One of the most competitive legislative districts in the state for several cycles now has been Washington’s 42nd, a Whatcom County district that is currently represented by two Democrats and a Republican. The district used to be solidly Republican, but Democrats picked up a House seat in 2018 and then another in 2020 while just falling short of ousting the late Doug Ericksen four years ago.
The Democratic Position 1 incumbent, Representative Alicia Rule, is fighting off a challenge from Republican Tawsha Thompson. Rule received the most votes with 48.8% to Thompson’s 35.5% but was unable to earn a majority in August’s Top Two election. A third candidate, Republican Kamal Bhachu, was also on the ballot and received 15.7% of the vote, eliminating him from the election.
Rather than seeking reelection to Position 2, Rule’s Democratic seatmate Sharon Shewmake is leaving the House to challenge incumbent Republican Simon Sefzik for the 42nd’s Senate seat. That created an open seat.
Shewmake received a plurality of votes in the August Top Two, earning 47% to Sefzik’s 33.2%. There was also another Republican on the ballot, Ben Elenbaas, who was eliminated after receiving 19.7% of the vote.
The open race for Position 2 House seat drew four candidates.
Democrat Joe Timmons won a plurality of votes in August with 28.9%, followed by runner-up Republican Dan Johnson who received 27.9%. These two candidates are facing off in the general election. Republican Kyle Christensen and Democrat Richard May were eliminated after receiving only 23.8% and 19.4%, respectively.
Recently, Johnson admitted that a post he made on social media was antisemitic, when he compared Governor Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 mandates with the Nazi Party’s oppression and slaughter of Jewish people during World War II.
The slightly redrawn 42nd now includes most of Whatcom County, running from Blaine and Ferndale to the west and Mount Baker to the east.
I had the opportunity to speak with Representative Shewmake and candidate Timmons on a Thursday afternoon in mid-October, to learn more about their legislative priorities and visions for representing the 42nd Legislative District.
Shewmake takes on Sefzik
Representative Shewmake is running because while she believes that “we did a lot of the work that I set out to do when I first ran, one of the big things that still needs to change is that we need to sort out our housing market… we are just not on the right track there,” she said when we talked about her candidacy.
“Having someone who is an economist and can explain to people that affordable housing…. is an environmental solution, an affordability solution, it’s a jobs solution… I think it’s something that will be harder without a voice like that.”
When asked about her legislative priorities apart from housing, Representative Shewmake discussed the impacts of recent flooding in the district and the need for improved infrastructure. “Our district experienced some horrific flooding…going forward we are going to see more water during flood season and so we’ve gotta build better infrastructure here.”
She went on to discuss how while working with the federal government, she saw the gaps left by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s aid system.
“I’s cheaper to buy [people] out than to continue to pay the flood insurance payments, but the buyouts won’t happen until next winter — and it’s just not feasible — it systemically cuts out the low and moderate income folk.”
She went on to emphasize the need for a state aid program that can supplement FEMA and ensure families have the aid they need in a timely manner.
Another priority Representative Shewmake identified is the need to continue the work of the tax structure working group. “Regular folks are paying too much in taxes, but unlike my opponent, I don’t want to cut school funding, I don’t want to cut social services, all of those things are really important. But what we need to figure out is how to fund our government a little more equitably and fund it with the very wealthy paying their fair share, which right now they are not.”
Given the increasing importance of equity and justice, I asked the Representative to elaborate on how these values have influenced or anchored her campaign.
“If you look at the economics of racism, racism is stupid. One of the reasons why is we are missing out on all sorts of talent and all sorts of ideas when we don’t provide the means for the black girl from a poor family to innovate at the same level as we see white men from families that make $100,000 or more.
“If we could get everyone else to innovate at the level of white men from families making $100,000, we would see a growth rate, according to…an economist at Harvard, 3 to 4 times higher.” She further emphasized that while there is no singular answer, there needs to be serious thought about what barriers historically marginalized communities face and how these barriers can be removed.
When asked about how she plans to make progress on intransigent issues, Shewmake talked about being able to make both a progressive and conservative argument for housing, such as additional dwelling units and higher density housing, among other issues.
“If you want to turn your garage into an apartment, why is the government able to tell you no? I don’t think those are good conservative values and I don’t think those are good liberal values either, so being able to make these arguments, not just from one frame point — and being able to point out the good economic policies — I think that’s really helpful because when you talk about an issue like affordable housing, our values aren’t that different.”
She reiterated her belief that if we all can agree on the end goal, then it is a matter of using research to work through the biases and barriers (something she feels well-situated for as an economist).
Discussing the campaign trail, Shewmake said it’s an interesting experience to run against the son of the woman she beat two years ago.
While he has softened his stance on comprehensive sexual health education compared to his mother, “he is still very much Trump, guns, and anti-abortion. Abortion is big on the trail right now. People, especially women, are just really mad and they have every right to be mad. I think that’s one of the motivating factors. Crime is a big factor — I think my message on crime is better than my opponents, although he likes to politicize it — and inflation is a big issue, which again I’m pretty well situated to deal with as an economist.
“There are some levers we have at the state level to help out the people suffering the most.” She also emphasized how she has shifted focus to affordable housing based on the message and need from the community.
