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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

LIVE from Bellingham: Council candidates share their vision for Whatcom County

Here comes the home stretch of yet anoth­er elec­tion season.

As cam­paigns move into get-out-the-vote mode, vol­un­teers are phonebank­ing and knock­ing on doors, can­di­dates hope to make an impact on more civi­cal­ly active vot­ers by speak­ing at forums. While many of these just serve to engage the base and get a few more peo­ple to vol­un­teer, it also delin­eates clear dif­fer­ences between the can­di­dates on spe­cif­ic issues that atten­dees care about.

Here at the League of Women Vot­ers’ forum in Belling­ham, the can­di­dates for What­com Coun­ty Coun­cil are get­ting ready to talk about issues impor­tant to cities and com­mu­ni­ties like Belling­ham, Lyn­den, Fer­n­dale, Birch Bay, and Blaine. And no issue is more impor­tant than the fate of the largest pro­posed coal ter­mi­nal on the West Coast, which the can­di­dates who get elect­ed will be vot­ing on.

The can­di­dates for Coun­ty Coun­cil this year are Ken Mann (incum­bent) and Ben Elen­baas for Dis­trict 2, Posi­tion A; Bar­ry Buchanan and Kathy Ker­sh­n­er (incum­bent) for Dis­trict 1, Posi­tion A; Carl Wiemer (incum­bent) and Michelle Luke for Dis­trict 3; and Rud Browne and Bill Knutzen (incum­bent) for the at-large seat.

The four can­di­dates endorsed by the What­com Coun­ty Democ­rats, envi­ron­men­tal groups, labor, and oth­ers are Ken Mann, Bar­ry Buchanan, Carl Wiemer, and Rud Browne. All four need to win if the Coun­cil is to have a reli­ably pro­gres­sive majority.

While such a major­i­ty is crit­i­cal for major issues in the com­mu­ni­ty like water qual­i­ty, robust human ser­vices pro­grams, infra­struc­ture devel­op­ment, and the like, what hap­pens here will also (as men­tioned) deter­mine the future of the Cher­ry Point Coal Ter­mi­nal. This pro­posed coal ter­mi­nal would have seri­ous region­al effects, includ­ing neg­a­tive impacts on pub­lic health, trans­porta­tion, and quality-of-life.

The ter­mi­nal would also hurt our efforts to com­bat the cli­mate cri­sis. It would take us in the wrong direc­tion. Forty-eight mil­lion tons of coal would poten­tial­ly be export­ed through the ter­mi­nal each year. Forty-eight mil­lion tons.

The con­ser­v­a­tive can­di­dates were just recent­ly found to have been receiv­ing mon­ey from coal and ener­gy com­pa­nies to sup­port their cam­paigns, and are sub­jects of an active Pub­lic Dis­clo­sure Com­mis­sion com­plaint for vio­lat­ing pub­lic dis­clo­sure laws. The com­plaint might come up dur­ing the forum, and it could cer­tain­ly lead to a live­ly exchange between the candidates.

I will be live­blog­ging through­out the evening, so be sure to check back for updates.

UPDATE, 6:30 PM: We have arrived at the forum, as the crowd and the can­di­dates file in. It’s good to see that the con­ser­v­a­tive can­di­dates have shown their faces, as they’ve decid­ed not to attend two pre­vi­ous forums which they decid­ed was not friend­ly enough territory.

UPDATE, 6:35 PM: The mod­er­a­tors are going through the ground rules for the forum, and a brief descrip­tion of what the coun­ty coun­cil does.

UPDATE, 6:42 PM: The first round of can­di­dates are speak­ing, which are Bar­ry Buchanan and Kathy Ker­sh­n­er, both run­ning for Coun­cil Dis­trict 1. Kathy start­ed by talk­ing about her bout with can­cer, the busi­ness envi­ron­ment, and West­ern Wash­ing­ton University.

UPDATE, 6:44 PM: Kathy’s done with her intro­duc­tion, and Bar­ry Buchanan start­ed into his family’s long his­to­ry in the area, his work in the mil­i­tary, and how he wants to pro­tect water qual­i­ty, farm­land, and the environment.

UPDATE, 6:46 PM: The first ques­tion is about the Growth Man­age­ment Act, and how the can­di­dates would pri­or­i­tize devel­op­ment, What­com Coun­ty is one of the only coun­ties left in the state to not be in com­pli­ance with the act, and Bar­ry Buchanan sup­ports its implementation.

UPDATE, 6:47 PM: Kathy Ker­sh­n­er oppos­es the Growth Man­age­ment Act cit­ing a “board in Olympia” that doesn’t know What­com Coun­ty. She’s mak­ing them out to be “the Oth­er”, not their role in main­tain­ing smart growth.

UPDATE, 6:49 PM: Top­ics moved quick­ly from water rights to the pro­posed jail devel­op­ment, and Bar­ry Buchanan believes we need to pri­or­i­tize men­tal health and diver­sion tech­niques, to end a cycle of mass incarceration.

