July 15, 2022
From the Editor’s Desk: Fact-checking the candidates
Mike Sato and Salish Current Staff

Candidates for 42nd Legislative District offices who participated in a forum presented by the League of Women Voters of Bellingham-Whatcom County this week had plenty to say about how legislative action is affecting crime rates, cost of living and other areas of life. In pursuit of the truth, Salish Current staff fact-checked a few statements, with interesting results.

July 15, 2022
From the Editor’s Desk: Fact-checking the candidates
Mike Sato and Salish Current Staff

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[Editor’s note: Updated.]

I’ve listened to politicians campaign and heard them “debate” in community forums. I’ve always thought that it wouldn’t hurt and maybe even would help voters to do a bit of fact-checking on some of the claims they make when running for office — and when in office.

This past Wednesday and Thursday night’s 42nd Legislative District candidate forums presented by the Bellingham-Whatcom County League of Women Voters provided a good fact-checking opportunity. 

On Wednesday, we fact-checked what all three candidates for the 42nd District Position 1 seat had to say. At the Position 2 forum, only two of the four candidates, both Democrats, showed up. Republican candidate Kyle Christensen had RSVPed yes but did not show up. [Updated July 18, 2022: Christensen advised Salish Current that he had responded to the organizers previously that he would not attend.] Republican Dan Johnson simply declined to participate. 

It takes a team effort to listen to the candidates, fact-check certain statements they make and fact-check the fact-checking— and meet this week’s Friday deadline. The resulting truth, as it turns out, is pretty interesting. I think it’s a good way of approaching both election campaigning and legislative reporting.

Here’s what we learned these past two nights:

42nd Legislative District Position 1

Clockwise from upper right: Tawsha (Dykstra) Thompson, Kamal Bhachu, Alicia Rule and LWV moderator Kirsten Barron.

Forum: incumbent Rep. Alicia Rule [D], Tawsha (Dykstra) Thompson [R] and Kamal Bhachu [R].

Alicia Rule statement: “I work really hard to be the most bipartisan legislator in Olympia.”
Score: True

It depends on how you calculate “most bipartisan.” If you look at the legislative scorecard for the environmental group Washington Conservation Voters, they say Rule voted the way they would like 33% of the time during the 2021-2022 session, making her the lowest-rated Democratic representative in the state house. 

The Family Policy Institute of Washington, a conservative Christian policy group, says that Rule voted the way they prefer 29% of the time, tied for the highest score for a Democratic representative. 

While voting records can be more complex than a handful of votes, Rule’s voting record backs up her assertion that she is one of the most bipartisan legislators in Olympia. 

Tawsha (Dykstra) Thompson statement: “We need a way out of spiking crime rates.
Score: Somewhat Accurate

Whatcom County is safer than most other communities our size, according to the 2019 FBI crime statistics (the latest numbers released). However, there has been an increase in property crime from 2021 to 2022, according to reports from the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Department. Vehicle prowls have almost doubled, along with a significant uptick in burglaries and theft. Violent crimes, however, have remained constant and have shown no significant increase.

Kamal Bhachu statement: “Washington State has one of the strictest gun laws in the U.S. … I don’t believe any additional laws are necessary.”
Score: Mostly True

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, the firearm safety group formed in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, Washington has the ninth strictest gun safety laws in the United States, in part because of laws passed last year closing the gun-show loophole, banning weapons at the state capitol and at public demonstrations and the ban on high-capacity magazines. Washington has one of the lowest rates of gun violence in the nation.

Whether additional laws are necessary is, however, a policy decision based on the current laws in place in Washington state. 

Alicia Rule statement: “When you limit someone’s ability to own a high-capacity gun, you do reduce the number of mass shootings.
Score: Mostly True

New York University researchers in 2019 studied the impact of limiting access to high-capacity weapons had on mass shooting events. They concluded that during the time that the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 was in effect (1994-2004), mass shootings were 70% less likely to occur. The researchers noted that the study shows a correlation but no causal relationship in the reduction of mass shootings. Subsequent studies have confirmed their findings. 

42nd Legislative District Position 2

Top row: LWV moderator Allison Williams and Richard May; bottom row: Joe Timmons.

Forum: Blaine City Council Member Richard May [D] and Joe Timmons [D]. (As noted, neither Republican candidate Dan Johnson nor Kyle Christensen participated in the League forum. Christensen RSVPed but did not appear; Johnson simply declined to participate.) [Updated July 18, 2022: Christensen advised Salish Current that he had responded to the organizers previously that he would not attend.]

