Posted by: sweeneyblog | August 23, 2014

The Stellar Junkie: Be Prepared to Be Eclipsed!

Local astronomer Jeff Hoffmeister has volunteered to send us a few pieces when there is something truly unique and remarkable to observe in the night sky. So bundle up and gaze into the stars with the Stellar Junkie.

Jeff Hoffmeister

Jeff Hoffmeister is The Stellar Junkie

Be prepared to be eclipsed!

About every 6 months a solar and lunar eclipse occurs. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes directly between the Earth and Sun. You may ask, well doesn’t that happen at every new moon?

It is true that when a new moon phase is present, it is in the direction of the sun. However, the Moon’s orbit does not precisely follow the Sun’s path in the sky. This path is known as the solar plane or the ecliptic. The Moon’s orbit generally takes it above or below the ecliptic about 5 degrees so most of the time at new moon it is above or below the sun in the sky.

But when the Moon does happen to be crossing the ecliptic (known as a lunar ascending or descending node) at the time of new moon, a solar eclipse will happen. Due to the size of the Moon, the area on the Earth that receives the full or maximum eclipse is only about 150 miles wide. So not everyone on the Sun-Moon facing side of the Earth will get to witness even a small portion of the solar eclipse.

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse

In the case of a lunar eclipse, where the Earth is between the Moon and Sun (Full Moon phase), everyone on the Moon facing side of the Earth will observe the event to one extent or another. A solar eclipse can last as long as 7 ½ minutes, whereas a lunar eclipse maximum can last up to 1 hour 45 minutes.

I am writing this particular article now because we will have a couple of eclipse events occurring in October. In the early morning hours of October 8th we will be graced with a total lunar eclipse.

The Moon will enter the Earth’s shadow, known as the Umbra, beginning at 2:14 a.m.. Totality will be from 3:24 a.m. to 4:24 a.m. with the Moon leaving the Earth’s umbral shadow completely at 5:34 a.m. During totality you may notice that the Moon is reddish in color.

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse

This is due to the refraction of sunlight through the Earth’s atmosphere that reaches the Moon. If the Moon appears nearly black with little red, it is due to excessive dust in the Earth’s atmosphere that does not allow as much light through. The next lunar eclipse for our area will take place on April 4, 2015.

On October 23rd we will experience our first partial solar eclipse since May of 2012. This upcoming partial solar eclipse begins at 1:39 p.m. and lasts until 4:24 p.m. The next solar eclipse for our area will be on August 21st 2017 where nearly 99% of the Sun will be eclipsed by the Moon.

If you were to head south of Salem, Oregon you would experience a total solar eclipse.

**Remember, Never Look Directly At The Sun, even during a total solar eclipse except at full totality. It would permanently damage your eyes and you wouldn’t even feel any pain as it happens.

Only use proper eye protection like special solar glasses or a # 14 or better welders glasses. NO Sunglasses! Projection works too and you can find ways of creating a solar projection box on the internet… just don’t look at the Sun. Please play it safe.

So go out there in October and enjoy what the wonders of the universe have to offer.

Posted by: sweeneyblog | August 22, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: City Council President Cathy Lehman to Resign

Breaking news, City Council President Cathy Lehman to resign her elected office at the end of this year to take a position with the Washington Environmental Council (WEC) and Washington Conservation Voters (WCV). In this new role, she would, “help advance climate change policy regionally, educate and turn out voters for environmental priorities and candidates statewide, and hold elected officials accountable to their environmental values,” said Lehman in a statement to the press.

Of course I'm going to use this picture of Cathy Lehman

Of course I’m going to use this picture of Cathy Lehman

Lehman, who was elected in 2009 2011 to the Bellingham City Council was formerly part of a political consulting firm, Lehman-McShane Strategies, with local organizer Lisa McShane however the two parted ways earlier this year. This new job will be out of Seattle, so she will be moving down there after December.

She addressed the issue of leaving before the end of her term in her statement. “Nevertheless, this has been a very difficult decision. Many hours of sleep have eluded me because I have worked hard to serve the City of Bellingham, and I greatly respect the honor of the office of City Council. Since the beginning of my run for office, I’ve been humbled by the support I’ve felt from so many of you, and I take the trust you have placed in me very seriously. The responsibilities of my position are not something I take lightly, and I have not wanted to let you down.

