Posted by: sweeneyblog | May 24, 2013

Whatcom Dems Endorsement Meeting, Part Two

Here is part two of my report on the Whatcom Democrats endorsement meeting. You can find part one (featuring the County Council candidates) here and as always, you can throw us a few bucks to cover our costs here.

After a brief pause for an update on the bridge, we continued to the city council candidates. Gene Knutson spoke first. With no opponent this year, he thanked the Whatcom Democrats for the last 20 years of support and said that he is eager to serve out his last term.


Michael Lilliquist

Michael Lilliquist followed, talked about balancing idealism with pragmatism. “Actions speak louder then words, it’s easy to say you are against the coal trains, but we have to act as well.” He echoed many of the themes he touched on in my interview with him earlier this month.

Clayton Petree was next to speak. “I”m a proud Mexican-American,” he began before segueing into his environmental priorities. “I’m fiscally conservative but socially, I lean progressive. The government has no place telling people who they can or can’t marry.” His focus was about city council groupthink. “I have concerns about too many 7-0 or 6-1 votes. If we had more skepticism on the council, we wouldn’t have had to pay out $100,000 for the right not to install red light cameras in our city.” Petree was clearly nervous but exuded an eagerness to connect with the audience.

Pinky Vargas, Clayton Petree

Pinky Vargas speaks while Clayton Petree looks on

Pinky Vargas, also running for Ward 4, spoke next, “I love this city, It is our obligation to be its steward and protect it for the future.” She spoke about the need for action on the waterfront. “We disagree over how big the park should be, or what businesses should be there, but we all agree that we deserve to have public access to our waterfront. We should be able to watch the sunset or walk our dogs along the water.” She closed out with her frequent refrain, “It is a do-acracy, so I want to go up there and do it.” Her speech was a sharp contrast from Petree’s, clearly rehearsed if not overly so.

Roxanne Murphy, spoke next bringing a casual confidence to the stage. “I’m running for this office because I believe in the power of our people. I’m an eighth generation member of the Nooksack tribe, I also have a master’s degree in public administration from the Evergreen State College, go Geoducks!” She stressed the need to protect Lake Whatcom, promote urban villages and prioritizing public safety. “I’m running to improve the quality of life for you, and everyone in your tribe.” She spoke with a steady rhythm, building to her conclusion which was met with enthusiastic cheers from the audience.

Bob Burr

Bob Burr before the speeches

Bob Burr brought his booming baritone to commanding roar as he listed his Democratic credentials. “I’ve been a dues member of this party. I will continue to attend our meetings, whether or not I receive your endorsement. It is quite disturbing to me that we regularly endorse candidates who have little or no history with our organization and once elected never show up to our meetings.”

He then launched into an impressive list of campaign promises. “I will never go to court to keep an initiative cosponsored by 10,000 people off the ballot. I will fight for a living wage waterfront not a waterfront for the wealthy. I will sponsor a bill banning fracking in our city, and the use of drones by our police force, I will sponsor efforts to provide partial public financing for elections.” He closed out with his belief that the city should be speaking out on city, state and global issues.

I know that in some circles, Burr’s passionate activism is criticized as being overly idealistic, but I was quite impressed with his speech. It was a full-throated declaration and a welcome lesson in the power of a commanding stage presence. With that, they moved on to the question and answer period.

Suzanne Blais asked about our public access television stations and if the candidates supported opening them up so they are truly accessible by the public. Burr and Murphy answered with strong support, Petree and Vargas both offered mild support but wanted more information about the subject. Lilliquist toted his efforts to make them more accessible on the council.

The next question was from Lisa McShane and was directed at Burr. She pointed out that Burr has not filed his candidate paperwork with the PDC, Burr contended that he filed online. McShane shot back that the PDC does not show his paperwork as being filed yet, Burr responded that he was in Europe the last month and that he did turn his paperwork in.

Elliott Smith, who was kind enough to lend me use of his internet connection until his phone died, asked about residential parking laws. Murphy expressed her support for parking laws in neighborhoods to be complaint-based, rather than going after every car on the block. Lilliquist added that, “You identified a stupid law that should have been changed two years ago.” He said they are working on it.”

After the questions were finished, Petree sidled up to me and quipped. “I shouldn’t have smoked up so much before I started speaking, my mouth was dry the whole time.” After some brief shuffle, the Port candidates took the stage.

Renata Kowalcyzk

Renata Kowalcyzk

Renata Kowalcyzk spoke about her life growing up in a communist regime. “I know what it is like to go to the grocery store and only see vinegar and vodka on the shelves. True story. I chose to make Whatcom County my home.” She talked about the need to make small businesses a focus at the Port, as well as protecting our environment. “I grew up only 120 miles from where Chernobyl blew up so believe me, I know how important environmental protection is.”

Dan Robbins chose to start his speech with a moment of silence for the accident in Skagit. After that, he introduced himself, “I’m running for port commissioner because I want to maximize the port’s property. I’ve been a job creator my whole life, I’ve started 7 businesses and served on 9 boards. I served six years in the Army. Now I want to serve at the Port.”  He rattled off his resume of volunteer work before closing with some partisan discussion. “I’m not a Democrat, I’m not a member of the Republican party. I probably lean a little more to the right than the left, but I believe in common sense and would appreciate your vote.”

Mike McAuley

Mike McAuley

Mike McAuley, after a brief shout-out to Murphy as a fellow Geoduck, began with the fact that four years ago, he won the Democrats endorsement, but “many of you didn’t know who I was. Hopefully you now know me.” He said that his fight for Charlie Sheldon as the Port’s executive director showed the strength of his character.

The question and answer period passed quickly, with little controversy and before long, we had transitioned to a short discussion on genetically modified organisms. The discussion was brief and the crowd’s focus had drifted. They collected ballots and then began counting. Shirley Forslof, former County Auditor, oversaw the ballot counting process to ensure accuracy and after an hour of tabulating the results came back.

Final results: Knutson, Vargas, Lilliquist and Murphy were all endorsed for Bellingham City Council. Kowalcyzk and McAuley were endorsed for Port and on Initiative 522, the labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), they endorsed a YES vote.

If you made it all the way through this long write-up, I credit you because it was a long night and I’m pretty sure I included way more detail then needed. Thank you for reading and stay tuned next week for some great articles about women’s health and the Port.

All photos copyright of Sweeney’s Portraits.



  1. How did you resist the urge to photoshop the images…there is so much fun that could be had…

  2. Thanks for all the efforts to follow this to the end and be a source for the final endorsement vote. I appreciate all you do to keep the locals informed.

  3. Great write-up- thanks for this! I documented the evening with some pix as well

  4. How ’bout that Roxanne Murphy? Sounds like an interesting localist evening.

  5. […] the race is non-partisan but with Mike McAuley asking for both parties endorsements (and so far, receiving the Whatcom Democrats) I asked him where he falls. “I’m a little more right of center than most.” Do […]

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