Doug Ericksen Q&A: "You can't be neutral as county executive"

Doug Ericksen is no stranger on the ballot. He was elected as a state representative in 1998, became a state senator in 2010, and now is running for Whatcom County executive. He has received endorsements from state Rep. Jason Overstreet, state Rep. Vincent Buys and the Whatcom County Association of Realtors.

BBJ: What do you feel are the two most pressing issues facing Whatcom County?

Ericksen: I think the number one issue is the leadership void at the county level. Whatcom County needs a county executive who’s willing to stand up for job creation, has the experience getting those kinds of things accomplished and is willing to lead.

America is stuck in neutral, job creation is stuck in neutral — our next county executive can’t be stuck in neutral when it comes to major job-creating activities in Whatcom County. That’s the number one thing I think we really need and what people are looking for are more decisions and fewer commissions out of their next county executive. That’s what I’m focused in on.

The second biggest issue that we face, if you look at it from a pure job-creating standpoint, is the Gateway Pacific Terminal. There’s no way around that. A $700 million investment is huge to our area, particularly at a time when job creation has stagnated around the country and here in Washington state.

I’m on the record supporting the Gateway Pacific Terminal, if they live up to the commitments that they’re making. If they live up to their commitments, we need a county executive who’s going to work with them to get that done, because it’s not just about Cherry Point. These kind of companies are looking at Prince Rupert, they’re looking to Tsawwassen to expand, they’re looking on the Columbia River. So we’re still in a competition with other regions to get this built. Your next county executive can’t just sit back and say ‘I’m going to be neutral.’ I think we need a county executive who is working to get that kind of job-creating project accomplished.

BBJ: What can the county do to help ensure that the business community here remains vibrant and varied? 

Ericksen: The number one thing is to put out the welcome mat. You need to have a county executive who is making job creation the top priority for county government. I think that goes a long ways.

And the three things I think businesses care the most about when looking to locate: taxation, regulation and litigation. So do businesses here in Whatcom County and those who are looking to relocate here, do they think we have a stable tax environment? I’m pledging to not raise taxes — or at the minimum require any new tax increase go to a vote of the public. And if we do our job right, we won’t need to raise taxes. That gives the business community certainty in the tax structure.

On the regulatory front, I’m advocating for a restructuring of the planning and services division to move us toward programmatic permitting — checklist-type permitting for smaller projects that would allow us to focus our time and effort on job-creating stuff like SSA.

On to litigation. One of the things we’ll be going through here in Whatcom County will be the critical areas ordinance (CAO) rewrite. What I’m committed to doing is bringing in outside scientists, doing our own best available science, not relaying on the Department of Ecology, and putting in place a more reasonable CAO with regard to buffers and permit certainty. And then if we get sued, these businesses have to know that the county is going to be there to protect them.

And not only that, we’ll be helping the small cities also when it comes to their CAOs. When you go to Everson or Blaine or Nooksack or Sumas, they don’t have the resources to be able to go out and bring in outside experts. It benefits everybody and I think the county has the ability to be the lead on that.

And the other thing is that’s where I have the experience, the record of being able to take the heat and make the tough decisions. When we stood up to the people who were trying to raise the MATCA taxes on the refineries, we pushed back hard on that and put together a very broad coalition of groups that opposed it and we were able to fight that back. That’s the kind of leadership you need to be able to put together that proven history of getting things accomplished.

BBJ: What skills or experience do you have that makes you the better choice for county executive?

Ericksen: I think it’s my experience and willingness to lead. You can’t be neutral as county executive. You can’t be a dictator obviously, but you have to give people a clear vision on where you want to go.

I think it’s the leadership and the experience that I have that really separates me from my opponent. I’ve negotiated multi-billion-dollar deals on transportation. When I went to Olympia, I made getting the Guide Meridian project a priority and we got it done. That’s a huge project for Whatcom County. You can take that same type of success I’ve had on the Guide Meridian project, the truck crossing in Blaine, Highway 9 in Sumas, even the building of the sports fields here — I apply that same type of expertise and leadership to getting the jail built in a timely fashion.

So that’s where my opponent doesn’t have the same depth of knowledge in terms of how the political structure works. And let’s be honest: being county executive is just as much political as it is business. You have to be able to navigate those political waters to get these projects accomplished. And you do that by bringing people together, not to sit around a table and say ‘Well what do you think?’ You bring them together to say ‘Here’s the vision that I was elected to accomplish and now let’s go out there and get that done, and how do we do that working together as a team.


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