Posted by: sweeneyblog | July 17, 2013

Tea Party Forum Live-Blog

Help support local media by making a donation to The Political Junkie here

It is a muggy evening and 120 political junkies have gathered at Ferndale High School, scattered across the seats like despondent teenagers to listen to the County Council candidates debate the issues at the Tea Party forum. I note that there are very few fresh faces, most everyone here is either an elected official, a candidate or a volunteer with a campaign. I’m just taking stock of the crowd when Dillion Hancoop starts announcing the candidates. With very little preamble, the forum has kicked off.

The Assembled Candidates

The Assembled Candidates

Right out of the bat, Bob Burr asks the first question, “Do you believe in climate change?” Carl Weimer gives a strong yes, but even more surprising, his opponent Michelle Luke, also agrees. “I’ve seen climate change within my lifetime. So yes, I believe in it.” The next question is a longer question from local activist Wendy Harris about the importance of biodiversity which is lost in Ken Mann and Ben Elenbaas’ answers about how much they love wildlife.

Melodie Kirk, local Republican volunteer and amatuer photographer, asks about Krause Manufacturing and what the candidates will do about encouraging business to stay. Kathy Kershner answers first, pivoting quickly to zoning laws. “On the council, I’ve voted to ensure that industrial areas stay industrial.” Barry Buchanan on the other hand, talks about the economic development funds. “I would not vote to spend all the economic development funds on the Lynden water treatment facility. That’s not a good use of those funds, we need to make sure that it is spent on making a positive change.


The event was staffed by volunteers

Richard May, former candidate for state legislature, asked a rather pointed question about the Growth Management Act. “Do you agree that not following the Growth Management Act is going to cost the county thousands and thousands of dollars in infrastructure costs if we let everyone build anything anywhere.” Knutzen got his back up, “I believe we need a legal opinion not the opinion of an appointed board.” Apparently, Knutzen has not read any of the numerous judicial rulings from, you know, that pesky legal department known as the Supreme Court of Washington State telling Whatcom County to comply with state law.

Ben Elenbaas received a question about why the County Council killed wind turbine production in Whatcom with an emergency moratorium. Elenbaas denied being involved in that issue but expressed mild support for the project. Mann on the other hand railed against the County Council’s “boneheaded move” by passing a moratorium against wind energy. “When you change the rules like that, it has a chilling effect on entrepreneurs in our county.”

Twenty minutes in, and we have our first question about Agenda 21. Way to go Chris Henderson. Michelle Luke spoke about how difficult it is to assemble the comp plan, while Carl Weimer responds with his usual dry wit. “I think the concerns over this are seriously overblown . . . I don’t think the UN is organized enough take over the world.”

Mayor Gary Jensen asks about the Slater Road extension in light of the Lummi Tribe’s acquisition of that land. Ken Mann answers, making a point of restating his name every time he gets the microphone. I missed some of their answers because I was considering the irony of Jensen asking Mann and Elenbaas a question considering he just endorsed Elenbaas via facebook two days ago.

Luke and Weimer

Luke and Weimer

Ellen Baker asked what the County Council will do to preserve individual liberty and how you balance that with a desire to provide public services. A lofty question for a municipal body, but Knutzen is up to the challenge. “If you look at what our founding fathers got angry about, its not that different than someone coming in and changing the value of your property because some guy in Olympia changed a law that you knew nothing about.”

Another odd question, have you ever had to hire and fire people and manage a budget? Carl Weimer spoke about the three businesses he has ran and the challenges he faced. Luke, on the other hand, had no such experience. “I’ve never had to hire or fire anyone . . . but I’ve worked with seniors in my family to ensure that they plan ahead with their finances.”