Shewmake emphasized that she doesn’t think Sefzik has been very forthright.
“My opponent won’t tell you his views on abortion. He won’t talk about his views on guns. When asked about homeless, he immediately switched to regulation of the housing market… he works for Trump, he’s a MAGA Republican, all of that he’s really trying to hide. I think it’s disgusting when you try to hide your views from voters. I think that’s anti-democratic and morally wrong.”
Timmons faces Johnson
“I’ve worked in public service for the last decade,” Joe Timmons told me when I asked why he’s running. “I have a background in this work and an understanding of how Olympia works, but why I’m running is because I love my community.”
“believe in public service and I think Whatcom County deserves a Representative who will work hard on their behalf and stand up for their values. We have a toddler, a two-year old, my wife grew up in Bellingham and we live in Bellingham now. And setting down roots in this community with our toddler has made me more committed to serving this community than ever.”
In terms of his legislative priorities, Timmons first identified housing.
“Right now we have a housing shortage crisis in our community. Last year for example, our rent went up 35% and when I go door to door and talk to folks about housing, unfortunately I know our family’s not unique.”
“I think we need to provide more housing for our lowest income earners…but we also need more workforce housing for middle class folks.”
“To me it’s not just a moral issue — I believe everyone deserves to have a roof over their head — but it’s also an economic development issue.”
He further explained that when he talks to leaders at the Port of Bellingham or Chamber of Commerce, “the number one prohibitor in terms of our economy growing is a lack of access to workforce housing and childcare. We need to be building more housing, particularly in our more urban areas and around transit.”
Education is another area of focus Timmons emphasized as a priority.
Before getting his Master’s in Public Administration at the University of Washington, he “worked at a non-profit preschool for a year, where [I] was a preschool teacher and really learned the value and the importance of urban learning.” He added that as a product of Washington state public schools from kindergarten through higher education, he “really believes in providing a great education for kids from urban learning through high school and beyond.”
“That includes four-year degrees but also our community and technical colleges and apprenticeship programs.”
He also emphasized the need to provide options and more career and technical education for students in high school, so that people can have good paying jobs that fill our current and future needs.
The last priority Timmons identified was reproductive rights.
“With what we’ve seen in the Supreme Court recently, I think it’s more important now than ever that we stand up as a state to protect the right to choose. I’m 100% pro-choice and the only pro-choice candidate in my race.”
He further explained that while on the campaign trail he often hears that abortion rights are not under attack in Washington, that is just not true. “Every year bills are introduced by Republicans to either restrict or ban a woman’s access to abortion and it’s something that I think we need to stand up for more than ever. And not just for Washingtonians but to be a safe haven for other states.”
When asked how equity and justice factor into his campaign and legislative priorities, Timmons said that “it’s a lens that I kind of look through with every policy decision. When I think of housing, to me that’s an equity issue. When I think of education that’s definitely an equity issue, I don’t think someone’s zip code, race, or income level should dictate of they receive a quality education in Washington State public schools. I think everyone should have access to that.”
He believes that legislators and elected officials need to be using a equity lens in all parts of decision making to ensure that inequitable bills are not passed. Additionally, Timmons explained that “ we need to be looking at the systemic injustices, systemic reasons for inequality in our society too.”
With regards to why he’s well poised to tackle intransigent issues, Timmons spoke about how his background in government affairs and public service make him the strongest candidate. “I’m the candidate most qualified when it comes to understanding how Olympia works, and understanding how state government works. After graduate school I spent the last decade working at the local, state, and federal levels of government. I’m particularly passionate about state government and making government work for everyone.”
“One thing I have learned and take with me is nobody can do anything by themselves. It takes working well with others, it takes building relationships and that includes across the aisle,” something he’s done in the governor’s office.
He elaborated that during the pandemic he often had to communicate difficult decisions made by the Governor.
Although this could be a challenge, local leaders knew they could call him and get a straight answer and that he would work with them to provide clarity.
“It’s very purple up here — I think we need to be working across party lines while also standing up for our capital D Democratic values.”
Asked about his experiences on the campaign trail, Timmons expressed enjoyment at getting to better know people in the community as a candidate.
“I was just at a meet-and-greet event in East County and getting to have conversations impacting our rural communities that I wouldn’t have otherwise had — I’m really enjoying the process.” He went on to say that “access to abortion healthcare is absolutely on the top of people’s minds, housing is on top of people’s minds, an access to behavioral health and public safety are on top of people’s minds too — and affordability in general.”
Timmons noted that he grew up in a working class family, with a father was a union pipefitter. His parents created a small business out of their garage.
“I really learned the value of hard work that way, about treating people with dignity and respect. That’s something that I carry with me in my career today and will definitely take with me if given the chance to serve,” he said.
Like Shewmake, he cited the differences between himself and his opponent.
“When I am out there at doors, I really try to talk about myself and what I can bring to the table, my values and where I stand on issues… but the stakes are really high this year in terms of the differences and qualifications between myself and my opponent [Republican Dan Johnson].”
The voting period will end on Tuesday, November 8th. Ballots are due back to a drop box by 8 PM or to a post office by the last outgoing mail collection time.