Posted by: sweeneyblog | September 23, 2013

An Interview with Rud Browne

I’m sitting across from Rud Browne. A few years ago, he was one of the top employers in Whatcom County through his computer recycling business Ryzex. Now he is retired from business . . . or rather, what retired looks like for Rud Browne. He serves on the Whatcom County Ethics board and advises the business department at WWU. Now he is ready for his next challenge, Whatcom County Council.

Rud Browne for County Council

Interviewing Rud Browne

“I’m running for County Council because I’ve lived here for 20 years. I enjoy and appreciate the concept of community. My feeling is if you want a strong community, you have to do what you can to contribute to the creation of that community. To me, this is another form of community service, an extension of what I’ve been doing for the last twenty years.”

Fair point, I concede, but why the County Council? “I think the decisions the county is going to be faced with are really critical: land use issues; the character, size, and construction of the new jail; how do we address the question of the coal trains? What’s the right decision related to the coal train issue? How do we end the uncertainty created by the lack of compliance with the GMA (Growth Management Act) – uncertainty that is affecting everybody in the county. How do we  position the community for the right sort of growth and job creation for the future? These are vital issues that I look forward to addressing.”

Naturally, I use my journalistic privilege and ask about my favorite issue first, The New Jail. “We need a new jail, the existing one is unsafe for inmates and officers alike. We need a jail that will provide adequate visitation so that incarceration doesn’t contribute to the breakdown of the family unit. The fact is, 75% of the inmates are illiterate, there are people who want to change that but there are very limited facilities to do education. We need a jail that is created in a way that puts an emphasis on breaking the cycle of incarceration. If someone does something bad, they need to be held accountable, but we want to prevent them from continuing the cycle. It is the humane thing to do and the economic thing to do.” He pauses, and the faintest hint of a smile plays across his usually stern features.

“That said, I don’t have enough information to say at this point if 500 or 600 is the right number. The jail is used as a facility for people with mental illness – and those people need beds, ideally I’d prefer they not be jail beds.”

Rud Browne at his campaign kickoff

Rud Browne at his campaign kickoff

Circling around, I ask what is his top priority if elected to the County Council? “I would say my top priority is making sure that we are making decisions that are supportive of the right kind of job growth in our community. We want jobs that our kids can turn into careers so they can stay here. People are concerned that their kids aren’t going to be able to find jobs and stay here – that is a concern that crosses political boundaries.”

Speaking of crossing political boundaries, Rud Browne’s campaign has drawn support from a wide spectrum of locals. On the right, former Republican Senator Dale Brandland and Logos Bible Software owner Bob Pritchett have endorsed, while on the left, every Bellingham mayor going back to 1976 has lent their support to his campaign.

When asked about differences between him and his opponent, Bill Knutzen, he answers without hesitation. “Experience – this county does a great deal of international commerce. We are a county that is very dependent on tourism and international trade; I have extensive experience with international business, compared to my opponent. While I’m not a fourth generation resident, I’m here by choice because it is the best place to live. That is the difference between us.”

Rud Browne Van Zandt

Browne meeting voters in the Van Zandt

No interview with a County Council candidate would be complete without asking about the Gateway Pacific Terminal project. Knowing that the County Council candidates are under intense scrutiny over their positions here, I asked Browne to elaborate on how he would go about considering a project of this magnitude.

“My first priority on the coal train issue is to do or say nothing that would prevent me from being one of the people who makes the decision. My fear is that some people will force this issue into a Seattle courtroom. I want this decision to remain a local decision.”

Browne continues, outlining the seven questions council members are required to ask. He cites county charter, which he quotes verbatim from memory. “Those seven questions are what we are required to ask. It is not six and it is not eight. The experience of the people who interpret those questions is really critical.”

I asked him his opinion on the County’s continued lawbreaking when it comes to the Growth Management Act. Browne brought up an interesting parallel. “There’s a great quote I heard, that the best place is to build an oil refinery is in California . . . and the worst place to build a refinery is California. They legislate everything, but they do so precisely and clearly so there is no question about the interpretation. Complying with the Growth Management Act is so important – anything that creates uncertainty with our compliance with the law drives business away. They hate uncertainty with laws and regulation because they don’t know how it will affect their business. We need to fairly implement and clearly articulate the Growth Management Act.”