Ray Baribeau (middle) of Elfo's advocacy group, Public Safety Now

Ray Baribeau (middle) of Elfo’s advocacy group, Public Safety Now

Ray Baribeau, “A lot of people have said that we put too many people in jail. Do you know about jail alternatives and diversions and the difference between those two. Buchanan takes the question in a different direction, speaking to the alternative jail facility. “We need to take a good careful look at the bigger picture and make sure we are doing the right thing for our community.” Kershner spoke about the difficulty of sentencing guidelines. “We need a place where we can safely house them. Our current jail does not have the room to contain some of these rehabilitation problems.”

I get up and snap a few pictures, I’ll put those in tonight when I can do a little touch up work on them.

We get a question about the Reconveyance, first of the evening, asking about what will be done to protect the timber harvests. “It must be a park, if that’s the purpose of it, the target kindof moved on what the target was. If it must be a park, then we should make sure that that is taken care of.” Mann on the other hand highlights the great bargain the county received on the property and the importance of a robust public process about how this moves forward. “I’m not opposed to having forestry in the areas where it is safe, I would certainly support looking at that.”

Another question about taxes, asking if they will waste money on pet projects when the tax dollars come in. “I think we all like pet projects up here, but in reality, when money comes in, it has to go into a specific fund,” said Weimer. “If we take funds and spend it on something else, we get dinged by the state auditor.”

Suspected Mayoral Candidate Michael Lilliquist asked a question, and naturally opens quoting a statistic about acres of farmland, segues to a dense speech about urbanization and the importance of rural ag land. He closes with a question about why they didn’t increase the amount of land zoned for Agricultural. Kershner points out that there are people in the rural areas are farming. “When we update the Comp plan, we need to make sure we are protecting Ag when we are looking at any sort of growth.” Buchanan pounces on this, drawing on his personal history. “My great grandparents moved here, from Norway because of the great land and beautiful resources we have . . . We need to make sure that we are getting the most out of our land.”

John Kirk asks a long-winded question about “outsiders” from the Department of Ecology telling our local planners what to do. Knutzen used as a springboard to talk about water. “We’ve got a lot of water here in Whatcom County, it the mountains, in the rivers, it is everywhere.”

Dave Onkels asks whether the County has been well served by the Growth Management Act. Buchanan says, “We should give it a chance to try. It’s costing us thousands and thousands of dollars to litigate it over and over. We are going to lose that fight. We should relax and implement it in our community.” Kershner on the other hand, believes that we have implemented the growth management act. “We are just arguing over details. We have implemented most of it.”

Next question is about the Reconveyance, “Did you actually walk that land before you bought it? It is not good park land.” Elenbaas says that no, he did not go there. Mann on the other hand visited it twice. “It is beautiful, with some incredible views . . . you need to get out there and see it. If you don’t have a good view of the land, it just becomes rules and paperwork.”


The candidates

Kris Halterman, KGMI host, asked if they supported removing Lake Whatcom from its protected status as an endangered water body. Luke says that it is still in danger because of development around the lake and “it is a drinking water source,” she states matter-of-factly. Weimer points out that the hopeful report Halterman cited is just one single data point and actually included some bad news about increased in carcinogens. “We need long-term trends before we back away from our responsibilities on Lake Whatcom.”

The next question is a race-baiting question about whether the candidates support the tribes or the farmers when it comes to water. Elenbaas starts out, “I don’t think tribal members are even residents of Whatcom County so yeah . . .” he trails off but comes back saying he doesn’t like “either or” questions. Mann says that this is a long term issue that will not get resolved quickly.

First question about coal, “If the Gateway Pacific Terminal passes the EIS, and it is a done deal, what are the next steps?” Knutzen goes to his standard dodge, “We are a quasi-judicial role and we try to remain neutral. That’s why you’re not hearing a lot of talk about it.”

I managed to get in a question about whether the County Council is considering such a foolish action as banning retail marijuana stores, like the Bellingham City Council just did. Weimer responded with a big smile, “I hear they are all opening up in Ferndale.” Big laugh from Mayor Jensen, “I see the mayor of Ferndale agrees with me.” Weimer quickly asserts that the County is not planning on doing anything like that. Luke echoes my point that it is July and the City had plenty of time to get their act together. “This would not happen in the business world, we would be prepared.”

