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State Sen. Doug Ericksen, who represented Whatcom County with a strong conservative voice for more than two decades in the Legislature, has died, according to a Saturday afternoon press release from the Washington Senate Republican Caucus.
The Dec. 18 press release said the caucus received a communication from Ericksen’s wife Tasha and his two daughters that said “We are heartbroken to share that our husband and father passed away on Friday, Dec. 17. Please keep our family in your prayers and thank you for continuing to respect our privacy in this extremely difficult time.”
Ericksen, 52, died after testing positive for COVID-19 while in El Salvador, according to a Nov. 11 message he sent through legislative channels asking his colleagues for help getting advanced treatment for the virus.
Ericksen had opposed vaccine mandates and pushed the state to ease many social-distancing measures enacted to fight the new coronavirus pandemic.
Few details about his illness were offered since Nov. 19, when a family friend told The Bellingham Herald that Ericksen was recovering.
He is survived by his wife, Tasha Ericksen, who teaches at Squalicum High, and two grown daughters, Addi and Elsa.
Ericksen, R-Ferndale, served in the state House from 1998 to 2010, and in the Senate since 2010, representing the 42nd Legislative District, which covers Bellingham’s northern neighborhoods and the rest of Whatcom County.
In a 2018 interview, he told The Bellingham Herald that he believed that Whatcom County was a microcosm of Washington state, with Bellingham representing the liberal west side and the rest of the county representing the conservative east side.
“I am deeply saddened by the news that Doug passed away yesterday. My prayers and thoughts are with his wife, Tasha, and his daughters. Doug could be larger than life and our caucus will miss him greatly. He was passionate about his duties as a member of the Legislature and dedicated to his constituents,” according to a statement by Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia.
Gov. Jay Inslee tweeted “Trudi and I send our deep condolences to Sen. Doug Ericksen’s family, friends and colleagues. Our hearts are with them.”
In the Senate, Ericksen was the ranking member of the Environment, Energy and Technology Committee and served on the Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee.
A strong supporter of former President Donald Trump, Ericksen arranged for Trump to hold a rally in Lynden during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In January 2017, Ericksen accepted a temporary appointment as communications director for Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team, according to earlier reporting in The Bellingham Herald. Ericksen later rejected a permanent position in the EPA’s regional headquarters after raising questions about how often he’d have to work in the Seattle office, the Seattle Times reported in March 2018.
Ericksen had a bachelor’s degree in government from Cornell University and a master’s degree in political science and environmental policy from Western Washington University.
In November, Ericksen spokesman Erik Smith told The Herald that he was unsure if Ericksen had been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Ericksen missed more votes on the final passage of bills out of the Senate this year, according to earlier reporting by McClatchy. For some of those missed votes, he was in El Salvador, where he was observing elections that took place Feb. 28. Ericksen said he was in El Salvador at the invitation of the country’s vice president.
There’s no rule prohibiting senators from being out of the state, Secretary of the Senate Brad Hendrickson confirmed.
However, at the time, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended travelers avoid all travel to El Salvador, where levels of the disease were “very high.” Ericksen said in a text message at the time that he took “multiple” COVID-19 tests and “all precautions.”
Ericksen also observed Cambodia’s 2018 elections at the invitation of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government, according to a story first reported by The Seattle Times.
Ericksen praised those widely condemned elections, the Times reported. He was a registered foreign agent for Cambodia, and the company he launched with former state Rep. Jay Rodne had a $500,000 contract with the country’s government.
In the most recent legislative session, he proposed a bill to prevent discrimination against unvaccinated people in employment, education, public accommodations or travel.
His seat will be filled by the Whatcom County Council, whose members will vote from a list of candidates submitted by the Whatcom Republicans, according to the state constitution.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Sharon Shewmake, D-Bellingham, said earlier that she intends to seek Ericksen’s 42nd District Senate seat.
After Ericksen’s Nov. 11 appeal for help, an air ambulance took him from El Salvador to a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, hospital, where his condition had been improving, former state Rep. Luanne Van Werven told The Herald on Nov. 19.
Van Werven told The Herald that she texted with Ericksen and spoke to his wife by telephone.
Since then, repeated phone calls and text messages from The Herald to Ericksen and his family have gone unanswered.