But my life’s work is, and always has been, one of public service and advancing practical solutions for our environmental challenges. And making real advances to address climate change may be the single most important work of our lifetimes.”

In January, the City Council will have to appoint a citizen from the 3rd Ward (downtown, Sunnyland neighborhood and others) to fill the remainder of Lehman’s term (till the end of 2015). That seat is also up for reelection in 2015, further complicating the issue. If the council cannot agree on a candidate, after 30 days the decision is passed to the mayor.

On a personal note, I will miss her clear voice for moderation and functional policy. I’ve always found her approachable, lively and determined to do what is best. WEC and WCV are lucky to have her.

Hello Loyal Readers, 

That’s right, we are back in the saddle with today’s Odds and Ends – required reading for all the movers and shakers in Whatcom County and beyond.

Lorna Klemanski

Lorna Klemanski

More personnel turnover at the City of Bellingham as long-time Human Resources Director Lorna Klemanski departs for Chelan County Public Utility District. Readers of this blog may recognize the name from the City of Bellingham employee moonlighting scandal that we unearthed back in 2011 where three employees of the Public Works department were moonlighting as contractors and actually competing with the City for contracts.

Klemanski, in her role as interim Human Resources Director, had an “informal discussion” with the lead employee Don Burdick, where she did not keep any notes of the meeting but gave her informal approval. She then accused me of trying to make something out of nothing. Later it was revealed that she and Burdick had been carpool buddies for several years before this situation arose.

Mayor Kelli Linville looks to this as an opportunity to improve the human resources department. Linville from the press release, “Lorna always told me that when someone leaves, it’s a great opportunity see if we can do things better. I’ll take this time to see if we can make some changes that will make sense and continue to provide the high-level of service that our employees and the public expects.”

Rep. Vincent Buys

Rep. Vincent Buys

In other news, Rep. Vincent Buys raised some eyebrows recently during the Lynden Fair Horse show where he drove around the arena in his campaign truck while the announcer informed the crowd how lucky we are to have Buys as our representative and how we should all vote for him in November.

I got numerous emails crying foul that this was a violation of their non-profit status, however a quick check at the Public Disclosure Commission shows that he bought $2,600 worth of advertising from the fair – I’m going to wager this was part of the deal.

Finally, I want to introduce you to a brand-new local blog that is doing some FANTASTIC work.  The Curious Queer, written by Bellingham local Stephanie Kountorous, started as a column in The Betty Pages but has now spun out into its own site where Kountouros sits down with big thinkers for in depth interviews centering around, but not limited to, LGBTQA issues. Check it out, it is worth the read.

That’s it for now but stay tuned, I may have to throw up a “BREAKING NEWS” post later today.

Posted by: sweeneyblog | August 21, 2014

Will there ever be a President from the Pacific Northwest?

Yes, it has been rather quiet the last week. For those of you who don’t know, I work as the Front Office Lead for Landmark Real Estate and as you can imagine, it is crazy busy right now with all the college students moving out and moving in. However, that has not stopped the Political Junkie – I am working on a couple of long form investigative reports that should be out next week.

Will there ever be a President from the Pacific Northwest?  It is a simple question, but as we slowly gear up for the presidential race of 2016, it is worth considering.

One of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman, observed in his magnum opus American Gods that America is not as homogeneous as we would like to think.

San Francisco isn’t in the same country as Lakeside anymore than New Orleans is in the same country as New York or Miami is in the same country as Minneapolis . . . They may share certain cultural signifiers—money, a federal government, entertainment—it’s the same land, obviously—but the only things that give it the illusion of being one country are the greenback, The Tonight Show, and McDonald’s.

The point holds that each section of the country brings a unique perspective – and the Pacific Northwest is no exception. Yet we have yet to even be competitive for the highest office in the nation.

I love any post that allows me to use this picture. This picture is flawless. Just like you, reader.

