 10 rounds and the proliferation of untraceable “ghost guns.”
She is a staunch defender of a woman’s right to choose an abortion and is endorsed by Planned Parenthood and Pro-Choice Washington, separating her from her opponent.
“I support a woman’s freedom to do whatever they need to do with their body — period,” Rule told CDN’s editorial board.
State Rep. Alicia Rule meets with the CDN editorial board on Sept. 22 for a candidate interview. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
The former Blaine City Council member impressed us with her broad grasp of issues and clearly defined solutions. She is endorsed by a strong, unusually diverse slate of supporters including police, educators, laborers, firefighters and business groups.
Although she voted yes on some (though not all) state law-enforcement reforms in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Rule has established herself as a thoughtful critic of overreactions during the rush to reform laws. She has a proven working relationship with police, fire and EMS professionals on issues of mental health, particularly in young people.
Rule said that as a new legislator, she was shocked at the lack of an adequate state response to “heartbreaking” Whatcom County flooding last winter. She wants to continue bipartisan efforts to create a more robust state emergency response system for floods, wildfires and other disasters.
“I feel like I’m just in the middle of a job,” Rule said. “I just need to get back to work.”
Her worthy Republican opponent, Thompson, of Lynden, is a former police officer who is frank about being motivated to run for public office largely by what she saw as an absence of a voice for common sense on law-enforcement issues in Olympia. Thompson told CDN’s editorial board that law enforcement needs “a seat at the table” for the Legislature to even begin to design effective laws on policing in the wake of national protests.
“I’m here to bring the humanizing element to law enforcement because public safety is one of the foundational things that our government is supposed to be providing for their communities,” she said. “And that has failed. Our legislators failed us.”
State representative candidate Tawsha Dykstra Thompson answers questions during a CDN editorial board interview on Sept. 9. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)
Voters who see alarming crime spikes as an issue rising above all others could reasonably support her candidacy with some reservations, hoping she will get up to speed quickly on other pressing issues. Thompson was refreshingly candid about areas of policy in which she has little to no experience, committing to learn as much as possible, as soon as possible, as a legislator.
As a former bicycle cop, “I love running into a really, really chaotic, crappy scene and just making sense of it all and bringing calm to it,” Thompson said.
She demonstrates the intelligence and drive to do so in the public-policy arena.
Thompson also shows willingness to break from more-extreme positions held by some GOP leaders. She describes herself as “pro-life” but said she respects Washington’s existing choice on abortion rights and would not favor further restrictions without a vote of the people. She supports, generally, state tax reform.
A former union member, she supports the rights of public employees to collectively bargain. Like many Democrats, she believes local governments and law enforcement officers need more help to deal with mental health issues.
Voters can hope Thompson, if not elected, continues to seek leadership roles, perhaps in local government, developing a more-grounded understanding of policy in coming years.
But for today, and for now, the most qualified candidate is Alicia Rule.
42nd District House Position 2: Timmons over Johnson
Joe Timmons has a clear grasp of local issues, informed by his boots-on-the-ground local experience as a former Western Washington University legislative liaison and as a recent regional representative of Gov. Jay Inslee. Timmons has CDN’s nod for a 42nd District House seat being vacated by Shewmake in her bid for state Senate.
Timmons, a Bellingham Democrat, is a staunch pro-choice candidate who endorses state measures to ban sales of high-capacity magazines and “ghost guns.”
He has wisely made man-made climate change a prominent issue in his campaign, saying further environmental protections are needed to preserve open spaces and, in the process, a unique economic and recreational way of life long enjoyed by Whatcom residents.
Timmons also has highlighted the need for enhanced mental health services, rural broadband/economic development measures and emergency preparedness programs and funding, particularly in the wake of last winter’s devastating local flooding.
Joe Timmons meets with the CDN editorial board for a candidate interview on Sept. 22. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
Energized by personal experience with a recent 35% rental rate hike in Bellingham, Timmons, a seven-year Whatcom resident, vowed to take the fight for more affordable housing to Olympia.
“There is a housing shortage and affordability crisis,” Timmons told the CDN editorial board.
Timmons acknowledges some degree of likely distaste for his candidacy among some residents of rural Whatcom County, where Inslee has been demonized for overreach, particularly on environmental rules and public health measures during the COVID-19 outbreaks. But he has been careful to carve out his own positions on local issues, emphasizing his nuanced understanding of local needs, such as flood relief, tribal relations and protecting agriculture.
