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Primary: I’m voting Jean Layton for city council—and you should, too

By Ralph SchwartzOn Jul 09, 2017

​Before Democrats in the Whatcom establishment raise an objection, let me say up front this is not an endorsement for the general election. This is not an endorsement of any kind, really.

This is about who loses the Aug. 1 primary election for Bellingham City Council at large, not who wins.

But first, I will talk a little about the two people I would like to see win the primary for that seat—the only seat among the seven in which the primary election is held citywide.

Jean Layton, a doctor of naturopathic medicine, has never run for office before. She and others locally, notably Whatcom County Council candidate Amy Glasser (District 2/north Bellingham), were inspired to jump into the local electoral fray by Bernie Sanders’ unsuccessful 2016 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Layton is on a learning curve but knows more about the issues that matter to Bellingham than a lot of past challengers have.

Roxanne Murphy, youth director for Nooksack Indian Tribe and a tribal member, is the first woman of color elected to the Bellingham City Council. She has been a consistent champion of progressive causes: the environment, paid sick leave, and tribal and LGBTQ-plus rights. While Layton is the Sanders-inspired newcomer, Murphy is the candidate preferred by the Democratic Party establishment. She earned the Whatcom Democrats’ coveted endorsement at a meeting of party members last month. This was a significant early victory for Murphy— and possibly a decisive one. A small army of Democrats will be advancing on Bellingham doorbells between now and November, telling voters to choose Murphy for the at-large council seat, along with the rest of the slate the county party endorsed on June 15.

Murphy also has an impressive array of other endorsements under her belt: Washington Conservation Voters, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington (“the largest pro-choice activist organization in the state”), Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, and multiple labor groups.

Which is why I’m voting for Layton. I don’t know whether I’ll vote for Layton come November. I just want to have the option.

The third person appearing on the Aug. 1 primary ballot—which will be mailed to all registered voters in the city this Friday, July 14—is Eric Bostrom. Not sure what his profession is, but he’s made a name for himself as a fire-and-brimstone street preacher sometimes found at Railroad Avenue and Holly Street downtown, or tormenting people celebrating at the annual Bellingham Pride festival. I was told that at this year’s festival, on Sunday, July 9, Bostrom did not wave his usual large sign saying something along the lines of, “Accept Jesus, renounce sin—including sexual identities that don’t conform with my narrow prejudices—or burn in Hell.” I’m told he was waving an Elect Eric Bostom sign and wearing an orange T-shirt with homemade lettering that said “free speech.”

Yes, Bostrom is within his free-speech rights to get up on a soapbox on a downtown street corner and tell people his version of the path to eternal salvation. I’m also exercising my speech rights in condemning him for, in effect, judging others whom he hates, for reasons that are hard to fathom. Bostrom may not have been yelling Christian-tinged judgment at parade-goers this year, but his minions were doing just that on a nearby corner. On his way out of downtown, after the Pride parade, Bostrom pulled his Red Prius up to the corner of Railroad and Chestnut to confer with his confederacy of preachers. Quickly, Bellingham citizens were pressing up to Bostrom’s driver-side door, yelling at him, telling him he’s unfit to serve on the City Council. Bostrom got on his bullhorn briefly, to chant “Vote Eric Bostrom, City Council.” As he putted off, he told his detractors on the sidewalk, “Thanks for the advertising.”

Which confirmed an opinion I’ve held about Bostrom since I first saw him two years ago on Railroad and Holly with those inflammatory Jesus and Hell signs: Boy, this guy sure does crave attention. Sure enough, he has taken that Trump-like need for attention to the next level: a run for citywide elected office.

I’m concerned Bostrom might make it to November. You’d think the good people at the Whatcom Republicans—and I’ve talked to a lot of them; many of them are good people—would have wanted nothing to do with the vicious Bostrom. But no, in what I took as a surprise move, the Whatcom GOP donated $300 to the Bostrom campaign. I couldn’t find any 2017 endorsements on the Whatcom Republicans website, but any party operation I’ve ever seen would want to put its mouth where its money is, and doorbell for their preferred candidate.

Murphy and Layton could conceivably split the large progressive vote in Bellingham, opening the path for Bostrom to squeeze into the general election by taking second place in the primary ahead of Layton. Make no mistake—Murphy is going to receive more votes than Layton or Bostrom in the Aug. 1 primary, for what that’s worth. Murphy is the incumbent, she has an acceptable progressive track record, she has made no enemies among factions of voters, and she has a laundry list of endorsements. The Whatcom Democrats’ endorsement historically has proven to be a major factor in election outcomes. Hence my vote for Layton, as a means of ending Bostrom’s political career—if only for the moment.

People on the left politically in Bellingham are incensed that Bostrom has already gotten media attention that makes him appear legitimate. Among the targets of their animus was a recent interview of Bostrom on Make.Shift’s KVWV community radio. My response to people on the left is this: If Bostom makes it through the primary, then you ain’t seen nothing yet. Bostrom will be elevated from a media audience of dozens to an audience of hundreds or thousands, as his hate-based views are detailed via The Bellingham Herald, KGMI, and any other local media that might not be up to the task of calling Bostrom out on his very public record of condemning Bellingham citizens routinely on the city streets.

No way in hell Bostrom defeats Murphy in November. But nor should his vitriol gain exposure with a wider audience in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 7 election. The Aug. 1 primary is a numbers game. You can vote your conscience by casting your ballot for the candidate most likely to leave Bostrom the odd man out. Let him go back to working the street corners. And if you’re a Christian, maybe you could pray for his soul.

About Ralph Schwartz

Writer • Member since May 23, 2014

After 13 years in mainstream journalism, Ralph Schwartz left The Bellingham Herald in November 2015 to get more involved in the community. He's now a freelance editor and writer, and works in [...]

Comments by Readers

Steve M. James

Jul 10, 2017

Let’s remember that Murphy got the Democratic endorsement through a slight of hand at the endorsement meeting.  An email went out prior to the meeting that among other things said the in races where there are two Democrats running, there would be no endorsement vote. Then, at the meeting, on a motion from the floor, that position was changed by vote of those present and a vote was held to endorse. So, how many Layton supporters did not come to the meeting believing there would be no endorsement vote for that position. And, not every Democrat is pleased with all her action as Council Person. She has made statements regarding  ADU’s and rental regulations that I find troubling.

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Hue Beattie

Jul 10, 2017

I concur with Ralph’s analysis. I expect this primary to have a larger turnout due to so many people wanting to vote against the hate monger.

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Stephanie Kountouros

Jul 10, 2017

While Steve M. James incorrectly assesses the Dems Endorsement Meeting (the email and the E-Board was quite clear that their agenda could be overruled from the floor,) I completely agree with Ralph Swartz’s position and reasoning.

I would suggest however, that there are very different viewpoints as regards media, especially alternative media, and interviewing all candidates. And yes—both positions are progressive. There is the extremely valid “don’t give this butthead any play” position, which Ralph has articulated. There is also the argument that only mainstream candidates have access to mainstream media—and isn’t that the entire point of community radio to begin with?

Exposing the alt-right and homophobics to the light is a valid tactic. Additionally, there is a danger inherent in the press arbitrarily shutting out any candidate they dislike on the grounds that their policies are odeous. 

...and sometimes I am tempted to do that anyway.

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John Servais

Jul 10, 2017

Well, Stephanie, no tendancy by Ralph to “shutting out” EB.  His name is mentioned 21 times in the article, compared to 10 for Jean Layton.  And 3 photos of EB compared to 1 for JL.  I would have used his name once.  Enough to be clear who we consider beyond the pale.

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