Another question about the Gateway Pacific Terminal project from Halterman again, except she refers to it as a “bulk commodity terminal,” and asked about their perspective and thinking on how they will make that decision. “It is my understanding that this new project is focused on coal, it is hard to see how that will benefit agriculture but we need to wait to see the EIS for the full report on the benefits and harms of this project.” Luke used it as a springboard to talk about a tour of berry farms that she went on.

Next question, “Do the increased rates of gun ownership make us more or less safe?” Mann, “If there are more people packing then there are more people shooting each other . . . I support the 2nd amendment and I am a NRA member. But there needs to be some limits, you do not have a right to a nuke in your backyard.” Elenbaas says that he isn’t an NRA member, “but should be.” Elenbaas continues talking about “mass casualty incidents tend to happen in ‘gun free zones'”.

City Council candidate Bob Burr speaks about the “subhuman conditions” in our county jail. He invites candidates to spend a night in the county jail. Both Buchanan and Kershner offered to spend a few hours in there and cited it as an “abomination”.

It was a sparse crowd

It was a sparse crowd

After some candidate statements, the candidates where given an opportunity to ask their opponent a question. Elenbaas went on for a while about his time spent milking cows and picking raspberries, ending with this, “What have you done in your lifetime that connects you with the agricultural community?” Mann responds, “I’m glad that you’ve asked about that. I did work on a farm growing up, milking cows and wiping out on a motorcycle trying to round up cattle, but Ben, being on the County Council in compasses so much more. There are legal issues, you are working with people and building connections.” Mann’s responding question asked about his use of his Huxley degree on his printed material, “Are you an environmentalist?” Mann asked. “Absolutely. As a hunter and a farmer, I am an environmentalist. I exude my environmentalism with a working understanding of the realities of life. I show my environmentalism by what I do, not just what I say.”

Luke took the opportunity to ask about Weimer’s recreational activities and if it includes cooking. “I can boil water with the best of them!” Weimer pivoted to his love of hiking in the mountains and his specialty recipe for the German dish spaetzle.

They were then asked to differentiate themselves from their opponents in 30 seconds or less. Weimer highlighted his diversity and wealth of experience, from building a business from the ground up to his education and years on the council. Luke said that she is different because, “I used to be one of you, I worked from the ground up.”

Mann highlighted the differences in ideology. “I’m a moderate, he’s much farther to the right than I am.” Elenbaas thanked Mann for his kind words, “Here’s a difference, he’s tall and handsome and I’m short, squat and bald . . . for those out there in radio land.” He continued that he knows where he comes from, “I’m from Whatcom County,” before closing with his familiar refrain that you should “eat local, buy local, shop local and vote local. Vote Ben.”

Kershner, on the other hand, went straight for the jugular. “What differentiates us? Commitment and leadership. I know what seat I’m running for.” Buchanan responded with a swing at Kershner’s voting record. “She was the only opposing vote against the food bank at a time when people were really hurting!”

Knutzen stated that he doesn’t know his opponent, Rud Browne, who could not make it because of a family wedding, “I don’t know how long he has been here, I don’t know him at all.” Anti-Australian sentiment aside, Knutzen said that he will “continue to show up for everything.”

Overall impressions of the event? Elenbaas’ slow and plodding answers seemed to ramble from point to point, but the crowd of Tea Party attendees cheered loudest at his responses, showing that there are no points for eloquence. Mann was his usual positive moderate self but the crowd seemed more entranced with Elenbaas. Weimer, as usual, is a standout at blending humor with serious policy answers, leaving Luke behind in the dust. In the closest race this year, neither Kershner nor Buchanan managed to land a solid blow, trading jabs without ever drawing blood.