Richard May statement: “Just north of us, Vancouver, B.C., actually has a rent increase cap of 5% to keep things affordable.”
Score: Somewhat True

In Vancouver and throughout British Columbia, rent increases were actually capped by law at 1.5% for 2022, after a rent freeze in 2021. Before then, increases fluctuated between 2.2% and 4% over the last decade. Rents in Washington have risen by 8% in the last six months.

May was accurate that B.C. caps the amount of allowable rent increases each year; he was incorrect about the actual amount of the cap.

Joe Timmons statement: “The No. 1 greenhouse gas generation in Washington state is transportation and the No. 2 is buildings.”
Score: True
[Updated July 17, 2022: Timmons’ comment originally incorrectly cited a reference to “housing” rather than “buildings”; the correction changed the score to True.]

Every two years, the Washington State Department of Ecology takes an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions and publishes a report. According to the 2020 report, “the greatest contributor to these rising emissions has been the transportation sector and the heating sector (which includes home, commercial and industrial heating). Decreases in emissions from electricity generation, in recent years, have helped to offset increases in other sectors.”

Richard May statement: “I have received all the environmental endorsements available this election.”
Score: True

May has been endorsed by major environmental groups Washington Conservation Voters, Whatcom Environmental Voters and the Environmental and Climate Caucus of Washington State. He has not received the endorsement of the Sierra Club, which has not announced their non-incumbent endorsements for 2022. May, however, is on the executive board of the local Mount Baker Chapter of the Sierra Club.
[Updated July 19, 2022: Washington Conservation Voters has not endorsed 42nd District House candidates but allowed May to include its name on his campaign brochure because of a communication error.]

Joe Timmons, Kyle Christensen and Dan Johnson have not received any endorsements from local or national environmental groups. 

42nd Legislative District Senate

Clockwise from upper right: Simon Sefzik, Sharon Shewmake, Ben Elenbaas and LWV moderator Janet Ott.

Forum: incumbent Sen. Simon Sefzik [R], Rep. Position 2 Sharon Shewmake [D] and Whatcom County Council Member Ben Elenbaas [R].

Ben Elenbaas statement: “I don’t think the statistics around gun control support less guns equals less crime. I think the statistics support more guns equal less crime.”
Score: Debatable

Elenbaas’s claim, popularized by the 1998 book More Guns, Less Crime, by John Lott, Jr., is that by increasing gun ownership, crime goes down. There has been significant academic criticism of the research done by Lott since the publication of his book. There is a correlation in states with weaker gun control laws and more gun-related homicides and suicides. In terms of total gun ownership, the states with the highest gun-to-person ratios in the United States are Montana, Wyoming, Alaska and Idaho. These states rank 24th, 38th, 1st and 40th, respectively, as the states with the most violent crime, indicating that there is not a direct correlation between number of guns owned per person and overall violent crime. To equate overall crime statistics with gun ownership, positively or negatively, there are statistics to be found on both sides of the debate.

Simon Sefzik statement: “Since Sharon Shewmake was elected in 2018, things have gotten more unaffordable, and crime has gotten worse.”
Score: Somewhat False by Implication/Somewhat Accurate

Since 2018, the price of consumer goods has risen an average of 4.21% per year with almost all that increase arriving in 2021 and 2022. The rise has been attributed to supply-chain impacts, labor shortages and federal lending policies. It is unreasonable to attribute the national impact of inflation to the election or policy efforts of Shewmake.

In terms of crime getting worse over the last four years, it depends on the type of crime. Property crimes have increased in Whatcom County; violent crimes have stayed relatively consistent in the past four years. Local law enforcement attributes this change in property crimes to recent state law that curtails some law enforcement activities, which Shewmake voted in favor of.

Sharon Shewmake statement: “Every year since I’ve been elected, the Republicans in Olympia introduce bills to make it more difficult to access women’s health.”
Score: True

Each year, multiple Republican legislators in the state House and Senate introduce bills to limit access to women’s reproductive health. During the 2021-2022 session, these included HB 2121 which would ban any abortions from being performed after 15 weeks of pregancy and HB 1679 which would limit access to medication related to terminating a pregnancy. While these bills were introduced in Olympia, none of these bills have passed.

Video viewing of the 42nd District forums sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Bellingham-Whatcom County will be available at the League’s web site.

— Reported and fact-checked by Managing Editor Mike Sato and Salish Current staff

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