Politics | Environment

Washington Lawmaker Has 6-Figure Salary In Trump Administration, Documents Show


Washington Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, talks to reporters, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash.

Washington Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, talks to reporters, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash.

Ted S. Warren/AP

Washington state Sen. Doug Ericksen was paid $11,438 for his first four weeks working for the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency, with a listed annual salary of $161,900, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The earnings statements, which cover the time period from Jan. 22 to Feb. 18, shed new light on Ericksen’s compensation and hours worked at the EPA. In early February, the Republican lawmaker told news organizations he did not know how much the EPA was paying him for his work as the agency’s communication director.

Ericksen’s position on President Trump’s EPA transition team has prompted criticism, calls for his resignation and a failed recall effort in Ericksen’s Whatcom County district over whether the work conflicts with his role as a state senator.

Records show Ericksen was paid for 152 hours worth of work for the EPA over the span in late January and February, or about 38 hours per week.

When reached for comment by phone on Thursday, Ericksen said he still did not know how much the EPA was paying him.

“I’m still not really aware, to be honest with you. I would do the job for free,” he said.

When asked how it was a possible a news organization could obtain copies of his earnings statements before he ever became aware of the earnings, Ericksen said he saw salary ranges and filled out paperwork for direct deposit but never looked at the amount.

“I understand how people would say, ‘well how can you do that and not worry about how much you’re being compensated?’ And my response is I’m just thrilled about the ability to serve the president,” he said.

On its face, the compensation Ericksen received from the EPA would appear to violate Article II, Section 14 of the Washington State Constitution, which states no person “holding any civil or military office under the United States or any other power, shall be eligible to be a member of the legislature” and that a lawmaker must vacate his or her seat if appointed to one of these positions after being elected to the Legislature.

However, a 1947  Washington Supreme Court ruling established a much narrower scope for constitutionally prohibited jobs. It outlines five criteria for a legislator’s job to be considered a “public office of a civil nature.” One of them is permanency: the job must not be temporary.

Ericksen’s current EPA role has been publicly described by himself and the agency as a temporary position. If it is temporary, it likely would not be considered a violation under this interpretation.

The Washington State Legislative Ethics Board declined comment on the situation.

Before he took the job, Ericksen said, he consulted with the Washington Senate’s legal counsel, outside legal counsel and with legal scholars who advised him taking a temporary EPA job would not violate the state constitution.

Ericksen has expressed interest in a permanent position at the EPA as the Northwest regional administrator, and said he will resign if he takes a permanent position in the Trump administration.

“It looks like what he’s doing is legal, it’s just rather unethical in our view,” said Collin Jergens, a spokesman for the progressive political group Fuse Washington.

Since taking the EPA position, Ericksen has been noticeably absent from the Legislature. For the month of January, The Bellingham Herald found he had missed 75 percent of committee meetings he was scheduled to attend.

Washington’s Republican-led Senate needs Ericksen’s vote to maintain a majority, and without him the Senate has delayed votes, according to Crosscut.

In February, a group of voters in Ericksen’s district began a recall effort, which was ultimately dismissed by a judge who decided there were insufficient grounds for the recall, in part because there was no legal requirement for the number of meetings a legislator must attend.

Ericksen defended his ability to serve his constituents in Whatcom County while working a full-time job from Washington, D.C.

“Even when I am not in Olympia, I am consistently working on legislation with my staff, with other members of the legislature and with concerned citizens. I am able to do that easily via phone, via Internet and email. I am working many, many hours when I’m in Washington, D.C., on my legislative duties.”

Ericksen pointed out that several senators have missed more votes than him. Since January, five senators — all Democrats — have missed more votes than him, according to the website Washington Votes.

Ericksen has declined to collect his legislative per diem, a cash allowance to cover meals and other living expenses while serving in Olympia. But he continues to draw his state salary of $42,000.

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