Yes, we just finished the last election but people are already recruiting candidates, posturing for the media and talking to potential campaign staff. So here is your official preview of what is coming up next for Whatcom County.
This post covers the big fish in the pond: the Whatcom County Council races. They will be all eclipsing in Whatcom County this upcoming year. Since the county council is the only elected body that gets a vote on the Gateway Pacific Terminal Project (they have to approve the building permit,) you will see thousands of dollars cascade into our county to try and secure these seats. Unfortunately, due to the really poor legal advice they received, the council members are advised not to share their views on this project until they have seen the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Which means they can’t come right out and SAY they are for or against the project, but they can say statements like, “I’m waiting to see the EIS but I’m excited about jobs in our community.” Or, “I’m going to reserve judgement, but I have some serious concerns about the impacts this project will have.” Absolutely ridiculous, you say? Welcome to Whatcom County politics.
Currently the council has three Democrats. But wait, you say, I thought these were non-partisan positions. After a brief, mirthlessly cynical laugh, I will qualify that statement. There are three “candidates that are usually endorsed by the Democrats.” Is that better? Okay, we have Pete Kremen, Ken Mann and Carl Weimer. Of these three, Ken Mann and Carl Weimer are up for reelection. Last time, Ken Mann ran a full-on campaign, raised $53,000 and pulled in just shy of 52% of the vote. Carl Weimer, ran a much more subdued campaign, holding barely any campaign events and only raising $29,000 ($10k of which came from one source,) and got 50.76% of the vote. You can draw any number of conclusions from that race, but the bottom line is they were close. Last I heard, both Carl and Ken were strongly considering re-election but had not made any firm decisions yet.
On the other side of the fence, the council has three Republicans and one Barbara Brenner, who is her own category. The three “candidates that are usually endorsed by the Republicans” are Sam Crawford, Kathy Kershner and Bill Knutzen. Of those, Kathy Kershner and Bill Knutzen are up for reelection. Last time, Kathy Kershner raised $45,600 for her race, including one giant check (almost $20K) from Nick Kaiser. This single check was so offending that the very next year, the state passed restrictions on how much a single person can contribute to a local campaign. Kershner’s race went into
recounts overtime against nice guy geologist Dan McShane until she finally triumphed with 50.28% of the vote, a margin of around 300 votes.
Bill Knutzen had a similar battle last time around, raising $44,000 and outspending his opponent, Laurie Caskey-Schreiber, almost two to one. In the end, he pulled in 53.7% of the vote. Last I heard, both Bill and Kathy were seeking reelection.
So what does this mean? We have four incumbents, two Ds and two Rs, that are battling it out for control of the council. Currently the council is moderately balanced if slightly conservative leaning. When Barbara Brenner decides how she feels about an issue, she usually comes down on the side of the conservative members of the council . . . unless they are pissing her off at the time. If I had to guess, I would imagine that the Gateway Pacific Terminal has four yes votes and three no votes waiting for them, but this upcoming election could completely change that balance. If even one of the Republicans loses their seat, we are looking at a 4-3 split against the terminal.
That is, if the council is ever allowed to speak on the issue. My prediction is that this is going to be big, ugly and personal with more than $80,000 spent on each campaign. Lots of money from outside the county is going to flow into these races as the Whatcom County Council becomes the battleground for a large struggle. Hold on to your hats.