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A Little Politics

By On
• In Elections,

​Did you know, gentle reader, that if a person speaks publicly of their plans to run for political office, Washington state law requires that they register - and then follow certain rules of behavior and such? Therefore, those who are savvy and able to plan for the future keep quiet about their plans. When I hear of someone considering seeking an office, I actually do that person a disservice by calling them to confirm or deny because it forces them - if they do plan to run - to lie so as not be be in violation of the law and subject to investigation, hearings, and fines. This law is, in my opinion, very much in violation of our state and national constitutions - but has not yet been tested in the courts.

So, I try to be careful about whom I talk to, how I reference sources, and I make every effort to protect our normal constitutional rights in discussing all things political. I know the law has good intentions - tracking early donations that would otherwise be off the books - but the results are onerous and suffocating.

There will be - as of Nov 28 when the election is certified - a vacancy on the Whatcom County Council. Todd Donovan is leaving his seat with two years remaining, having won a new seat in the new District 2. As such, the council will have a chance to appoint a replacement for his unexpired term. Natalie McClendon is seeking the appointment and has support from some council members, including Todd Donovan. She also plans to run for election to the council at the next opportunity. McClendon has been a leader in the Whatcom County Democratic Party for many years.

In November 2019, we will elect a new mayor. We all now (“we” being local political junkies) are convinced that Kelli Linville will not run for a third term as mayor. She will retire from politics after a long career.

Who will run is quickly sorting out. To cut to the chase, council members Gene Knutson, Michael Lilliquist, Roxanne Murphy and Dan Hammill are all planning or thinking about it. Knutson and Lilliquist are running for sure, with Murphy talking to others in hopes of finding support, and Hammill is still thinking about it. Also running will be - you guessed it - Seth Fleetwood. Fleetwood has held several local elected offices in past years, although currently is a private citizen since being defeated last year by Doug Ericksen for the state Senate seat.

A fifth member of the City Council, Pinky Vargas, plans to run for state Senate from the 42nd district - yes, Doug Ericksen’s seat. So too, is Michael McAuley, who did not run for reelection to the Port of Bellingham. I have no idea if Ericksen will run again.

Of course, in posting this, I am inviting comments. Our community should be able to openly discuss all these people. They are in the public arena by their own choice. They seek to be elected to represent us, lead us, and make the laws that govern us, all very basic democratic concepts. And if any potential candidates do contact me - whether those above or any I do not know about - I will be most discreet with what I learn. It is sad that we in the U.S. have to be afraid of speaking publicly about public issues, but that is a result of laws enacted by our past elected representatives. Maybe someone can enlighten readers on the deeper reasons a past legislature would enact a law requiring those who plan to file for office to register like they were foreign agents.

About John Servais

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

David Camp

Nov 21, 2017

Well my two cents is that anyone who voted to put the jail bond on the ballot again this year has got to have some astoundingly solid other strengths to overcome that utter failure of judgement and lack of financial acumen. 


Jon Humphrey

Nov 21, 2017

I have to say that I am happy to see that Michael Lilliquist is planning to run. I’ve gotten to know many of the council members on my Publicly Owned Fiber Optic Network journey and Michael is the only one that has consistenly treated myself, our movement, and the community, with respect. He is also a visionary and we really need to be thinking in 60 to 100 year terms when it comes to infrastructure. Sure, some people say that they don’t plan to be around in 60 years so who cares about thinking about the future, but some authors (like Ben Bova) are now starting to say that many of us will live to be 120 or more. Also, we both care a tremendous amount about taking care of the envrionment. Concern for the environment, and the ability to take action in its defense, is something we need any candidate that runs for mayor to litearlly have seeping out of their pores. Sure, Michael and I don’t agree on everything (I’d say it’s about 88%... 85% when I’m annoyed) but I feel like he actually cares about our community. I also trust him because he speaks his mind more often than most other politicians. Obviously I’m biased though because we both support Public Fiber, Bernie, care about the environoment, and we both dive. I guess having a mayor that might get taken out by a giant octopus, or unknown Sasquatch of the deep, could be casue for conern (j/k). 


Paul Schissler

Nov 26, 2017

John Servais, thanks for your report.  It helps the community to know who is considering running for office, even if they haven’t yet decided to run.  It’s none too early if someone wants to put themselves forward as a candidate for Mayor or any other office in 2018.

If someone is definitely running for an office, then let’s ask them to be truthful about it. If they’re considering it but not yet decided, they can be honest about that, too. It looks like considering a run is different than planning to run, but we can ask who might be disingenuous when stating their intentions.  Are they running or not?

I found the following at the WA Public Disclosure Commission website,:

“According to the disclosure law, you become a candidate when you do one of these things: accept a contribution or spend money for your campaign; reserve space or purchase advertising to promote your candidacy; authorize someone else to do any of these activities for you; state publicly that you are seeking office; or file a declaration of candidacy.”


John Servais

Nov 26, 2017

Paul, I almost fully agree with you.  I believe all those conditions but one are appropriate for requiring a person to register as a candidate.  The one exception is “state publicly that you are seeking office” as that is a very broad definition of a trigger for registering.  If I ask a person if they are planning to run for mayor and they are honest in saying “yes” then then must register.  Else they risk someone filing a complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission.  

My article is intended to allow the rest of us to discuss with these persons our thoughts on their possibly running for office - including mayor of Bellingham in 2019, two years from now. All without their having to say they plan to run, as it is posted in an article.  My intention is to circulmvent what is, to me, a very very unconstitutional law of our state.  We have freedom of speech and this law muzzles speech by a person contemplating running for office.  To require registration if they collect money, spend money, reserve advertising space, etc, is a fine law and one triggered by a campaign action.  Talking is not spending money.