The Political Junkie’s Voters Guide to Whatcom County
Yes, it is ballot time. Here is how I’m voting and why. I have arranged it in ballot order and as always, you can click the embedded links to find more information.
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Disclosure: I’m a Democrat and have volunteered with some of the campaigns below. I never pretend to be a neutral observer but rather someone deeply involved in our local political process. These are just my recommendations and thoughts.
I-517: Vote No. This is Tim Eyman’s latest initiative and as usual, it is a mediocre idea wrapped in a whole bucket of bad ideas. I-517 would make “signature gatherer” a protected status, so if you told someone to go jump in a lake when they asked for your signature, they could sue you for harassment. I wish I was exaggerating but it is that extreme. It would also extend the amount of time available for gathering signatures from 10 months to 16 months and forbid cities from blocking initiative measures. I love the initiative process in Washington, it brought us marriage equality and legal marijuana, but if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
I-522: Vote Yes. This would require most grocery items to display whether or not they had been genetically modified. Currently, Monsanto is spending $4.2 million in Washington state to block this measure. For me, this came down to a simple question: What if Monsanto is right and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are perfectly safe? I would still want to know. They put the state of origin and salt content on those labels, let’s add one more little thing. It won’t hurt and if GMOs do turnout to be dangerous? We will be glad for the information.
Advisory Votes: I published a whole article about this earlier in the week, so check it out for the details but the end result is the same. Vote “maintained” for all of these measures.
Whatcom County Council
If you care deeply about stopping the coal terminal, this decision is easy. Do not vote for anyone who has taken money from the Coal industry. However, I am not a single issue voter, so here is more information about each of these races and why I chose the way I did.
Council District 1: Barry Buchanan. When Kathy Kershner was first elected as part of the tea party movement in 2009, she began a brutal series of votes. She slashed over $80,000 from the Domestic Violence Commission and the Bellingham Food Bank at the height of the recession. Since then, she has moderated her tone – but the tea party roots still remain. She continues to waste over $140,000 on Seattle lawyers so the county can keep breaking the law. She had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into voting to protect our drinking water with the Reconveyance . . . after claiming that phosphorous is not a pollutant.
While I appreciate her attempts at moderation, I’m voting for Barry Buchanan. Buchanan was a reliable, if dull, member of the Bellingham City Council and brings a depth of policy knowledge to the County Council. Vote Buchanan.
County District 2: Ken Mann. For the last four years on the County Council, Ken Mann has been a tireless advocate for a right-sized jail. At every turn, he has pushed for more transparency and controlling costs on our new jail. This alone should justify his reelection, but his series of moderate votes have been a solid fit for our community. His opponent, Ben Elenbaas, is anything but a moderate. Elenbaas was the key proponent for the slaughterhouse proposal, which would have allowed massive unregulated facilities throughout the county, damaging our farmlands and financially benefiting Elenbaas. He repeatedly refused to debate in neutral forums and dodged multiple events. Vote Mann.
County District 3: Carl Weimer. For two years, I had the distinct pleasure of working for Carl Weimer at the Pipeline Safety Trust. He is thorough, knowledgeable and at times, amusingly cantankerous. From his roots creating jobs in Whatcom County by founding the REStore, to his tireless efforts as a public advocate for pipeline safety, he has taken those skills and applied them to our council. His opponent, Michelle Luke, has cranked out flawed proposal after flawed proposal from her perch as Chair of the Planning Commission. Vote for the expert. Vote Weimer.
County At-Large: Rud Browne. It is rare to come across a candidate as qualified as Rud Browne. He founded Ryzex, a tech manufacturer 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 every employee had a business card. “The cost was negligible compared to the sense of pride that each employee felt – that they were part of something larger than themselves and they were valued.” The council could use that sort of compassion, smart investment and business thinking. Vote Browne.
Port of Bellingham
If you are in the county, don’t stop now! You can and NEED to vote in the port races!
Commissioner District 1: Renata Kowalczyk. Business expert, Lean and Kaizen trainer, American immigrant and success story. Renata’s life story is one of incredible determination and success. She brings an outsider’s perspective which is desperately needed at the port, yet shares our values for what the port’s role is in our community.
Her opponent, Dan Robbins, has done little this campaign other than repeat weird communist smears from the anonymous writers at the Whatcom Excavator and tout his failed businesses. The choice is clear, Vote Kowalczyk.
Commissioner District 2: Mike McAuley. For the last four years, Mike has been the lone voice of sanity on the Port Commission. When Scott Walker brought out his long knives for Charlie Sheldon – widely credited as one of the most capable port directors we have had – Mike McAuley was there fighting to protect Sheldon from the insider politics.
Now, McAuley is fending off a campaign from wealthy arctic salvage operator, Ken Bell. While my affection for Lovecraftian creatures climbing out of the South Pole is boundless, in this case I’m going to go with the guy who is supported by the commercial fishermen, business owners at our waterfront and environmentalists. Vote McAuley.
Bellingham City Council
Council Ward 4: Pinky Vargas. When I interviewed Pinky Vargas back when she first declared for office, I have to admit, I was a little underwhelmed. Her heart was in the right place, she and I shared the same commitment to clean water and a bustling downtown, but on some of the technical details, she fell short. I walked out of the interview mildly disappointed.
Then something odd happened; I got a call from Pinky. She wanted to know everything there was to know about all the policy issues she was weak on and who would be the best people help her get up to speed. By the time I spoke with her again in September, she was teaching me things about the details of city government. She is smart, an effective communicator but more importantly, would bring some vital self-awareness to the city council.
Her opponent, Clayton Petree, needed no such crash course. A policy wonk for a long-time, he has been sharing his insight with the city for years. While I value his perspective, he opposed the Reconveyance, a vital move to protect our drinking water. This year, we need more heart on the City Council. Vote Vargas.
Council At-Large: Roxanne Murphy. While I appreciate Bob Burr’s activist spirit and desire to push complacent politicos out of their comfort zone, the City Council needs a steady hand and they will have one in Roxanne Murphy. She brings a wealth of policy experience with her to the council. I was blown away the first day I met her, with her depth of understanding on my favorite city issue, landlord licensing. She is thoughtful, articulate and a careful hand on the rudder for our city. Vote Murphy.
Bellingham School District
Proposition 1: Our schools are criminally underfunded. Walk into an school and you will see employees working two or three jobs to cover the budget cuts, improvements being delayed, technology that is decades old. We should be investing in our schools and this bond is a good start. Vote approved.
Director Position 4: Steven Smith. Wait a minute Riley, you endorsed John Blethen in the primary? What happened? Well, I met with Steven Smith and was blown away. This Western business professor moonlighting as school board member brings the right mix of compassion and technical skill to the school board. We talked at length about the need for, and challenges of, measuring emotional growth as part of a child’s educational experience. Quantifying our schools beyond SATs and dropout rates to see what is really happening with each cohort of learners. Smith is using his position on the board to build the tools so future board members can assess the progress we have made and where we need to grow.
While I respect Blethen a great deal, and encourage people to vote for him based on his long record of involvement, I am voting for Smith.
Honorable Mention: Charlie Hawkins for Blaine City Council, Stacy Miller for Ferndale City Council.
Feel free to email this to whoever you like or comment below with your response. Everyone’s opinion is valuable and I appreciate all your input. Whatever you decide, make sure to send that ballot in by Nov. 5th!