Posted by: sweeneyblog | November 20, 2012

Get Ready to RUMBLE: 2013 County Council Preview

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.

In back – Crawford, Kershner and Mann
In front – Weimer, Mustache, Brenner and Knutzen

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.



  1. What gives you the impression that Pete Kremen would be against the terminal?

    • Conversations with him. He is very aware of the impacts and highly critical of the claims made by the GPT. But my info might be a little out of date.

  2. I always value your well researched blog. I rather suspect however that your observations about Barbara Brenner might possibly be influenced by other peoples strong opinions. She is not easily led by others. I find her to be an example of a true independent by definition. With your scoffing at the idea that these are non partisan positions, it would seem fair for you to study her further, especially speaking with her directly. I observe people in the moments they are not in the spotlight, and tend to speak with them in those times as well, directly. She doesn’t seem to spend a lot of time defending herself, it appears, when confronted or criticized, either.

    • Barbara is pretty independent but in the last four years, she has repeatedly sided with Crawford, Knutzen and Kershner on a whole range of issues. That isn’t a criticism of her, it is just my observation on how she votes. Sometimes, she votes against them based on procedural issues (there wasn’t enough time to discuss this issue, or she didn’t like how it was presented) but these objections seem rooted in process, not policy, disagreements.

      I’m not saying she is easily influenced, I’m saying that lately, she has been siding with the conservatives on the council.

    • Judy, on the other hand Barbara is known for taking ridiculous stands on an issue and then refusing to change he mind no matter what. I once asked her why she hated retired Bellingham Fire Chief Bill Boyd. She said the one and only time she ever entered the City Council chambers she heard say something to the city council that she was sure was a lie. She would toss a thirty year career of credibility out the window because of something she didn’t agree with.What the hell is that? I’m not talking out of school because I spent a frustrating hour in her kitchen trying to defend Bill’s honor.

  3. The entire council, whomever finds a seat therein, will come out against GPT.
    It shall come to pass, er…fail!

  4. Hey Riley, a couple of corrections… My race in 2009 was not recounted, it simply took several days for all the votes to be counted the first and only time. Also, I did not seek endorsement from, nor was I endorsed by either of the political parties. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, most votes are unanimous and very few split the way you indicate in your article.

    I believe the Council has a good balance of members with experience, diverse backgrounds, areas of expertise, and viewpoints. Partisan divides are actually pretty rare considering the numerous votes we take. Yes, the voters will again have a chance to decide next November who will best represent them, but for now, it’s time to think about all those things we are thankful for. I’m thankful that next November is twelve months away! Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

    • I agree that most local issues do not have a partisan bias, but when you have the Whatcom Republicans putting up your signs and getting out the vote for you, that counts in my mind. Also, you did get elected to the national Republican convention and endorsed Repubilcan Vincent Buys, so I don’t think there is any doubt as to your political persuasion.

      But I do agree, things aren’t always D vs R on the local level. Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. Having spoken to Brenner privately (albeit briefly: conversation terminated by her) about the terminal, I was impressed by her lack of depth, emotional lability (verging on near hysteria when pressed to explain her ellipses, dissimulations and various dodges) and close-mindedness. Aside from those attributes and no apparent qualification for elected office, I’m sure she will be a valued member of the Council at voting time on GPT.

  6. […] Crabtree, their database guru and journalist-blamer. Congrats to Charlie, who definitely has his work cut out for him this year. You can find the ceremonial passing of the gavel between the former chair and the new chair here. […]

  7. […] In rapid succession, various candidates have announced their candidacy for election or reelection. As I mentioned earlier, this is going to be a fiercely fought campaign and we here at The Political Junkie will do our […]

  8. […] Council, District Three: Nothing new or unexpected here. Carl Weimer, public safety advocate squares off against Planning Committee chair Michelle […]

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  10. […] Your pitifully small primary ballot. This year, there is no county-wide primary. With such a big rumble brewing over the Gateway Pacific Terminal and the upcoming jail, only a select few citizens stepped forward to run for County Council and […]

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