The idea that someone can serve as a sitting state senator during the legislative session and hold down a full-time job on the side is ludicrous on its face to anyone remotely familiar with the duties of a state legislator. That’s why there has been no shortage of critiques of Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, attempting to serve as both a legislator and a Trump Administration official.
Allow me to add some flavor on why the attempted dual role is ridiculous.
I served in President George W. Bush’s administration as political appointee in the office of communications and outreach for the U.S. Department of Education, based out of Seattle. I worked directly with deputy assistant secretaries and assistant secretaries in charge of communications, as well as with White House staff, given education was of one of President Bush’s top domestic priorities.
After six years of that work, I know what it takes to work in communications for a federal agency. It is a full-time job, and then some.
So is being state senator during a legislative session.
You can’t do both.
Sure, you can collect the paycheck for both.
You can pretend to do the job of both.
But, you can’t. It’s not physically possible.
Being an effective state legislator during a state legislative session requires you to actually be in the state Capitol.
Being an effective senior administration official requires you to actually be present for that job.
To be fair, people in both Republican and Democratic administrations will commute for such roles. Their family may be settled in other parts of the country and they (rightly) view an administration political appointment to be a somewhat temporary affair. Thus, a flight into DC on Sunday night or Monday morning followed by a Friday flight home (or Thursday night flight with Friday working remotely) are not unheard of.
Trying to do two full-time jobs is.
Sure, Sen. Ericksen can claim it’s only a temporary position. But, all political appointments are ultimately temporary, the only question is whether its measured in months or years.
The voters of Legislative District 42 will have to decide if they’re being slighted with these antics. Some have already filed recall paperwork (though one has to suspect these were not Ericksen supporters to begin with).
What I can tell you is this: as a former political appointee in the world of federal agency communications, what Doug Erickson is claiming to do by serving the Trump Administration in DC while he serves his constituents in Olympia is a farce.
He can’t physically be where he needs to be to do both jobs well.
Being a state senator is a serious job.
So too is running communications for a federal agency, even if just for a short period of time.
The Trump Administration made news by appearing to clamp down on external communications as the newly elected President’s team came on board and assessed the situation. Headlines aside, that’s rational as a new Administration learns more about what it’s inheriting, including a bureaucracy it understandably perceives as being not aligned with the new Admiration’s priorities. Like it or not, that’s the right of duly elected President and his team.
But at some point, those external communications will ramp up again. And they have to be run by someone, including somebody that is reliable (and available) before the appointees requiring Senate confirmation walk-in the door and Schedule C political appointees who don’t require confirmation fill out the ranks to get administration priorities moving.
Meanwhile, internal communications are even more important for the effectiveness of any organization during a time of transition, let alone one a potentially rocky one. Aside from the friction already evident in the slowdown of external communications from EPA, veteran Washington politicos know that Don Benton, helping run the ship at the EPA, is no stranger to creating chaos when in charge (famous examples here and here).
Of all the times I can think of where’d you want a steady, full-time hand managing communications both within and without the walls of the building of a federal agency, when Don Benton is in a leadership role sounds like a pretty good time.
That’s supposedly being done in Washington, DC by a guy who has a full-time job right now in Olympia, WA.