Gov. Rick Perry, the prototypical candidate

Looking over the list of presidents, and presidential candidates, over the last eighty years and the pattern is clear. To compete for the highest office, you must be from New York, Boston, the Deep South (especially Texas), Chicago, or California. Southwest? Rockies? Forget about it. As for our corner of the nation? Not a single contender of note.

Why is that? To be a competitive candidate for the presidency, you must have some sort of national stature – almost exclusively as a Senator or Governor. But being one of a hundred senators or fifty governors is not enough; you need to have the eyes of the nation on you.

Sometimes that is out of your control. Gov. Jay Nixon (D-MO) had been quietly gathering staff for a potential presidential run but then Ferguson exploded on his watch. You could be a thought leader on significant issues (see: Sen. Rand Paul on spying or Gov. Beshear on health care) or simply a very popular and media savvy elected official.

Other ways you could become a national competitor? Become nominated as a vice-presidential candidate and then run the next time around. To be selected as a veep, you need to bring something to the ticket – experience that the other candidate doesn’t have or representing a swing state.

However, the deck is stacked against the Pacific Northwest and Washington State in particular. We are far away from the media centers of the country (New York, LA) so few national news outlets cover our politics because of the expense of sending someone out here.

The last presidential candidate from WA

The last presidential candidate from WA

Furthermore, the timing is all wrong. Washington and Montana elect our governors on the same years we elect our presidents, meaning no sitting governor gets a free shot. If New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wants to run for President, he can, content that he can always fall back on his day job. No such luck for our executives, they have to choose which seat to pursue. Oregon and Idaho both elect their governors on off-year elections.

Finally, we aren’t a primary state of any note. No early contenders travel to Washington State to lock down our electoral votes, we are middle of the pack, lost in the shuffle after Super Tuesday.

This is a great deal of set-up Riley, where’s the beef? I’m getting there, rhetorical person.

We have had impressive legislators from Washington State. Sens. Scoop Jackson, Warren Magnuson and more recently Rep. Norm Dicks all rose in the ranks due to their years of service and were able to secure millions in resources for our state. However, only Scoop Jackson took a swing at the presidential ring and failed miserably. The dirty work of marshalling large funds towards your home community leaves far too many skeletons in your closet for the bright lights of a national campaign.

So who would be a good fit? Let us take a look:

  • Sen. Patty Murray – Top of my list, first in my heart. Sen. Murray has been representing Washington since 1992 and in that time has built an impressive resume of fighting for our soldiers, protecting our wildlands, and reaching across the aisle to settle budget differences. She has risen in the leadership within the Senate and is currently the fourth highest ranked Democrat in the Senate. In other words, following in the footsteps of Sen. Warren Magnuson and may some day become Senate Majority leader. But not president.
  • Sen. Maria Cantwell – Elected in 2000 and immediately buried herself in thorny, complicated issues like telecommunications regulation and trade negotiations – perhaps the least appealing campaign issues this side of septic inspections. Not going to happen.
  • Governor Jay Inslee – Maybe. The scenario would play out like this – if Inslee overcomes the Republican-controlled senate (with some help from Whatcom), if he passes some cutting edge legislation combating climate change, and if he builds a solid track record of success on all the other festering issues in this state, then maybe he will be a vice-presidential pick in 2020, but that is a long time with several ifs.
  • Unnamed Republican – This slot used to held by Rob McKenna. The idea was that a moderate Republican takes a blue state, manages it well for six years and shoots to the top of the list of potential presidential candidates. However, in 2012, the Democrats won every single state-wide office except for one (Secretary of State). So while this is still a possibility, it is highly unlikely.

Looking beyond Washington, the chances get even slimmer.