Tomorrow, I should have a slew of pictures from the event posted. If you want to support this sort of local media coverage, please consider donating a few dollars to keep this blog running strong.



  1. It was hard to follow the answers provided by Luke and Elenbaas. I think the best description for Elenbass was befuddled. Knutzen performed much better at the forum than he does on the Council. Apparently, his rhetoric holds up better when it is not bogged down by facts and law. But the crowd ate him up. Carl did surprisingly well for a Tea Party crowd event, and Ken showed that he had “campaign smarts.” Kershner’s answers were often in conflict with her actions on the Council and Buchanan relied far too heavily on a pro-GMA stance, reflecting a lack of substantive background. Perhaps I am biased, but overall, I thought the Dem candidates far outshined the Tea Party candidates.

  2. I am admittedly hard of hearing, but I don’t remember Knutzen talking about the wedding Browne was attending. He made it sound like Browne was absent because he wanted to avoid the forum. He was very humorous in implying this, however. The Clint Eastwood schtick was good. Browne was smart enough to have a table with literature and with signage that a family wedding precluded his attendance

    All in all, a great job of reporting Riley. Nobody does it better. Wendy’s observations are excellent as well.

    I think all of the candidates came across as likeable in their own way. Running out of questions turned out to be a good thing. I thought the ensuing opportunity to ask one’s opponent a question and to state what differentiates themself from their opponent was a welcome break from questions that oft were more editorials than questions.

  3. So insightful. I really wish Riley Sweeney could join myself and Bob Burr in the debate next week.

  4. non-answers & happy talk…”have you waked the new land?” “No.” “We spent the night in the jail” “I believe in climate change”…is this what we’re embracing as a serious political process? really?

  5. Riley,

    Thanks for reporting on the tea party event. I couldn’t go but did listen to some of the video.

    I think you owe Michelle Luke an apology. She said nothing about teenagers at all. What she did do was point to the experience running two businesses has given her in terms of the importance of saying within a budget and, to the fact that helping seniors with their budgets with the knowledge that they would have to plan for incomes that must suffice for the rest of their lives has also been important in realizing the importance of budgets.

    You also said of Bill K’s response to a question, “Apparently, Knutzen has not read any of the numerous judicial rulings from, you know, that pesky legal department known as the Supreme Court of Washington State telling Whatcom County to comply with state law.”

    I am aware of a number of cases in which the higher courts have upheld Whatcom County and overturned the Hearings Board. I am aware of no cases in which the Supreme Court has upheld the Hearings Board and overturned the County. Are you aware of any such cases?

    • The State Supreme Court has ruled that we need to comply with the growth management act.

      I will correct the Michelle Luke statement, she spoke about her children and then segued to talking about seniors – I was typing fast and got her answers entangled. I will untangle them, thank youf or the catch.

  6. […] the truth?!”  City Councilman Michael Lilliquist is jabbing his finger towards me after the Tea Party forum yesterday (read about it here). “That was a cheap shot and you know it! You go home and blog about about how I said it was a […]

  7. Jack, you must have forgotten about Gold Star Resorts v. Futurewise, in which the Washington State Supreme Court stated: “We also affirm the Court of Appeals’ decision upholding the Board’s holdings that [Whatcom] County’s comprehensive plan does not comply with the GMA’s LAMIRD provisions and that the County was required but failed to revise the plan to include the LAMIRD criteria and then apply them in establishing areas of more intense rural development. . . the County must revise its comprehensive plan to conform to the LAMIRD provisions of the GMA and then apply the statutory criteria to establish appropriate areas of more intensive rural development.”