“No, I don't plan on being a rubber stamp for the governor,” whose interests are driven to some degree by Seattle-area politics, Timmons told CDN. “While of course, as ‘capital D’ Democrats, we share some of the same values and beliefs, I would really look at each decision and each bill through the lens of the 42nd and how I can serve our constituents.”
Dan Johnson, a Republican running for a 42nd District House seat, has come under fire for social media posts. Johnson met with the Cascadia Daily News editorial team Sept. 26 for a candidate interview, in which he apologized for the posts. (Audra Anderson/Cascadia Daily News)
In contrast, Timmons’ opponent Dan Johnson, a Marine veteran and Blaine Republican, expressed positions markedly outside the stream of responsible politics in the 42nd District.
Johnson failed to directly answer questions about the legitimacy of the 2020 election. His focus on homelessness was limited to stricter enforcement of crimes often associated with homeless individuals — a reasonable position, but inadequate solution. He dismissed reproductive rights as a tangential issue and offered few solutions to making health care more effective or affordable.
Beyond those issues, Johnson’s reported scrubbing of his social media feeds of material deemed antisemitic and misogynistic demonstrates a troubling lack of judgment for a public servant. In an interview with CDN’s editorial board, he cautioned against current U.S. government officials drifting toward fascism and said that, while he could not envision a short-term need for people to overthrow their government outside the electoral system, such events might be warranted in the future.
While we respect Johnson’s clear passion for public service, his out-of-step positions on a number of issues relevant to the 42nd district make Timmons an easy choice.
40th District House Position 2: Ramel is obvious choice
The race for the 40th District House Position 2 seat pits incumbent Alex Ramel, a former community organizer who now works for a Bellingham environmental nonprofit, against challenger Trevor Smith, the political director of Laborers’ Union Local 292. Ramel is CDN’s choice in this race.
The two Democrats emerged as the top-two finishers in a primary marked by dueling approaches to environmental concerns connected to climate change, as well as controversy over Smith’s receipt of PAC funding. Ramel believes that support “backfired” on his opponent, who garnered less than 20% of the primary vote in Whatcom County.
In days since, Smith seems to have mostly abandoned his campaign, failing to appear at candidate forums or responding to questionnaires such as the one submitted by Cascadia Daily News through its Citizens Agenda process.
State Rep. Alex Ramel meets with the CDN editorial board on Sept. 15. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
Notwithstanding this lack of a competitive campaign, Ramel deserves reelection, both for his track record and for his expertise on matters of concern to local voters.
He is a solidly pro-choice candidate who also believes the national election of 2020 was conducted fairly.
Ramel, a graduate of the (formerly Huxley) College of the Environment at WWU, supports the adjudication process to define Whatcom County water rights. He believes the state’s tax structure is regressive and supports a “wealth tax” in lieu of a progressive income tax, which he deems impractical.
He touts his record of support for common-sense gun regulations and plans to support a state ban on assault-style weapons — surely a contentious issue in the coming legislative session.
He said he takes the gun issue personally, largely because it is of immediate concern to America’s youth, including his own child. Ramel told CDN’s editorial board that during his last election campaign, questions about the need for high-capacity magazines by his son, then 16, heightened his awareness of the immediate need for additional legislation.
“We passed that bill this year,” Ramel said. “It was … one of those really meaningful moments for me as I was able to call my son and tell him, ‘Hey … We got it done.’”
A former president of the Kulshan Community Land Trust, Ramel was appointed to his legislative seat in January 2020 and was elected to a full term the following November. He has displayed expertise in combatting homelessness — notably, from the supply side. His support for more “middle-middle” housing, such as row houses, duplexes and townhomes, is a sound approach.
The 40th District stretches from Bellingham to Mount Vernon, including Anacortes and San Juan County. Throughout the region, “we do a fair amount of single-family construction,” Ramel said. “And in some areas, we do big apartment buildings. And in between are housing forms that historically were affordable to people at a broader range of incomes that gave people a chance to move up the economic ladder. And those rungs in our ladder are missing.”
Ramel, who supports expanding the Housing Trust Fund to encourage more such private development, is positioned to be an important voice on the subject at the state level. Voters should feel confident granting him a second full term.
CDN endorsements are made by consensus of the CDN Editorial Board: Publisher Cynthia Pope and Executive Editor Ron Judd. Dean Wright, the newspaper’s ethics consultant, acts as a nonvoting adviser and facilitator. Look for candidate statements, election overviews and a CDN sample ballot in a special Voter Guide supplement on Oct. 19.