Posted by: sweeneyblog | November 14, 2014

Whatcom Election Results: What the heck happened?

Note: This article will also be appearing in the December issue of the Whatcom Watch.

It was a hard election night for environmentalists, to put it mildly. In one fell swoop, national Republicans took control of the Senate, strengthened their majority in the House and picked up a slew of governors’ mansions.

It was a good night for this guy

It was a good night for this guy

Locally, the news seemed even more crushing. Environmental champion Seth Fleetwood got hammered by Sen. Doug Ericksen. Ericksen made headlines for the last two years for accepting more free meals from lobbyists than any other state legislator and blocking all climate change and oil safety legislation.

It was not for lack of trying. Fleetwood raised over $400,000 and independent groups threw in another $400,000 beyond that. In response, Ericksen raised over $500,000 to defend his seat, a majority of it coming from the fossil fuel industry and the state Republicans (with even more funding from the fossil fuel industry) threw another $467,000 in attack ads against Fleetwood.

What drew this colossal array of electoral firepower? The fate of the state Senate. Thanks to a few Democratic turncoats in 2011, the state Senate has been in Republican control for the last couple of years. They used their power to delay investments in our transportation infrastructure, not fully fund education and, as mentioned above, block all climate change legislation.

Seeing an opportunity to pick up a seat – or protect it – in the 42nd District, forces on both sides marshaled small armies of volunteers, filled the airwaves and mailboxes with political ads and filled the newspapers with angry letters to the editor.

The 42nd District, however, is a barren place for Democrats and this was a poor year to be one. The end result was Ericksen winning by 17 percentage points. So what happened? As John F. Kennedy once said, “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” While raw data cannot provide us a paternity test, here are a few of the likely culprits.

  • Low Democratic Turnout: Just over 51,000 voters cast their ballots this year in the 42nd, compared to the 65,000 who voted in 2012 and 60,000 who voted in 2010. Who didn’t vote? Younger voters and those living near Lake Whatcom, Blaine and Birch Bay – in other words, precincts that lean Democratic.
  • High Republican Turnout: Meanwhile, the precincts surrounding Lynden and north Ferndale actually had more voters in 2014 than in 2012, gaining 200-500 voters each. Older, white voters turned out in huge numbers, which also affected non-partisan races, where obscure Charter Review candidates who were associated with the local Tea Party catapulted ahead of well-known union representatives, popular environmentalists and even a former city councilman.
  • The Reshaped 42nd District: In 2012, the state redistricting committee, a bipartisan group of Olympia insiders, redrew all the district lines in the state. They asked Kelli Linville if she was interested in trying to retake the seat she had recently lost to Vincent Buys, but Linville was quite content with her new job – mayor of Bellingham – and politely declined.
    The new maps

    The new maps

    With no serious candidate prepared, the Democrats ceded that territory, allowing the Republicans to redraw the former swing district so that it was even more conservative. Around 4,000 voters, mostly from downtown Bellingham and the Columbia neighborhood where cut out of the 42nd district and deposited into the solidly liberal 40th district – including future candidate Seth Fleetwood.

    And the result? A district that once elected moderates like Pete Kremen, Dale Brandland and Kelli Linville is now represented by some of the most conservative legislators in the state, according to the Washington Conservative Union.

These causes are what we can immediately identify with data. But that is only part of the story. We can tell who voted and how they voted, but we have no magic spreadsheet for the “why.” There is no perfect way of determining what factor caused people to vote one way or another, but there are always plenty of theories.