  8. Jean,

    First, I’ll give you credit, you found the one case some feel the Hearings Board was overturned on so its Hearings Board 1 and how many others have they lost?…

    Second, Goldstar is a strange case in that while Whatcom County “lost” on the case it only lost because a terrified defense not only gave up but, conceeded the LAMIRID issue even though the County had not ever adopted the optional approach LAMIRIDs represent… In essense, the County’s defense team adopted LAMIRDs without the Council involved… the Council then went along with the sham… The decision was, my paraphrase, “if you want to do LAMIRIDS you have to stick with LAMIRD rules.” The County didn’t actually adopt LAMIRDs until much later but chickened out in the face of the fabled Futurewise and allowed themselves to be convinced the Emperor really did have clothes…so it’s really Hearings Board 1/2 of a win courtesy of a panicked defense and an aggressive Planning Department in place at the time… Ah well, water over the bridge…

    • A simple search of Supreme Court decisions is easy to do. The very first decision overturning the Superior Court was in 1994.

      “The Whatcom County Home Rule Charter may grant the people the right of referendum over ordinances enacted by the County. However, allowing exercise of that right over ordinances enacted pursuant to the Growth Management Act would run counter to and frustrate the declared purposes of the Act to prevent uncoordinated and unplanned growth and to encourage conservation and wise use of land.
      We reverse the Whatcom County Superior Court which granted summary judgment in favor of Respondent Steve Brisbane upholding a referendum amending portions of Whatcom County Ordinance 92-032, the Temporary Critical Areas Ordinance, enacted by the Whatcom County Council pursuant to the Growth Management Act, RCW 36.70A.”

      Although not a Hearings Board case, the Supreme Court also ruled against Whatcom County in Fire District No. 21 case in 2011:

      “WCC 20.80.212 is a development regulation that prohibits approval of certain land use activities without a letter from the provider of fire protection services that adequate capacity does or will exist to maintain an appropriate level of service upon completion of the proposed development. The Fire District, upon determining that such capacity would not exist upon completion of the proposed developments, did not issue such a letter. The County committed clear error by finding that WCC 20.80.212 was satisfied. We therefore reverse the Court of Appeals, grant the Fire District’s LUPA petition, and reverse the County’s approval of the three land use applications at issue.”

      Signed: Former Director of the Aggressive Planning Department, and prevailing party in multiple cases that enforce the Growth Management Act in Whatcom County.

      • nice job…it does the mind good to see someone using real data to engage…most of what transpires is banal, consisting of uninformed opinion, speculation and outright nonsense (lies?), which maybe the real reason half the folks want nothing to do with voting or participation—although my own mayor in Ferndale blames it on “apathy”…but apathy cannot explain it…sad state of affairs…

  9. is ‘sophistry’ too harsh a term?

  10. Luke managed to avoid the coal train subject by the bell last time, and this time she changed the subject to being on a berry farm? Also, “I used to be one of you..”? Vote for Carl!

  11. Ralph seemed to think this forum was focused on water issues but I don’t see much of that here.
    On coal,
    why was Knutzen’s paltry response about remaining neutral the only words left to stand on the issue?
    Nobody else challenged his weasel words, that’s hard to believe.
    There is no requirement for any politician or candidate to avoid a firm stand on any issue even if they’re so unlucky as to be forced to render a quasi-judicial decision in the future.

    • this forum, like most local political events, was about nothing…it embarrasses me to read about it…we gotta re-think this ‘citizen-government thing…it ain’t workin’

  12. […] the fact that (almost) all the progressive candidates showed up for the Tea Party forum in July, the conservative candidates refused to attend a forum hosted by RE Sources and Futurewise about […]

  13. […] I’ve colored-coded the spreadsheet by race. First, Michael Lilliquist despite have zero opponents raised almost $4,000 and then spent around $1,000. How did this happen? He held his kickoff before the filing date and then repaid himself for an undeclared loan ($500) and returned about $600 worth of donations to various contributors. This still leaves him a healthy warchest for his reelection campaign in four years, or his suspected mayoral bid. […]

  14. […] Watch 2015. As you know, we here at the Political Junkie have been making much sport of “suspected mayoral candidate” Michael Lilliquist. So when a little bird told me that Lilliquist had declared he is running […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: