Posted by: sweeneyblog | October 18, 2013

The Political Junkie’s Voters Guide

The Political Junkie’s Voters Guide to Whatcom County

Stuck on your ballot? Let Riley help!

Stuck on your ballot? Let Riley help!

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.

If you find this post useful, please share it on facebook or email it to your friends. Thank you!

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.

State-Wide Measures

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.

Vote Superheroes for Council: Buchanan, Mann, Weimer and Browne

Vote Superheroes for Council: Buchanan, Mann, Weimer and Browne

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!

Renata Kowalczyk

American Success Story, Vote Renata

Commissioner District 1: Renata KowalczykBusiness 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

The Political Junkie hams it up with Pinky Vargas

The Political Junkie hams it up with Pinky Vargas

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.

Steven Smith

Steven Smith

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!



  1. Riley,
    I agree with your choices, but Mike McKauley is the lone voice of sanity on the Port Commission, not the County Council.

  2. Monsanto has given about $4.6M to No on I-522, not the $18 million you say. That’s about the grand total given to the No on I-522 campaign. Monsanto is only the No. 2 donor to the campaign; Grocery Manufacturers Association gave a cool $5M according to PDC.

    • You are quite right, I’ll update that.

  3. […] Looking for simple explanations for the rest of your ballot? Check out my Voter’s Guide here. […]

  4. I must say, Riley, that your primary recommendations were much more on target than these latest ones.. These, however, are more politically correct. And, while I could easily accuse you of being like most organizations in attempting to back the winners, I only hope that is true when it comes to County Council.

    Should you yourself ever decide to enter the political fray as a candidate, I hope you know that I would be an ardent backer even if you were not the chosen one by the local Party machine. In the meantime, however, please follow the advice I have given many a young married man: “Follow your heart as well as your better half”.

  5. […] more is The Political Junkie’s Voters Guide, by fellow blogger Riley Sweeney.  With few exceptions, all of these guides named are supporting […]

  6. “I was blown away the first day I met her, with her depth of understanding on my favorite city issue, landlord licensing.”

    All I have been able to glean (from a Herald article) is that she is against licensing rentals and inspecting them for health and safety reasons. She never answered my emails asking her to discuss this issue.

    What has blown you away? Where are her statements on this?

    • I was impressed by her understanding of this on a macrolevel. The need for landlord licensing is just one part of a much larger problem about how do we ensure that we have safe housing for everyone in Bellingham – and that extends to permitting in good locations, enforcing the laws we have on the books.

      • I have no idea what this means – macrolevel – when it comes to rental health and safety. The idea is to inspect a unit, like one does a restaurant kitchen, to determine if it is safe and there are no health hazards.

        I looked at the Tacoma licensing. It is a mishmash of stuff about nuisances, outside property conditions, license fees that depend on gross income, blah, blah, blah. No wonder she had problems with it. In the final analysis, the program is a complaint only system that we already have here. It doesn’t work. So now what?

  7. Did you surprise me with your far left choices, hell no!

  8. Riley, Thanks for the bump in net worth. Never been described as wealthy before. Just wanted to point out that the South Pole is in the Antarctic not Arctic, we are kind of sensitive about this because the Arctic gets all the press.. Been north so I’m bi-polar but that’s an issue for another blog. Stay in touch!

    • Ken:

      Win or lose, you win hands down this election season for the candidate with the best sense of humor. And, that is important for any candidate who is not self-important.



    • Very sorry for the geographic mix up, I most have read too many horror stories and not enough geography growing up. Also, what Bob said.

  9. Jeez Riles, you might as well have just linked to the Whatcom Democrats official slate listings. Please answer two things : 1: Do you solemnly swear that you are actually going to vote for this exact list of what Bob Burr calls politically acceptable? Clayton and Bob may not win, but I suspect they will receive more votes than the usual fringe throwaway candidate percentage in an average Bham election. Many principled people (not just rebel loonies) will be voting for those. 2: Please explain how a tax and spend Liberal like you would shut down a sweet local, walkable school like Larabee? That’s what the Smith / Blethen race boils down to.

    • 1. I’m voting for the people I listed here. That’s literally what this post is, my perspective on why I’m voting for these people. While I respect and admire Bob and Clayton, they were not my choice this year. That said, the Sweeney household is not in total agreement on these two races.

      2. I really like Larrabee but the school board deals with so many more issues than just closing one school. That was my main point here, I’m not a single issue voter and I appreciated Smith’s focus on trackable metrics. This was literally the hardest race for me – because Blethen is an incredibly devoted public servant and honestly, should have been on the Port in 2009.

  10. Shocked! Just shocked! I’m thinking there may be a few winners who are not on your list Riley boy, much to the chagrin of Mr. Burr. 🙂

    • Thank you for your good humor about it, Kathy.

      I know that while you and I disagree about policy, you honestly fight for what you believe is best for whatcom county and put in the time and energy necessary for public service.

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