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The Whatcom County Executive race

The Whatcom County Executive race

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The Whatcom County Executive race is very interesting.  Whatever opinion you may have about the past performance of Pete Kremen no longer matters.  It is a horse race and no one knows the outcome.  Good times for political junkies and commentators, right?

But voters are going to be challenged to sort through the offerings.  There appear to be two huge issues, the environmental impact of the Gateway Terminal operations (say coal train if you wish) and jobs.  Will maintaining our quality of life win, or will rebuilding our depleted economy win?  Underlying these issues is an ideological debate as well, conservative values versus liberal values.  And if that doesn't add to our present divisiveness, then let's add urban versus rural interests to the mix.  

I think ultimately we are going to have to come up with a well engineered solution, both politically and technically.  I don't know what that looks like myself, but I'm going to vote for the person who appears to have the balanced perspective, experience, and wisdom to offer that well engineered solution.  Ideological palaver needs to be set aside.  Unfortunately, I expect we will see a lot of that palaver, if not from the candidates, then from other sources.  And I'm not minimizing the severity or importance of the environmental issues or the economic ones.  It is just that no one group or special interest has enough clout to subdue the other, hence expect pitched emotional battles.  And I say this knowing that local elected officials and we citizens have no outright vote on the Terminal.  We are and will continue to be challenged to bring about the best solution without benefit of the ballot box.  As such, we need leaders who can lead based on their ability to articulate and influence ideas, policies, and decisions without their "normal" tools.   

We are very fortunate to have four quality thoroughbreds in this race.  I hope there are many opportunities to hear their ideas and for voters to ask them questions.  We need an active media, active volunteers to put on debates, and a willingness of the candidates to debate each other.  My hopes may be higher than my expectations at this point, but I will look askance at candidates who run from the challenge of exchanging ideas in public.

To be honest, I do have a favorite, Tom Anderson.  What I said about debates still goes, especially for the benefit of undecided voters.  But I like the cut of the man.  Tom has a wealth of experience managing complex government and business issues from his 16-year stint as a public utilities district director.  He is also way ahead on the future prospects and problems of energy supply for our region.  Most important to me, he is known for his integrity and willingness to work with people who are on different sides of issues.  I think Tom will stand tall and he's my man.

So the gates are open. They are off and running!  May the best one win.

About Ham Hayes

Closed Account • Member since Jan 11, 2008

Ham moved to Bellingham in 1999 and wrote for NW Citizen from 2007 to 2011. He died in October 2022.

Comments by Readers


Jun 13, 2011

Thanks, Ham, for opening the discussion.  Allow me, for the purpose of discussion, to disagree with a couple of statements you’ve made; which I understand were proffered with your usual effort at diplomacy.

“Will maintaining our quality of life win, or will rebuilding our depleted economy win?” 

This is a false choice; and not the real question.  I’d prefer, “Will we understand that maintaining our quality of life means rebuilding our traditional economy.”

In the terminology of my greener friends, conversion of resource lands, and their associated rural zones, to new residence is not a “sustainable” solution.  Residential development, construction, and land speculation will never be an “industry” just a temporary phenomenon.

“We are very fortunate to have four quality thoroughbreds in this race.”

Really, Ham, sometimes diplomacy can be practiced to a fault.  We’ve go one thoroughbred, one decent draft horse, a potential Seabiscuit, and a nag.

I agree, Tom Anderson is a very fine fellow.  And I too would be completely satisfied, should he somehow prevail.  I’ve spent a number of hours debating water law, and its applicability with Tom, and am always impressed with his integrity and knowledge; whether we agree or disagree.

Jack Louws, though I have no illusions about the weakness of his commitment to the traditional economy that’s critical to our quality of life, could be a definite improvement in the executive office. 

The nag in the race is Ericksen.  A fatuous political ideologue, all he’s learned in his life here is how to get elected and stay in office.  He’s Kremen reincarnate.  A man who political advancement, and retirement, is his predominate motivation.  To call him a “thoroughbred” is even a disservice to horse’s asses.

The mystery horse, of course, is David Stalheim.  And like the legendary little horse, if he could find the right handlers he would become a legend in Whatcom county. 

