In Whatcom County’s closely fought 42nd Legislative District House race, Representative Sharon Shewmake and general election Republican challenger Jennifer Sefzik each say they hold consensus views.
Only 591 votes separated the candidates in the primary – with Sefzik emerging on top.
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In separate interviews with the Wire – while both candidates maintained that their views are in sync with the district – they offered differing characterizations of the district and contrasting policy ideas.
When we look at just the 42nd, you kind of have two competing centers of gravity. There’s the area around Lynden that tends to be very conservative and then you have North Bellingham which is really liberal,” said Shewmake. “You can’t walk a block in my neighborhood in Bellingham without seeing a Black Lives Matter sign. And then you have a lot of people in between that are kind of tired of politics, don’t really want to think about it that much, and consider themselves independents. When you talk one-on-one with those people, I think most of them are conservative to moderate Democrats, sometimes I’ll even be talking to someone and they’ll tell me they’re a Republican. Then I hear where they are on the issues and I think, you’re to the left of me on some of these.”
Bellingham, the most populous city in the district, is bisected by a legislative border. The 42 LD comprises Bellingham’s downtown core and northern neighborhoods, while Western Washington University and the southern neighborhoods fall in the 40th LD.
Outside of Bellingham, the 42nd LD extends North, past Ferndale, Lynden, and Blaine, to the Canadian border and East to rural Whatcom County.
The political implications of dividing Bellingham into two legislative districts can be observed in the representation each sends to Olympia.
Rep. Shewmake became only Democrat in the 42nd LD’s delegation after beating an incumbent Republican in 2018. The 40th LD is represented by three Democrats.
As it happens, downtown Bellingham – where microbreweries, vegetarian eateries, and offbeat thrift stores abound – is represented by a Trump associated state senator.
Sefzik, a small business owner and high school debate coach, largely spoke about the agricultural community when asked to opine on key issues in the district.
The representative that I’m running against is trying to sound like she’s more conservative right now, but in reality she’s not necessarily business friendly, or property rights friendly. Those are big issues when it comes to our agricultural community,” said Sefzik. “Right now, the Department of Ecology has indicated that they want to adjudicate for water rights. My opponent supports the adjudication for the water rights, which would be long, litigious figuring that out. It would involve the Indian tribes who are claiming first rights to the water. She is funded largely by all the Indian tribes around the state. Her interests look like they’re more in that camp as opposed to the farmers and the agricultural community.
Sefzik said the local business climate is unfavorable to refineries and other job-creating industrial projects, which she wants to change. She also vows to shore up “individual rights” by fighting new taxes and statewide initiatives like Referendum 90, which would enshrine the sexual health education bill passed by the Legislature last session.
Shewmake spoke at length about elements of her platform aimed at rural residents, though she framed her plans more in the context of current crises such as economic recovery from COVID-19 and forest fires.
I think we need to bond some future revenues, bring them forward and create a fiscal stimulus program. There are a lot of things we need to do that could create jobs in rural areas. A really good example of that is forest health. The fires are partially due to climate change, but it also has to do with bad forest management. Let’s do the work on the bad forest management part.”
On how to approach the budget shortfall, Shewmake said she favors a targeted approach to scaling down the budget, though she hopes federal stimulus is still on the table.
In a recession like this when there was nothing wrong with the economy and we got hit with a deadly virus, that is exactly when the federal government should be borrowing money and pumping it out into the economy,” said Shewmake.
Looking at economic recovery over the longer-term, Shewmake said she is open to exploring new revenue streams such as a capital gains tax.
For Sefzik, this indicates that Shewmake – “Seattle Sharon” as Sefzik writes on her campaign website – is more prone to Seattle-style progressivism than Whatcom County moderation.
They have an extreme appetite for taxes. That seems to be always the go to. Of course we’ve got Seattle talking about a head tax. Seattle is driving out businesses left and right,” said Sefzik. “Of course the Democrats are always talking about new taxes and they’re not stopping now. But we definitely need to avoid that at all costs. The number one thing we need to be doing is getting our businesses back open. That is our number one source of revenue.”
Sefzik also said she disagrees with the governor’s orders in response to COVID.
This past week we had the Barrington Report. I haven’t read it thoroughly, I just scanned it. But there are like several thousand doctors and medical experts that have weighed in and said that the lockdown was really not warranted. They’re pretty credible when you look at that.”
The Great Barrington Declaration, proposes a “Focused Protection” as the best way to handle COVID-19. The strategy would be to shield the most vulnerable while encouraging others to resume life in a more regular fashion. The declaration has received the support of over 34,000 scientists and medical practitioners around the world — though reports have confirmed some names on the list are bogus, such as “Dr. Johnny Bananas.”
Science and data is one thing, but you have to apply logic and reason as well. In times past when there have been times of illness, outbreak or pandemic, you quarantine the vulnerable and the rest of the population goes on and lives their lives and develops herd immunity,” continued Sefzik. “I think we should have done a little bit more of that. I know it’s a difficult situation but I think the sacrifices of our small business have been too much – they’ve been sacrificed on the altar of health. I don’t know that some of them will ever recover.”
Both candidates agreed that increasing broadband access in rural areas and protecting vulnerable Washingtonians, such as Medicaid recipients, from cuts during upcoming budget discussions are top priorities.
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