Brief grammar note: I’m writing this as things happen, but occasionally I’m trying to catch up so tenses might be a lost cause here.
Welcome to the Whatcom County Democrats Endorsement Meeting Live-blog! I am setup here inside Norway Hall and will be updating you through the evening about all the excitement with pictures and video later this evening. As always, if you find this sort of coverage valuable, you can toss in a few bucks to cover my costs by clicking here.
I’ve picked up my ballot and am stationed here as we kick off the meeting. The house is packed, with over 120 people attending. In addition to the smattering of conservative and liberal candidates. Rep. Kris Lytton is giving an update about the state legislature. “I encourage you to contact us, always, about what is important in your lives. Let us know what you care about, what issues matter to you.”
Next Sheriff Bill Elfo spoke for a few minutes about where we are in the Jail Planning process. “We are working hard to include substance abuse and mental health services there,” said Elfo. No word about his oversized office proposal but he did urge people to comment on the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement.
After a brief mention of the Dems entry into the Ski to Sea parade, they moved straight to the county council candidates. Kershner started off, saying that she served “without a pre-determined agenda.” She said that we made it through the crises in 2008 with little debt, and highlighted her yes vote on the Reconveyance. “I want to continue to work on the council to make Whatcom a healthy community. We do that by promoting policies that keep our environment healthy and our economy healthy.” She transitioned to her history in the Navy. “I was basically raised in the Navy, and I live by the Navy values.”
Barry Buchanan takes the stage and comes out swinging. “I am a member of this body, served as the chair of this body and my opponent, on the other hand, is a Republican PCO and was a national Romney/Ryan delegate. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it speaks to the lens that we view issues and the difference between us.” But without pause, he is off to the issues, name-checking phosphorus reduction in Lake Whatcom and economic investment.
Ken Mann, on the other hand, sings the song of bipartisanship. “Most people here want the same thing. Clean streets, good jobs, a healthy environment.” After a little bit of his background, Ken offered up a clear voice. “We don’t need reckless ideologues on the Council, we need people making responsible decisions about our future.” He asked for the endorsement and asked people to check out his facebook page.
Jessica Elenbaas, wife of Ben Elenbaas, came to speak for her husband. “He can’t be here because he has his planning commission meeting, but I figured the boss should come and speak instead. She read directly from Elenbaas’ announcement, but swapping out every reference to Ben Elenbaas into “my husband”. She is also the first person to go overtime, leading to an awkward speech reading.
Michelle Luke sent Marlene Sexton to read her campaign announcement. My internet cut out here, so I have to admit, I missed her brief statement but you can find it online here.
Carl Weimer takes the stage with energy and passion. “People have called me a tree hugger, a liberal, a Democrat and I say, ‘yah what’s wrong with that!’ He gives his broad smile as the crowd erupts in cheers. Without a preamble, he launches into the Cherry Point facility, “This council that you elect are the ones that will make this decision. You want to make sure that the people sitting in those seats are people who believe in global warming. They are people who know about ocean acidification and understand why Cherry Point has been designated as a shoreline of significance. I have been working on these issues for years. The next council will be authorizing the spending on the jail, and let me tell you, it will either be the right size or it will be a big sucking hole drawing up all the money for social services that keep people out of jail.” He received the longest and most sustained cheers of any candidate speaking this evening.
Bill Knutzen, cracked a quick joke about his height and then launched into his campaign speech. “I’m running for reelection. Another sob story about a multi-generational county resident running for council but I’m a fourth generation county resident running for council. He noted his fight against rezoning laws that “destroy businesses in our county,” but also mentioned his work with Comcast to provide free internet to families in poverty. He closed out his speech with a reference to my blog saying, “Riley will understand all that stuttering and dry mouth at the end.” I quoted him a few weeks ago talking about his fear of public speaking.
Rud Browne takes the stage, speaking with his thick Australian accent. “I’m the embodiment of the American Dream. I came to this country, chose to move here and start my business. I’m an environmentalist because I’ve seen the impact of poor environmental behavior as I saw the damage that was done on the community I grew up in.” He spoke about Ryzex, the company he started, rattling off an impressive string of accomplishments. “I’m running for County Council because we don’t have a choice between jobs and the environment, we need to have both or we will have neither.”
Before the question and answer period begins, Estes informs everyone that the I-5 bridge near Skagit has collapsed. There is much mummering of concern but before long, we are into the question and answer period. Abe Jacobsen, longtime community advocate, asks Knutzen and Brown about their green energy stance. “I’m passionate about Wind, Solar and anything that doesn’t put carbon in the air. Knutzen, you effectively killed wind energy in this community, driving entrepreneurs away from this county. So I’d like to ask Bill, would you rethink this and come back to the table and do a wind energy ordinance that allows multi-megawatt installations?”
Browne answers first, reaffirming his support for alternative energy. “I support all forms of alternative energy that have a small carbon footprint, and I don’t understand why it was stopped. I find it hard to believe that we can’t address any concerns that might stand in the way.
Knutzen, on the other hand, is a little more defensive. “I’m always open to anything. As a councilman, I try to read everything and look through the facts. We didn’t totally kill wind industry in our county, we just put it in industrial zones.” He notes that there “are a number of digestors that we have put in the Ag community.”
Lisa McShane spoke next, directing her question to Kathy Kershner. “You spent over $100,000 on attorneys in failed efforts to fight a law that has been on the books since the 1990s. Please explain why this benefits your constituents in district one.” Kershner responded, “I want to make sure we implement the Growth Management Act in a way that works for everyone. I’m not just protecting developers, I’m protecting people like you. It is our goal to become compliant with the act. We aren’t suing ourselves, there are special interests forcing this issue that don’t have the best interests of ALL people in Whatcom in mind.” The hall erupted in boos which were quickly hushed.
The next question was from Jackie Pettit and was based on my recent blog post about the size of Elfo’s proposed new office. Kershner responded, “I haven’t seen the numbers that you are talking about but my method for looking at this is to look at what the jail planner comes back with. We need make a right size jail, it doesn’t make sense to build a jail that is a monstrosity but it should met our needs for the next 50 years.” As for the oversized office, Kershner noted that her own office is, “9ft by 9ft and I share it with Councilmember Kremen. That’s the standard I use.” Mann quickly spoke, “Sharing with Pete Kremen is punishment enough.”
The next question was for Mann, “Do you regret appointing Ben Elenbaas to the planning commission now that he is running against you?” Mann responded that Elenbaas makes a tasty hamburger and is a nice man however, “I wish I hadn’t voted for him because his voting record on the planning commission haven’t been helpful. The planning commission has brought this tea party approach to governing so yeah I would take that vote back.”
The next question cut right to the hot button issue, asking whether the candidates oppose the export of
port coal unless they can verify that there is no net damage to our community? Knutzen, Mann and Weimer all declined to answer the question for fear of endangering their vote on the issue. Buchanan said, “Climate change is killing people in Oklahoma and the Jersey Shore. I definitely oppose the export of coal.”
Kershner offered a different response, “I am not going to disrespect you by answering what I think before you have all had time to comment.” She reiterated support for the EIS process.
The final vote for the County Council Candidates: Buchanan, Mann, Weimer and Browne all received the endorsement.
Tomorrow morning, I will post the details about the City and Port candidates.
All picture copyright of Sweeney’s Portraits.