  • Poor Messaging/No Motivation: A popular theory from the national stage is that Democrats did not give their base a good reason to turnout. What bold policies were Democrats proposing to win favor with voters? What strong stances helped them stand out from their competition? Without a clear rallying point, Democrats simply did not feel motivated to turn out.However, there was a salient issue on the ballot in our state. I-594 provided for universal background checks for gun sales – a popular issue and a clear contrast between Democrats and Republicans. However, local Democrats did not merge their efforts with the gun initiative, and Fleetwood skirted the issue at the Bellingham City Club debate with Ericksen.
  • The Campaign was “too negative”: For many, the negative barrage of ads was a turnoff for engaging with this election. As local political analyst John Servais said on his blog Northwest Citizen, “I’ve known Seth for many years and feel he would have preferred to speak of his values and vision for the voters of the 42nd District. I think his advisors just pushed him into allowing that negative stuff.”The counterpoint here is that the County Council elections last year were incredibly negative – gruesome mailers of blood-soaked slaughterhouses attacked conservative candidates – but that did not reduce conservative or liberal turnout. Turnout increased in south Bellingham, however, it was due to the coal trains issue.
  • The all purpose “Thanks, Obama”: Another theory is simply Democratic fatigue. After six years of a Democratic president, the nation, and Whatcom County in miniature, was simply tired of anyone with a “D” next to her name. Like frustrated teenagers pushing the “change channel” button, every two years despondent and disillusioned voters simply vote out the party in power.  However, the 42nd has been in mostly Republican hands for years, and the incumbents won. If this was a surge of anti-establishment fever, why did we give more power to the local establishment?
  • The Strange, Unusual and Ever-shifting 42nd District: We live in an odd part of the country. The 42nd district includes aging Birch Bay, industrial Ferndale, agricultural Lynden, transient north Bellingham and gentrified Lake Whatcom. It contains Russian immigrants, a Sikh temple, a growing Latino presence and two Native American tribes. Each year, more Satellites retire to Birch Bay, more young Bellingham families move to the unincorporated county and outer Ferndale, and the city limits of Bellingham creep northward, adding more urban density with every step.

In short, while the 42nd district is rocky turf for environmental candidates, the landscape is always shifting as demographics change and public opinion shifts. Next year, we take a break from partisan politics (ha ha ha!), and elect our local mayors, councilmembers, county officials and school boards.

We will not need to dwell on the 42nd until 2016, when the presidential race will reshape the chess board once again.



  1. Thanks Riley, for all you do. And I thank Tim Johnson for his political insights in this weeks Gristle. As a volunteer working to restore this broken democracy in the wake of Citizens United, I used to be disappointed in liberal politicians without a spine. Today I feel let down by the apathy of non voters. How can we expect our leaders to fight for us if we don’t fight for them? Voting; how hard can it be folks?
    Please come to see the film “Pay 2 Play”, presented by the Whatcom chapter of Move to Amend on Nov. 21 Friday at 7:00 at the downtown library downstairs meeting room. Public Citizen’s Aquene Freechild will lead a discussion afterward.
    Giving up is not an option.

  2. Here is the acid test for environmentalists. If they tell you that you can have your present American lifestyle AND a clean planet, they are not an environmentalist. If they tell you that we can have a clean planet without recession/depression they are not an environmentalist. By this measure, Seth Fleetwood is no environmentalist or environmental “champion.”

    [Disclaimer: I voted for him anyway.]

    • Ok, let’s bulldoze every structure and highway on the planet, plant poppy seeds and sing Kumbaya! 🙂

      • More Tea Party nonsense. Here is how their antilogical absurdity works:
        1) Take a relatively benign idea.
        2) Spin it into a logical absurdity.
        3) Never mention a practical alternative.
        4) Stand back and say Hah!

        Wayne, have you figured out that the Republicans are distancing themselves from the Tea Party and moving away from the Far Right Whacko element? You should do the same. Of course, for someone who worked for Goldwater in Florida in 1964, this will be difficult.

        You need look no further than Van Werven’s win at the local level. Even though she once said, “I was Tea Party before there was a Tea Party,” she moved to a more centrist position. It is likely Overstreet was under intense pressure not to run again because of his right-wing orientation and whacko sympathies.

      • Here is how their anti-logical absurdity works:

        1) Take a relatively benign idea.

        2) Spin it into a logical absurdity.

        3) Never mention a practical alternative.