UPDATE, 6:51 PM: Ker­sh­n­er cites the dis­re­pair of the cur­rent jail, and want­i­ng to cut costs to save mon­ey on the jail, also say­ing that peo­ple in the coun­ty need “jobs, not jail”.

UPDATE, 6:56 PM: After a few fluff ques­tions, it was asked what cri­te­ria the can­di­date would use to review the per­mit of the coal ter­mi­nal. Kathy was non­com­mit­tal, using vague terminology.

UPDATE, 6:58 PM: Bar­ry Buchanan answered the ques­tion to say he would look at envi­ron­men­tal impacts and envi­ron­men­tal stan­dards. Def­i­nite­ly a envi­ron­men­tal candidate.

UPDATE, 7:00 PM: A ques­tion was asked about where the can­di­dates are get­ting their mon­ey. Kathy said that she didn’t get any out­side mon­ey “that she knew of”, and Bar­ry spoke on con­tri­bu­tions by labor groups, envi­ron­men­tal groups, and cit­i­zens that were excit­ed to make a change on the council.

UPDATE, 7:03 PM: We’re near­ing the end of ques­tion­ing the first round of can­di­dates, and both Bar­ry and Kathu gave their clos­ing state­ments. Kathy deliv­ered her state­ments with lit­tle emo­tion, and seemed very scripted.Barry, on the oth­er hand, cir­cled around to his fam­i­ly his­to­ry, and restat­ed his com­mit­ment to pre­serv­ing the environment.

UPDATE, 7:08 PM: Ken Mann and Ben Elen­baas are now up. Ken’s per­sona, as a for­mer radio host, engi­neer, and finan­cial man­ag­er, and now a green refur­bish­ment con­sul­tant, is very charm­ing and smart, and Ben comes across as a very plod­ding speak­er, an earthy, next-door neigh­bor qual­i­ty. I sus­pect he bar­be­cues on the weekend.

UPDATE, 7:10 PM: In his intro­duc­to­ry state­ment Ben spoke about his dis­taste for either-or ques­tions, and Ken spoke about his defense of the Women, Infants, and Chil­dren (WIC) pro­gram, and his vote for pro­tect­ing Lake Whatcom.

UPDATE, 7:12 PM: Ques­tion­ing once again went to the Growth Man­age­ment Act. Ken Mann spoke about many of its defi­cien­cies, and Ben Elen­baas explained his belief that the Growth Man­age­ment Board was biased against rur­al living.

UPDATE, 7:17 PM: Ben Elen­baas talked about cer­tain­ty being nec­es­sary to bring busi­ness­es into the coun­ty. Ken piv­ot­ed smooth­ly and talked about how cur­rent con­ser­v­a­tive mem­bers of the coun­cil were hyp­o­crit­i­cal on that point, hav­ing passed an emer­gency mora­to­ri­um on cer­tain forms of renew­able ener­gy some time ago, imply­ing that the goals of con­ser­v­a­tives to pro­vide cer­tain­ty and pre­dictabil­i­ty to busi­ness­es may only be for the types of busi­ness­es that they like.

UPDATE, 7:20 PM: A ques­tion was asked about what the can­di­dates would ask their ques­tion. Ken stat­ed a pre­vi­ous answer of Ben’s about how busy he is, ask­ing how he would serve as coun­cilmem­ber. Ben’s answer was flat, stay­ing most­ly that we would “make time”.

UPDATE, 7:24 PM: Ben accused Ken of say­ing dif­fer­ent things in the north part of the coun­ty than in the south part (Belling­ham in the south, small­er towns in the north), and brought up slaugh­ter­hous­es, a very heat­ed local issue. Ken refut­ed Elen­baas’ state­ment that he was speak­ing out of both sides of his mouth.

UPDATE, 7:24 PM: Both can­di­dates agreed that elec­tions financ­ing should be pub­lic. Go figure.

UPDATE, 7:30 PM: On a ques­tion about pri­vate vs. pub­lic own­er­ship, Ben Elen­baas spoke again about his family’s pres­ence in the coun­ty, and spoke vague­ly on stew­ard­ship of the land. Ken asked for the ques­tion be restat­ed, agreed with Ben that land needs to be tak­en care of, but piv­ot­ed to speak on stormwa­ter runoff, incin­er­a­tion, and how actions that own­ers take on their own prop­er­ty can affect oth­er people.

UPDATE, 7:35 PM: On clos­ing state­ments, Elen­baas repeat­ed his slo­gan, adver­tised his farm, and re-empha­sized his local cre­den­tials. Ken spoke on the impor­tance of local issues and his work cur­rent­ly as a councilmember.

UPDATE, 7:38 PM: Carl Weimer and Michelle Luke, run­ning for Coun­cil Dis­trict 3. Michelle ran against Carl four years ago and lost, and was the sub­ject of much con­ver­sa­tion back then when she was asked how she was qual­i­fied for the job and could not respond, instead sit­ting in silence.

