As the long-awaited state primaries approach, campaigning continues in the three-way race for the 42nd representative district position 1 seat.
The 42nd district, which comprises all of Whatcom County save South Bellingham and its Eastern periphery, has historically been hotly contested between Republicans and Democrats.
Representative Alicia Rule, has been the position 1 representative since January 2021 and is competing against republicans Kamal Bhachu and Tawsha Dykstra Thompson.
Rule, a graduate of University of Washington, is a fifth-generation Whatcom County resident. Before joining the legislature, she was a social worker and therapist, owning the psychotherapy practice Rule and Associates, which she continues to manage.
She feels her social work and mental health background helps her with her work in the state legislature and addressing the concerns of Whatcom County residents.
“The mental health sector has been underrepresented and overlooked for a really long time,” Rule said. “We really need to work hard at rebuilding that mental health system, both for adults and also for children and youth.”
Rule emphasized that COVID-19 had a major impact on the rates of depression among young people and that inadequacies in the mental health system only exacerbated this increase.
Tawsha Dykstra Thompson, the Republican front-runner challenging Rule, agrees that mental health, especially after two years of COVID, is critical to maintaining a healthy society.
“With COVID and all the restrictions, where there wasn’t a whole lot of face-to-face contact and relationship-building, I think once we have that opportunity to build relationships and people talk to each other face-to-face, you have a sense of commitment to each other and to work together, versus that separation,” Thompson said, commenting on the increased level of divisiveness in culture and politics.
Thompson, a former Bellingham police officer of over 20 years who was terminated after her COVID-19 vaccine religious exemption was denied, served as a union leader for Bellingham police. A major concern of hers is public safety laws passed by the state legislature that limit the powers of police.
“What is needed is someone with my training and experience in Olympia,” Thompson said. “Law enforcement is a huge issue – it’s one of the foundational things we need to provide as government to the community so we can feel safe. A lack of true understanding of all the nuances that make law enforcement what it is and how we do our jobs is something we need to get right for the communities.”
Kamal Bhachu, the other Republican running for the seat, agrees with Thompson that public safety is a major issue facing Whatcom County and the state, citing higher levels of property crime the county has experienced. He feels that everyday people should get involved in politics to make a change.
“There are a lot of pressing issues that we have to solve,” Bhachu said. “I don’t think politicians are going to solve those – everyday people will have to get involved.
Bhachu lost his job at PeaceHealth after refusing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine last September, according to his appearance on local conservative podcast “Make It Public,” which itself is part of We Will, a Washington state-based anti-vaccine mandate and anti-mask mandate organizing group.
Bhachu previously ran for Whatcom County Council in 2021 against Barry Buchanan, which Bhachu lost. Originally from Punjab, India, Bhachu has lived in Whatcom County for over 25 years. He sees himself as a potential voice for people of color in Whatcom County.
“I really think that [people of color] haven’t been represented well by both sides,” Bhachu said. “Democrats do come out and say ‘we’re for you,’ but I haven’t seen anything that’s being done for us.”
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Rule emphasized that abortion rights are potentially on the ballot in the upcoming legislative session.
“I’m the only pro-choice candidate in this race,” Rule said. “I will forever protect women’s right to choose their own healthcare decisions – I believe women have the ability to do that and it is their absolute given right to make those decisions. Neither of my opponents agree with that.”
Thompson and Bhachu, however, do not feel abortion rights are a relevant issue in Washington state, believing it to be settled after multiple initiatives and legislative votes, and unlikely ever to be overturned.
As with the race for state senate, one thing candidates from the 42nd district do agree on is that housing affordability is out of control, and bipartisan solutions can be reached to make Whatcom County liveable.
“We’re going to have to look at what is inhibiting us from having affordable housing,” Thompson said. “Why are the housing prices going up?”
Thompson feels that much of the affordability crisis is concerned with permitting and regulations regarding building.
Rule emphasized the urgency of the housing crisis.
“We cannot afford to look for one answer that fits all,” Rule said. “We’re going to have to do multiple things at the same time, whether that be from increasing home ownership opportunities, really building a lot more inventory, which is a huge part of the problem, or continuing to invest in the housing trust fund – all of the spectrum of the housing interventions need to happen.”
Bhachu agreed that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t workable.
“When people talk about affordable housing – what does that mean? What is affordable?” Bhachu said. “I don’t think there is one set answer.”
Rule is the fundraising front-runner with $120,783.84 raised, with Thompson second with $87,101.67 raised and Bhachu in third with $15,542.93, according to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.
The primary is on August 2, where the two candidates receiving the most votes will progress to the general election in November. You can register to vote at votewa.gov and find out more about Rule, Thompson and Bhachu on their websites.