Undeniably the long-shot, Stalheim has the heart to make it as an underdog.  His success will depend on who he trusts.  But he’s blessed with the friendship of one great ally, Jean Melious.  Notwithstanding her lack of success against the status quo in the race for county council, she and David have undertaken great things for Whatcom county.


Larry Horowitz

Jun 13, 2011

Greg, thanks for pointing out the false choice between ?maintaining our quality of life and rebuilding our depleted economy.?

As noted economist and author Herman Daly wrote in ?For the Common Good?:

?The real economic base of a community ? consists of all those things that make it an attractive place to live, work, or to do business.  That means the economic base includes the quality of the natural environment, the richness of the local culture, the security and stability of the community, the quality of the public services and the public works infrastructure, and the quality of the workforce.  None of these things are provided by the commercial economy or produced for export.?


Ham Hayes

Jun 14, 2011

Greg and Larry, thanks for joining in. My framing the issues as either/or was intentional.  The proponents and opponents have already drawn the battle lines through their actions and responses. The stated opposition by Mayor Pike, is one example. 

Greg, your framing of the question could well be informative, but I’m not certain what you mean by “traditional” economy. Lumber and pulp? Maritime manufacturing? More aluminum ingots? I think we agree that we are having a hard time replacing the lost industrial jobs we once had which is likely the reason for a high level of polarization. And I’ll wager that agriculture is being stressed as well. Without a healthy economy, it is difficult to afford the quality of life we want. 

Hart Hodges pointed out several years ago, that Whatcom County has a disproportionate deficit of 20 to 45 year old people.  Relative wages are low in this county, and many of those people who we would expect to provide a quality workforce (ie that age group) leave for better opportunities. We do have a wonderful environment, with lots to attract people.  But I don’t see us attracting an adequate amount of new businesses to sustain ourselves. In my opinion, that’s the reality and we need address it.


Riley Sweeney

Jun 14, 2011

I couldn’t agree more about the deficit of 20-45 year olds. So many people leave this community to try and make a living and don’t return until much later when they are established. Whatcom County should be a place to live out your whole life, not just the bookends.

And I know it will only get worse under that nag, Doug Ericksen.


Larry Horowitz

Jun 14, 2011


It?s been my experience that unless the problem is clearly defined, it?s difficult to adopt appropriate solutions.  How would you clearly define Whatcom County?s economic problem(s)?

Also, your statement about the need to attract new business in order to sustain ourselves sounds like the old mantra of ?grow or die?.  What about a ?steady-state? economy?  Is that not feasible for Whatcom County?


Rob Stratton

Jun 25, 2011

Looks like no one there for me to vote for. I am so tired of the false “left” “right” paradigm that they so called “leaders” (they are representatives not leaders) want us to believe are the solution to all our woes, while they both move our governments locally and nationally toward the cliff of financial and tyrannical ruin.


David MacLeod

Jul 22, 2011

Rob Stratton,

Based on your comment, I would think Tom Anderson should get your vote.  Check out the following two articles:

Dark Horse: Why You Should Consider Tom Anderson for County Executive

by Tim Johnson, Cascadia Weekly
“Tom Anderson is ...informed by a deep respect and understanding of science and engineering principles. Those principles forbid him as a conservative from ignoring the realities of global climate change, the decline of cheap energy resources, and the destruction of resource lands without benefit to the local economy.

Anderson has a pleasing manner that conceals a quick and creative intellect. He is a storehouse of knowledge on natural resources and who controls them. He has a knack for understanding the very, very Big Picture without sacrificing a nimbleness that allows him to see and seize opportunity locally. Working with energy systems in the public sector only sharpened these gifts.”

Anderson Seeks to Build Consensus, Community
by Tom Anderson, The Bellingham Herald

“...Communities are diverse entities, and a prosperous thriving community requires leadership that honors and appreciates that diversity while highlighting the values we share. We cannot afford, either financially or emotionally, the level of acrimony that exists in government today. We need effective leadership to empower individuals and communities to come together, work out solutions to shared problems, and take responsible action. My five-year tenure with the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center board solidified my commitment to leadership through empowerment, and proved to me that engaging even contentious stakeholders in problem solving creates the most productive and resilient solutions. Through this type of process, we will find mutually agreed-upon, long term solutions regarding some of the most contentious issues we face: our water, our economy and our jail….”

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