Rud Browne in Blaine

Rud Browne at the Blaine 4th of July Parade

Switching over to campaign talk, I ask him what it has been like running for office. “Aside from the universal candidate dislike for asking friends for money, it has been one of the most interesting and rewarding life experiences I’ve ever done. I’ve found lots of friends I never knew I had, lots of people with a passion for our community that I didn’t realize they were that engaged. I’ve learned a great deal.

It does not matter who you are, you end up living in a bit of a silo, when you run for office that expands the people you are dealing with to a much greater degree. It is great, it is a really rewarding experience.”

What do you think about the conservative candidates this year dodging the debates? “I did not turn up to the Tea Party forum because six months prior I had committed to attend a wedding – at that event, my opponent said he would never miss another forum.  Yet as soon as another forum comes forward, my opponent refuses to attend instead he said ‘What’s the first thing that an officer or anyone will tell you in a legal struggle? You have the right to remain silent because anything can be used against you,’ He also left before the candidate speech part of the South Side Community meeting – he was the only one missing.” Rud shoots his campaign manager an apologetic look, “There, that’s the first negative thing I’ve said to the press this whole campaign.”

We discussed at length his ideas for the next four years, where he effortlessly wove together investment in job training and value-added agriculture. Throughout the interview, I was struck by both his depth of policy knowledge and his entrepreneurial approach to solving the mounting problems facing our county.

But Browne makes it clear he is up to the challenge. “I’m really enthusiastic about serving, I’m prepared to devote whatever time and attention is needed to the job. There are going to be some moments when it is going to require a great deal of time and attention but I am ready, willing and able to serve.”

You can find out more about Rud Browne at his campaign website here.



  1. I loved this interview with Rud Browne. It shows a depth of character and understanding of the County issues that we badly need on the Council. Looking forward to the visit of our County Council Candidates to Lummi Island on Oct. 6th and to all of them being elected! YES!

  2. I am continually amazed at Rud’s perspective and experience. We are at many events together and have many conversations on a wide range of topics – every time, I learn something. Not just data, but a way of looking at the problem and seeing a bigger picture.

  3. Re: Rud’s comments about the need for a new jail. We cannot afford to build a $100 Million dollar jail, nor to support the growth of the jail industry. We are in a economic depression and our poverty rates are through the roof.

    We cannot continue to lock up homeless people and increase jail bed stays just to build a bigger jail. (See article in Bellingham Herald Aug. 20 about the Homeless Sweep.)

    Former ReEntry Coalition President Joy Gilfilen has spoken with judges to defenders; law enforcement to administrative staff to inmates; to counselors to business people…and all agree the system is broken and must be fixed. In fact, 86% of the public believe in reform…according to PEW stats. Joy states “We have an opportunity right now, in Whatcom County to change the national trend – and we can turn the tide right now to build a restorative community solution.”

    The ReEntry Coalition is preparing an alternative proposal for the citizens of the community to endorse that will provide an economic solution that is reasonable, and that would be supported by other non-profits to solve the root problem, not just be a very expensive bandaid as the proposed new jail would be. They welcome any input: and

    The ReEntry Coalition is looking to combine the wishes of those who have solutions for alternatives that will give taxpayers a higher return on investment on their tax dollars. There are many proven alternatives that yield far better success rates and return people to society so they can become taxpayers…rather than dependent on taxpayers. We can solve the crime and safety problem by providing alternatives to incarceration. The ReEntry Coalition has presented different solutions such as restorative justice (a specific method of mediation that resolves problems – orginally from New Zealand), various kinds of drug, teen, homeless, mental health or veterans courts. They have proposed well over a dozen kinds of solutions…with all of it being excluded from the Jail EIS process.

    I encourage Rud to do more study re: the new jail proposal.

  4. […] that created over 165 jobs in Whatcom County, and now he has retired and wants to devote his entrepreneurial skills to our County Council. I was speaking with him one night and he told me one of the things he did at Ryzex was make sure […]

  5. Dig a little. Worked for this guy for over four years and would not trust him as far as I can throw him. Look, there is no question that he is smart but the only way he should be anywhere near a committee on ethics is under questioning…

  6. […] Caskey-Schreiber. However in 2013, the flying fickle finger of fate returned and booted Knutzen for local businessman Rud Browne during the anti-coal terminal wave that swept the […]

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