        4) Stand back and say Hah!”

        -1 Like following the constitution.

        -2 How so?

        -3 Tell me more.

        -4 Hah to you too.

        Wayne, have you figured out that the Republicans are distancing themselves from the Tea Party and moving away from the Far Right Wacko element”?

        How about “the Democrats are distancing themselves from the Blue Dog democrats and moving away from the Far Right Wacko element”?

        There is a split (and has been for decades) in the Republican Party between the Conservative (Goldwater/Reagan) Republicans and the Liberal Rockefeller/Country Club/RHINO) Republicans. The latter may have more votes but they don’t speak for the grass-root constituents.

        We despise the Republican leadership-McConnell and Boehner (to some extent) because the act more like Democrats in order to be liked (lots of luck). They keep running losing Presidential candidates like Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney. In 2012 they lost an easy election because 30 million conservatives stayed at home and didn’t vote. I was guilty of that in 2008.

        “You need look no further than Van Werven’s win at the local level. Even though she once said, “I was Tea Party before there was a Tea Party,” she moved to a more centrist position”. I worked with her closely for several years and I would call her a “mainstream” Conservative.

        I appreciate your thoughts on this but having been involved in this for more that fifty years has a better handle on it than you.

        I doubt you are rooting for the Republican Party [sarc] so you comments are suspect.

        I do feel a little sorry for you in that the Far Left Wing Democrat Party isn’t quite radical enough for you.

  3. Riley, I have to take you to task on one point. You included Lake Whatcom in your geographic assessment and I live on the N E side just a couple blocks above the lake in the city and I’m in the 40th district. The lakeshore is loaded with R’s that are in the 40th and diluted by the D’s. I hate that B’ham is split E and W between the two districts. I see little chance for the D’s in the 42nd without a serious redistricting which won’t happen any time soon.
    Lastly, thanks for the effort you put into these postings.

    • That’s a good point, I was talking about the precincts that are just north of the Lake – that are in the 42nd and do vote pretty decently Dem.

      I’m doing up some maps for this weekend that will help.

      • Not true, I am a block off Britton Road and , much to my chagrin, in the 40th (precinct 160).

  4. As Keith said, it was refreshing to see Democrats who didn’t want to just “play nice and not offend anybody.” The problem was not spineless candidates or negative campaigning. (While the worst of this was indirect ads which were not endorsed by any candidate they supported, the candidates themselves fielded positive ads) Even when stridently arguing points, Seth and Doug, Vince and Joy, and Satpal and Luanne, for the most part, were respectful of one another’s views, no matter how wrong they thought those views were. We knew where they stood. No, the problem was voter turn out, and while they didn’t have the most to loose, the Republicans had the most to win. Democratic headquarters worked hard to try and get the vote out, but I can tell you from personal experience, that the lists they were calling off of were shamelessly out of date. They called my Son, who has been registered in Bellingham and for the last 7 years, in Fernpatch, and my home number. That’s just one example.
    While we had good moderate candidates on the Democratic side this year, National politics has become caustically partisan, and the younger and middle aged voter has become jaded by that and the money spent. As you say, Presidential Elections will bring out a turn-out that we should have had here.

  5. Riley,

    The democrat candidates went missing on the minimum wage debate! What did they really offer to do for the 18 to 28 year old voters?


  6. I believe the Dem candidates were extremely talented and presented a vision for rebuilding the American dream. The problem was lack of adequate coverage of Doug Erickson’s slimy character. What is conservative about plagiarizing a bill that would eliminate cancer-causing toxins in children’s mattresses and toys, then gutting it, while taking thousands of dollars from the American Chemistry Council? What is conservative about stealing the Model Toxics bill from Senator Ranker, then claiming it as his own, to allow cleanup of the waterfront that shifts costs from polluters to taxpayers? (I thought conservatives didn’t want us to pay more taxes, ha ha). Those issues and hundreds of others were never clear in the media, and in fact my Everson friend ( a nursing professor at WCC) who wrote those letters to the Lynden Tribune and Northern Light never got them published. I wonder why? Elizabeth Warren is right – the machine is rigged against us. And while Erickson and his junior mentee Buys took tens of thousands from the same groups that brought down our economy in ’08, ie Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Monsanto, Phillips 66, Taneka Pharmaceuticals and other Wall Street criminals, Fleetwood did not have 1 corporate donor. He had lots of public interest groups to which I donate $25 bucks now and then. But how many people read the PDC? Without publications willing to broadcast this data, people are in the dark.