  • Oregon – For Senators, they have a wonk with no charisma (Sen. Ron Wyden) and a fiery newbie (Sen. Jeff Merkley). Gov. John Kitzhaber is currently serving his third term (though not consecutively) after baaaaarely squeaking by for election in 2010. There are no Republicans of note here.
  • Montana – I’ve mentioned former Gov. Brian Schwitzer here before as a potential contender but the current elected officials from Montana do not have much of a chance. There is the taciturn Sen. Jon Tester (D) who edged his way to reelection in 2012, a banner year for Democrats and the newly minted Sen. John Walsh (D) who just dropped out of his own senate race as a result of plagiarism charges.
  • Idaho – Neither of the Senators from Idaho, James Risch (R) or Mike Crappo (R), have done much on the national stage to distinguish themselves. In fact, the last Senator from Idaho that made news was Sen. Larry Craig (R). The current Governor, Butch Otter (R) may make an interesting candidate but he seems to be rather uninterested in national politics.

So where does that leave us? Tragically neglected. Washington is currently a national leader on wage equality ($15/hr), ending the drug war and fighting climate change but our efforts will continue to be neglected by the national media without a champion able to tell the nation about the progress we are making.

Posted by: sweeneyblog | August 12, 2014

Fleetwood versus Ericksen: What Happened in Round One?

Round One

Round One

Election watchers had plenty to chew on after the final round of ballots were counted last week. When the dust had settled, Ericksen beat Fleetwood 57% to 43%. Ericksen’s allies declared victory, while many Democrats were left wondering what happened.

As always when looking at election numbers, there are no certainties. I have no magic device that lets me peer into the hearts of men and see what motivates them to vote one way or another but you can assemble theories and find evidence to support those theories.

Fewer people voted in this election than any similar primary. Just take a look at the turnout percentage in Whatcom County over the last several years – it is pretty clear that this is an outlier.

2014 2012 2010 2008 2006 2004
33.5% 39.8% 43.7% 46.6% 40.5% 44.7%

Traditionally, the lower the turnout, the worse Democrats do. Why the poor turnout? This is one of the earliest primaries Washington State has ever seen, meaning many people are clued out of the electoral process, instead waiting till fall before becoming involved.

42nd is brutal ground for Democrats

42nd is brutal ground for Democrats

Only half the voters that will turn in a ballot in November voted in the primary. Around 30,000 people voted in the primary and current predictions are saying somewhere between 60,000-65,000 people will vote in this race in November. The group of people that vote in the primary tend to be older, more conservative and more likely to support incumbents, while the general election crowd is younger, more environmental and more likely to “throw the bums out”.

Beyond that, of all the competitive senate races, Seth pulled even with the other Democratic challengers. With the exception of Matt Isenhower, the Democrat challenging Republican Sen. Andy Hill in the Democratic leaning 45th LD (Kirkland), the rest of the Democratic challengers this cycle only received around 43% of the vote. Shari Song, who we covered here, received 43%, Judy Arbogast running against ALEC member Sen. Jan Angel in Kitsap County received 43%, Tami Green out of Tacoma received 43%. The point is that it was a rough night for all the Democrats running and Fleetwood is still one of the top pickup opportunities in the state.

Finally, the state Republicans bombarded Fleetwood with negative mailers during the run up to the primary. The Fleetwood campaign responded with a few mailers over Ericksen’s ethical troubles but on a much smaller scale. As the Democratic candidates for County Council proved last year, negative campaigning works and it may have depressed votes in this race.

So what does this mean? For partisans on both sides, they will find all the justification they need to keep fighting hard. My take is that the 42nd is a difficult district for Democrats and it has grown harder since Linville was ousted in 2010. I can count on my hand the number of Democrats who have a fighting chance to beat Doug Ericksen. Seth Fleetwood is one of those people. I think this race is still very winnable. But only if people turn up and vote.


Posted by: sweeneyblog | August 8, 2014

Friday Odds and Ends: Sports, Sutherland and Success

Hello Loyal Readers,

A whirlwind of excitement this week – primary elections and the Seahawks pre-season. While many of my readers are not big fans of the sportsball with the sports playing and the moving of the ball by sports people, perhaps this will interest you:

One of our star players is Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Aquarium currently has a display where a tiny little crab carries around a Super Bowl trophy. The crab’s name? Marshawn Pinch. You’re welcome.