UPDATE, 7:41 PM: Carl expressed his sup­port for the Growth Man­age­ment Act in help­ing smart growth and main­tain­ing qual­i­ty-of-life. Michelle Luke explained her thoughts that she believes the Act has been improp­er­ly inter­pret­ed in the County.

UPDATE, 7:45 PM: When talk­ing about per­mit­ting the coal ter­mi­nal Michelle stum­bled and said she would look at the doc­u­ments. Carl spoke on how he believes in cli­mate change, ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion, and the effect the project would have on marine pop­u­la­tion and how that knowl­edge would help make his deci­sion. He’s def­i­nite­ly the envi­ron­men­tal can­di­date in this race.

UPDATE, 7:47 PM: When asked about the slaugh­ter­house ordi­nance which just passed the Coun­ty Coun­cil, Carl spoke on how much of a mess the ordi­nance was when it came from the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, which his oppo­nent chairs, forc­ing Michelle to spend her time defend­ing her work on the ordinance.

UPDATE, 7:49 PM: Carl’s def­i­nite­ly tak­ing the lead in this race, slam­ming Michelle again and again with the unsat­is­fac­to­ry work of the Plan­ning Commission.

UPDATE, 7:52 PM: Michelle calls plan­ning codes out­dat­ed and insuf­fi­cient to pro­tect farm­land. Carl expand­ed on the top­ic, and moved to say­ing that farm­land shouldn’t be used to build hous­ing, and that farm­ers need ded­i­cat­ed water rights.

UPDATE, 8:02 PM: Michelle and Carl launch into their clos­ing state­ments. Michelle thanks the League of Women Vot­ers and say they know where she stands. I hope they do, because I sure don’t, espe­cial­ly on the specifics. Carl end­ed with pas­sion and excite­ment, ani­mat­ed in his actions and his voice. Next up are the final can­di­dates in forum, Rud Browne and Bill Knutzen for the At-Large position.

UPDATE, 8:04 PM: Bill Knutzen intro­duced him­self first, speak­ing about agri­cul­ture, jobs, and his fos­ter chil­dren. He also made sure to make a joke about his opponent’s name.

UPDATE, 8:08 PM: Rud made com­par­isons between him­self and his oppo­nent, stat­ing how he became a US cit­i­zen by choice, migrat­ing from Aus­tralia and being part of the Coast Guard Aux­il­iary. He also made com­par­isons between his busi­ness and his opponent’s, stat­ing the hun­dreds of employ­ees and mul­ti­ple awards his com­pa­ny has.

UPDATE, 8:09 PM: Bill Knutzen called zon­ing changes “steal­ing”, and talked about the faces behind the changes. I’m wor­ried about the log­i­cal exten­sions of that statement.

UPDATE, 8:10 PM: Rud Browne dis­pelled the myth of the Growth Man­age­ment Act as a big, bad enti­ty, stat­ing it’s role in pro­tect­ing all prop­er­ty own­ers and cit­i­zens in the area.

UPDATE, 8:13 PM: When asked about how as a coun­cilmem­ber they would help with pover­ty alle­vi­a­tion. Rud spoke on his work as CEO and his char­i­ty work, and Bill Knutzen explained his work get­ting Com­cast to pro­vide inter­net access to low-income indi­vid­u­als and his church work.

UPDATE, 8:16 PM: When asked about racial pro­fil­ing in the coun­ty, Bill Knutzen denied it was going on. Rud Browne spoke to the issue where Cus­toms and Bor­der Enforce­ment have been called on as inter­preters by the police, and then ask­ing for the doc­u­men­ta­tion of the very same peo­ple who were call­ing for help.

UPDATE, 8:20 PM: When asked about the coal ter­mi­nal, Bill talked about using the infor­ma­tion giv­en to him and serv­ing in the role of the qua­si-judi­cial body that the Coun­cil must adhere to in mak­ing the per­mit­ting deci­sion. Rud Browne made an oath that he would do noth­ing that would make the per­mit be decid­ed in court, instead of by the Council.

UPDATE, 8:23 PM: Bill Knutzen wants to pri­or­i­tize bud­gets instead of rais­ing tax­es, includes parks among “friv­o­lous” things the coun­ty spends on. Rud talked about mak­ing sure chil­dren are edu­cat­ed and fed.

UPDATE, 8:30 PM: Already at clos­ing state­ments, and Bill Knutzen stum­bles a bit, but regains his foot­ing by say­ing that deci­sions need to be made local­ly in What­com Coun­ty. Rud Browne spoke about how wel­com­ing the com­mu­ni­ty is, before re-empha­siz­ing his busi­ness expe­ri­ence and his qual­i­fi­ca­tions in cre­at­ing jobs.

UPDATE, 8:47 PM: The forum is over, and a few last thoughts: the con­ser­v­a­tive can­di­dates are try­ing to bur­nish their local cre­den­tials to make the out­sider the Growth Man­age­ment Board and not the coal com­pa­nies which have been donat­ing to their cam­paigns. The forum was filmed to be put on local access tele­vi­sion, and I’ll link to it when it goes online. Good night folks!

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