    • Dianne Foster: good points. In terms of the PDC listed contributions that many voters are unaware of, below is a link to a graphic that shows some of Senator Doug Ericksen’s contributors (presented in a creative way) I had posted on Whatcom Watch Facebook during the election. Hope you and others may enjoy it.

  7. Just curious, Riley, which environmentalists do you speak for? And which environmental issues? This reads like one of your insightful party politic pieces, at which you excel, but says little about environmental concerns.

    • I identify as an environmentalist – and as always, I only speak for myself.

      This article was not about environmental policy – it was about how Seth Fleetwood, an environmentalist, did at the polls with a little national commentary thrown in for context.

      • yeah, the Bagman of Bellingham.

  8. Excuses, excuses a la Obama the day after his party’s second shellacking.

  9. “leetwood raised over $400,000 and independent groups (A. K. A. Tom Steyer formally of King Coal fame) threw in another $400,000 beyond that.

  10. Interesting coverage and opinions, etc. Riley. Thank you for your insights.
    I’m of the opinion that we must not “rest” as far as the 42nd LD is concerned. NOW and for the months to come we need to find the democrats out in the NE county and communicate with them. Many of us have friends in the county and we need to bring them together. Make more friends and talk together about the issues. Be political and organize in such a way that we will be ready when the voting happens again. The towns in the county will be electing their mayors and councils. Do we even know who they are?
    Yes, the 42nd LD has been “lost” to us for many years now BUT we can win it back if reach out, making a visible effort to show them we know they (the dems and left leaning people) are there. I’m sure we will be rewarded for our efforts!

  11. “A district that once elected moderates like Pete Kremen, Dale Brandland and Kelli Linville is now represented by some of the most conservative legislators in the state, according to the Washington Conservative Union.”
    Most democrats ,independents and other groups that I have talked with are done with the “out dated Moderate concept”. But by all means keep trying that foolish strategy,to whom it may concern, I am sure we will see the same results in 2016 if the candidates don’t wake up and go all out populist. I think moderates have been on part of the many problems that have plagued campaigns as of late. Looks like you covered a couple of points Riley. Now that you have given us a tiny bit of food how about some more?

    On more honest opinion. The campaigns and candidates did well in some respects but messaging was ugly very ugly. Recommendation new campaign staffs all around and please spend a bit more of what money you have on damn good consultants as well as park egos in the basement.

    • Yeah, Moderate Republicans who stand for NOTHING! McConnell, Boehner, etc.

  12. Oh one more thing. I understand there is a County meeting tomorrow night. I think you might need this information before the meeting. This might help those party insiders to see some reality instead of the moderate bull line.

    • Great video! I lean towards the “incredibly, earth-shatteringly stupid” hypothesis to explain why Democrats are not progressive enough, but the “corrupt” hypothesis has a lot of merit.

      • California is doing well because of the Progressives?


        Then why is everyone moving to Texas?

  13. Riley – thanks for the analysis – and for tolerating the Waynisms! Here’s my outsider’s perspective on what ails the democrats: they’ve shown that on all major foreign policy and other national issues they do not differ from the Republicans. They have the same sponsors, they continued Bush II’s policies rather than undo them, they are just the lesser of evils. Well the lesser of evils is still evil.

    And they show no fight.