"Marshawn Pinch"

“I’m all about the wave action, boss”

Moving right along, I spoke with long-time PCO and honored Democrat, Hue Beattie, recently and he offered up an interesting theory about why Pedro Celis did so poorly, and Robert Sutherland did so well. Beattie contends that after deciding they did not want to vote for the Latino guy, Republican voters remembered former Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland and thought that Robert Sutherland was the same guy. Case of mistaken identity propelling a sub-par candidate through the primary? Yes, this is your modern Republican party.

The last round of vote counting in Whatcom County did not produce positive results for the Democratic candidates running, but don’t give up hope yet. I’m still working on the numbers and should have some interesting analysis for you this weekend (the missus is out photographing a wedding, which means plenty of time to curl up with a cup of tea and precinct spreadsheets).

However, Rep. Rick Larsen’s charm offensive has been successful. This year, he made a concerted effort to reach out to Whatcom County Democrats, attending multiple events, asking for their endorsement in person and the results? He pulled 64.4% from Whatcom County, a full 9% higher than his results district-wide and his strongest county performance by far (Skagit and San Juan 55%, Snohomish 53%). Kudos to Larsen for his efforts and a tip of the hat to Whatcom County for responding well.

Stay tuned this weekend for some electoral analysis. Until then, enjoy the weather!

Posted by: sweeneyblog | August 6, 2014

Rep. Suzan DelBene wins her reelection campaign

Okay, the headline is not completely accurate – she does indeed have to campaign for the general but right now, it looks like it is all over for the Republicans in the 1st Congressional District.

Rep. Suzan DelBene

Rep. Suzan DelBene

At the beginning of this year, DelBene appeared to be one of the most vulnerable candidates in the nation. Her district, statistically, is one of the most competitive and she was running for reelection for the first time.

The state Republicans had recruited a business-minded Latino, Pedro Celis, and generated some real positive media about his campaign. He had raised just under half a million dollars (the traditional threshold for being competitive in a Congressional race) and was on his way.

Driving through the county, you could see the red “Vote for Pedro” signs dotting the intersections and he had paid multiple visits to Whatcom trying to drum up votes. In short, Celis worked hard for this election.

Then the primary happened and he got beat by someone with $1,000 in the bank. Robert Sutherland, no relation to the famous college professor, edged out Celis in the primary, pulling in 700 more votes than Celis. Obviously today’s ballot count could reverse that but the damage is already done.

Sutherland, a former biochemist whose website is filled with typos and links to videos of random people singing covers of his favorite songs, managed to beat the anointed Republican candidate. That is hard to explain away.

The next vote count could put Celis back in the running but it looks like DelBene can relax a bit, her hard work tackling bipartisan issues like reining in the NSA and immigration reform is paying off and her opponents just can’t seem to get their act together.

Posted by: sweeneyblog | August 5, 2014

2014 Primary Election Night Live-Blog

Hello Loyal Readers,

It is live-bloggin’ time!!! I am here, firmly ensconced at Chuckanut Brewery, one beer in and surrounded by enthusiastic Democrats. You can contribute to the beer fund by clicking here. Satpal Sidhu and Joy Monjure have both arrived.

Mike Estes and Nuella

Mike Estes and Luella

Suzanne Blais, noted Public Access television advocate, showed up with Monjure. “A noted political reporter that I trust said that Monjure is going to get 46%, therefore it must happen.”

Roxanne Murphy, city councilwoman arrived after attending the National Night Out event at the Maritime Heritage Park sporting a neat “Protect B-Ham!” badge. “National Night Out was such a big deal in Tacoma because so many communities needed it but here it is way more fun.”

Andrew Taylor,  Seth Fleetwood’s campaign manager, is cautiously optimistic. “We are hoping for forty-five percent, but there are 25,000 voters that vote in the general who are not voting today – and they vote Democratic.”



Monjure, Sidhu and Stephanie Kountouros

Monjure, Sidhu and Stephanie Kountouros

Bryna: Riley is now socializing with the crowd, getting the hopes and fears for the night. People are still trickling in, as are the beers. Richard May arrived, wearing his Seahawks ticket conversation piece.

Mike Estes, chair of the Whatcom Democrats, theorizes that the late-trending ballots will trend Democratic.

Fleetwood when asked for the gazillionth time how he thinks tonight will go. “I don’t have a bloody clue! I hope it goes well.”

