Recently, I sat down with Bill Knutzen, the affable yet stalwart conservative on the Whatcom County Council. He spoke at the Freedom Academy training I attended and after a few moments of reminiscing about the fun times there, we jumped right into the interview.
I started with the obvious, why are you running for reelection? “Because I’m a sadist. Is that the right term? I’m not really into that,” he chuckles. “But seriously, agriculture was the reason I ran four years ago and it is the reason I’m running today.” He talked about his time growing up on a farm and how things have changed. “More and more, it is difficult for farmers to be farmers. We need to make sure that farmers have water rights and water quality.”
He blames government bureaucracy for the challenges that farmers face. “There are a lot of different agencies that think they are the governing body on water. Now, I like the work that the Conservation District has done; they’ve done a good job of working with the farmers so there isn’t this heavy hand of government.”
Naturally, the big issue casting a long black shadow over this race is the potential terminal at Cherry Point. I asked him his take on the issue. “I have been trying to avoid that issue at all costs!” He mentioned that the council had been advised (poorly, in my opinion) not to discuss the project and he is holding to that.
Another key issue this year is the construction of a new jail. In light of plummeting crime rates and the recent legalization of marijuana, do we really need a giant 700 bed jail the Sheriff is proposing, or a more reasonable 500 bed jail? “Like most things, you are going to meet some place in the middle. I just want to make sure that the construction is something we can afford.” He also pointed out we can reduce the burden on our jail system by supporting mental health services. “Whatcom has been pretty proactive about mental health services, and I’d like to see that continue.”
What about protecting Lake Whatcom? Knutzen believes the key is more cooperation. “The county has done a good job dealing with developers around the lake.” However, he has some strong words about the Reconveyance. “It is a crapshoot! The cost for those trails is going to be way higher; there were a lot of misconceptions about that deal.” I asked him if he believed the Whatcom Excavator-pushed conspiracy theories about the Reconveyance. He paused, “I was upset by some of those emails that came out. I’m just going to leave it at that.”
I asked him about the changing of the guard at the city and county level. “With Jack (Louws), I haven’t seen a ton of change.” He noted that Dewey Dessler, Pete Kremen’s former right hand man, is still there, deeply involved in county business. But he looks forward to seeing some improvements in the permit process. On the city level, he described Mayor Linville as “a refreshing change, to say the least. Kelli always returns my calls, and that didn’t used to happen.”
The other issue that got Knutzen fired up was the continued fight over the Growth Management Act. “We should have taken the original act to court. You know that there are property owners on the Guide that bought land and now can’t run their businesses because now the state has decided it is rural land. It is wrong and a taking!”
I asked if he is concerned about the mounting cost to the county because of their lawbreaking. “I’m more concerned about the cost to the people than to the county!”
Issues aside, Knutzen is bracing himself for another tough election cycle. Rud Browne, local entrepreneur and environmentalist recently held a high-profile kickoff. Knutzen, on the other hand, has yet to hire a campaign manager. “Will this election be tough? They are all tough, especially if I have a primary. I thought the last one was tough, but I’m proud of my record and in the end, it is up to the voters.”
As we wrapped up our interview, he mentioned that he approaches his role on the County Council using “H.A.T.” Seeing my confused expression, he explains, “Humble, Accountable and True to my principles.” He gives me a big Knutzen grin and saunters off toward the County Courthouse.
I plan to interview all the candidates for public office this year, you can find my previous interviews here.