    If the Dems want to do well in 2016, they should clearly differentiate themselves from the Republicans – and there is one issue which will do this: re-legalizing hemp. I mean all forms of hemp, including the flowering tops of Indian hemp, aka the dreaded “marijuana”, a fake name introduced into our lingo by evil prohibitionists in a dirty deal to outlaw hemp. And it was Democrats who made it illegal in 1937 (my theory was it was FDR’s compromise with southern Dems who wanted to kill cotton’s competition), so it will be only right that they undo this great crime against the American farmer.

    Obama could re-schedule hemp with an executive order. That he won’t is indicative of why people don;t bother to vote – no leadership, just more smarmy speechifying and conciliation with people who are wrong. You want to know how to get more dem voters out? DO SOMETHING THAT TAKES GUTS INSTEAD OF CAVING ALL THE TIME!

    The prohibition of hemp is truly one of the greatest affronts to personal freedom ever perpetrated upon the American people by its supposed government.


    • Wayne I hope you actually agree and are not just being cute. This is an issue which should be front and center for everyone who values freedom. Why? Because the prohibition of cannabis is completely contrary to any definition of freedom. In fact, we do not live in a free country. No one does where hemp is illegal. That the Tea partiers do not get this makes them very suspect in my books.

  15. “From the streets to the suites.”

    I guess you have to give credit to the ultra-liberal New York Times for not burying this story, although you also have to recognize that if there’s one crime liberals don’t like to forgive, it’s not paying taxes.

    Al Sharpton has made a little money in the years he’s been in the public eye, and of course, as a committed liberal who believes in big government and its authority to confiscate wealth from the rich, the good reverend would surely have paid his fair share. Yes?


    Indeed, Mr. Sharpton’s influence and visibility have reached new heights this year, fueled by his close relationships with the mayor and the president.
    Obscured in his ascent, however, has been his troubling financial past, which continues to shadow his present.

    Mr. Sharpton has regularly sidestepped the sorts of obligations most people see as inevitable, like taxes, rent and other bills. Records reviewed by The New York Times show more than $4.5 million in current state and federal tax liens against him and his for-profit businesses.

    And though he said in recent interviews that he was paying both down, his balance with the state, at least, has actually grown in recent years. His National Action Network appears to have been sustained for years by not paying federal payroll taxes on its employees.

    With the tax liability outstanding, Mr. Sharpton traveled first class and collected a sizable salary, the kind of practice by nonprofit groups that the United States Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration recently characterized as “abusive,” or “potentially criminal” if the failure to turn over or collect taxes is willful.

    Mr. Sharpton and the National Action Network have repeatedly failed to pay travel agencies, hotels and landlords. He has leaned on the generosity of friends and sometimes even the organization, intermingling its finances with his own to cover his daughters’ private school tuition.

    Sharpton now says he’s paying down the debt, although apparently not fast enough because his balance is rising. But the best part is that he’s paying the debts thanks to “increased contributions from donors.” In other words, he’s shaking down other people for money to pay taxes on the earnings that are allowing him to live the high life.

    And this is the guy MSNBC routinely puts on the air to rail against Republicans and rich people, especially those who “don’t pay their fair share”?

    Got it.

    For what it’s worth, Sharpton held a press conference earlier today denouncing the story, so we’re now looking at Sharpton vs. the New York Times. It doesn’t get any better than blue-on-blue violence!


    • Sharpton is a clown. Who cares what that clown does?

      • Obama fears him.

      • Huh?

      • Obama fears him (the reverend Al).

      • I got your point the first time but what does Obama not fear? That was my point……Obama couches all his statements as apologies to the neo-con agenda. He starts out beaten. He fears the Repubs way more than Sharpton.

      • “couches all his statements as apologies to the neo-con agenda”-give me an example. I only see him apologizing to the rest of the World for the successes of America.

  16. […] the wake of the Republican victory in the 42nd, many local political analysts are reevaluating the 42nd – mentally moving it from […]

  17. […] the multi-million dollar battle played out in the 42nd district last year and the bloody County Council fight in 2013, I can see […]

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