Seth Fleetwood and Hue Beattie

Seth Fleetwood and Hue Beattie

Chiara D’Angelo Patrico, is a democratic volunteer who was making calls in the office today. I asked her why she volunteers with the Fleetwood campaign. “What is my heart reason? I’m very excited about Seth’s role in shifting the stalemate that is currently our state senate to allow our youth’s voice to be heard about environmental issues.”

Richard May just announced, “Hey, everyone’s favorite electoral good luck charm is here, Dan Pike, and he is sitting next to Natalie McClendon.” The wince was palpable but both former candidates chuckled.

Richard May, tickets and beer

Richard May, tickets and beer


There is some discussion of Nyima, the dog running for County Prosecutor, and my recent burst of publicity around that race. “Four years of solid political reporting and I make the news for the dog story?” I said. Pike, not missing a beat, said, “Four years of solid political reporting? When was that? I can’t remember.”

Early results are in. Fleetwood and Monjure clocking in at 43%. Satpal and Van Werven in the general.

Bob Burr wins his primary and advances to the general with McClure. “Bob bob bob, Bob Burr won!”

What does the 43% mean for Fleetwood? Lots of speculation in the house. “The late arriving votes will trend our way,” is a popular comment, followed closely by, “It is still competitive!”

The room is packed. For me, the most surprising outcome is Joy Monjure receiving more votes than Seth Fleetwood. “I’m excited and encouraged, and am looking forward to getting more time on the ground, helping people know who I am.”

Distinguished Herald reporter Ralph Schwartz has arrived to interview candidates. He said that he just spoke to Luanne Van Werven who was celebrating her electoral success with vigor.

Bob Burr and Jim Fox examine a hard copy of the results

Bob Burr and Jim Fox examine a hard copy of the results

Joy Monjure takes the stage to speak. “The only reason I’m here is because of all the volunteers . . . I can beat that guy!”

Satpal Sidhu, “We are going to win because we have better ideas! This will allow us to have a discussion about ideas, a one-on-one discussion on issues and that is because of the hard work of our volunteers.”

Beer and Blogging

Beer and Blogging

Burr, “This just goes to show that there are people in this county that care about water. I am so thankful for the Democratic party’s endorsement in this non-partisan race. It is going make the difference. It is unusual for Bob Burr not to be just a message candidate but this is a race where the message really resonates with people in the county. We’re in it to win it.”

Fleetwood is more subdued with his speech. “We went from an organization did not even exist to doing a very impressive job . . . I think there is a very compelling reason that we are going to reach 44, 45 percent. Just do the math, we are TOTALLY in this thing!”

Bre, the coordinated campaign organizer for the Whatcom Democrats gets a repeated shout-outs by all the candidates.

Bryna: As Mrs. Political Junkie, I want to thank all of you for reading and taking an interest in Riley’s amazing blog. Remember, it’s here because of your help! He’s quite the guy, huh? You know, I couldn’t stand politics until he came along. Now, look, I’m writing on his blog while at the Primary party night. Crazy. The things you do for love!

Riley again: Kelli Linville was thrilled at Monjure’s success. “She is such a wonderful candidate and friend and I’m really excited for her campaign to continue to grow.”

Patrick Stickney, Sidhu’s campaign manager, offered up his thoughts on the election. “We made good progress in the last couple of months against a political operative and tea party councilmembers, we’ve come out ahead and this momentum is going to carry us through to November. Satpal’s message of actually getting things done in Olympia and working with people of all walks of life will show voters who is the right choice in the general election.”

Also, 10,000 voters decided not to vote for Dave McEachron for County Prosecutor. You’re welcome.

In honor of Luanne Van Werven squeaking by in the primary, here is her new campaign logo.

van werven rock album

Van Werven Logo

Matt Petryni, anti-coal activist and campaign volunteer, “Doug Ericksen, single-handedly blocked all the oil train safety legislation that was proposed, including his own legislation! That’s why he is going down in November.”

Thank you all for tuning in. I apologize for the typos and formatting, I’ll do some clean-up tomorrow morning but in the meantime, a happy election night to you all.

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