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Crowded field: 11 seek Whatcom council vacancy days before deadline

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One necessary condition for a healthy democracy is citizens’ willingness to participate—not just by casting votes but by stepping up to represent their peers by taking government offices.

I can’t put my finger on it, but something about Bellingham City Council keeps potential candidates away. Even when someone does run for City Council, they can turn cold on the whole prospect and stop campaigning.

Three of the four City Council incumbents up for re-election this year ran unopposed. I include incumbent Michael Lilliquist, who ostensibly faced a challenger in Quenby Peterson. All evidence suggests, however, that she stopped campaigning about five months before the election. Lilliquist defeated a decidedly uninspired Peterson by a 3-to-1 margin.

Open seats typically attract a lot of candidates, if only because the playing field is leveled by the absence of an incumbent. Still in 2015 in Bellingham, April Barker was the only person to run after Jack Weiss decided he would not seek re-election. Let’s hope for more public interest in leading the city of Bellingham than we’ve seen in the past half decade or so.

Speaking of open seats, the Whatcom County Council does not share Bellingham’s participation problem. Maybe district-only voting, instituted in 2015 and put into practice just this year, has sparked interest in County Council membership as this seven-member body looks forward to more political diversity in the near future. The County Council office put out the call on Dec. 5 for applicants who want the seat being vacated by Todd Donovan. Donovan abandoned his seat with two years left in his term to run for County Council in his newly created district, District 2 (north Bellingham).

By noon on Friday, Dec. 15, 11 applications had been turned into council office, by nine men and two women. Any U.S. citizen is eligible who is a registered voter residing in Whatcom County, and not already an elected official or an employee for the county. Applications will continue to be accepted through noon on Wednesday, Dec. 20. The council is expected to appoint Donovan’s replacement at its Jan. 9, 2018 meeting, after the new council is sworn in. The appointment will only be good for one year. The seat will be up for election in November 2018, and the winner will hold claim to the seat for just one more year. This particular at-large seat then gets back on its regular schedule, with a four-year term up for grabs in the November 2019 elections.

Without much further ado, here are the 11 who have applied so far. One notable absence from the list is Amy Glasser, fresh off her defeat in a bitterly contested race against Donovan for that District 2 seat. I even took the time, perhaps vainly, to answer the question of whether she could seek appointment to Donovan’s old seat if he defeated her. Then again, we have two and a half more business days before applications are due.

* * *

Rhayma Blake: Researched all the “best places” books then decided to move to Lummi Island, 10 years ago. Got active on ferry issues. Believes in a “right-sized” jail with funding for alternatives to incarceration, and believes in incorporating environmental goals into economic development.

Eric Bostrom: Provocateur who preaches hate in the guise of Christianity on Bellingham street corners. Ran a spectacularly unsuccessful campaign for Bellingham City Council this year, losing to incumbent Roxanne Murphy with less than 20 percent of the vote. If there is a God, and He is just, then Bostrom is going to hell, not to a place on the County Council.

Bob Burr: Ran unsuccessfully for Bellingham Council (2013) and Whatcom Public Utility District (2014)—the latter as an assault from the flank on Gateway Pacific Terminal. The PUD had issued water rights for the proposed coal port. Burr was arrested in December 2011 for blocking railroad tracks in Bellingham, in an attempt to stop coal trains from reaching Canadian ports. He was sentenced in 2014 to a noise infraction. Burr said on his application that the County Council seat he seeks is likely his last opportunity to serve his community. He would not seek re-election if appointed, he said.

George Edwards: Retired chef who worked at Ferndale and Point Roberts senior centers. Whatcom County has been good to him and his family, he said, so it’s time for him to give back.

Jared Jones-Valentine: Barber shop owner recently featured on The Bellingham Herald’s business page. His work, whether in the barber shop or with local nonprofits, is about improving the outlooks of people in need.

Keegan Kenfield: Youth-sports coach with a background in banking who is also active in local nonprofits. He would counteract the “hostile political climate” in Whatcom County, he said, and work to protect the most at-risk members of the community.

John Kolz: Retired auto repair shop owner who has run for local office in the past. Said he would bring a business owner’s perspective to council deliberations.

Cliff Langley: Conservative who didn’t get past the August primaries in a race for a rural seat on the County Council. Retired after 27 years as a Whatcom County sheriff’s deputy. Was elected and served on the 2015 county Charter Review Commission. The biggest splash he made in that group, in this reporter’s mind, was his failed proposal to open every commission meeting with a prayer.

Jim Moren: An M.D. who has lived and worked in Bellingham since 1979. Says he wants to preserve quality of life for the next 50 to 100 years.

Aaron Thomas: Works at Ferndale School District supporting Native American students at Horizon Middle School. Says he would bring diversity and an ability to serve all county residents to the job.

Emily Weaver: A County Council member 1988-92. Has a resume as long as my arm with relevant experience on public boards and committees. Said she would not seek election if appointed.

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

Jon Humphrey

Dec 16, 2017

Great article Ralph. There are some great candidates here, however I would like to see Amy Glasser apply. It’s obvious to me that we need someone that’s not tied to the establishment in any way, even if it ends up being only for one year. I still don’t know why Todd ran against her when he probably would have easily won reelection in his current position. Anyway, I have given her a nudge on the subject. 

Ah Eric, he is truly a new breed of Christian that is definitely NOT Christian. I wonder if it’s appropriate to start referring to people like Eric Bostrom as Christian Extremists, because the media (mostly Fox News) refers to people of other faiths that do horrible things as (insert faith here) extremists, but I suppose that that title is not true because you can’t actually be a Christian and behave like Eric Bostrom does. That goes for pretty much every other faith I can think of too. Actually, all of the Atheists I know think people should be decent to each other too. So in general I think people want to be represented by non-hateful, non-extremists. I guess Eric has a right to run, but man, it’s disturbing to have that kind of hate on the ballot…. again

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Ellen Baker-Glacier

Dec 18, 2017

Political diversity?  I’m far more interested in having someone in the seat who’s  familiar with and conscious of what this big county actually consists of, beyond Bellingham “metro.”  It would be revealing if applicants were “interviewed” real-time at a public session.  I wonder how many of these folks have driven Whatcom County to the Okanagan county border, know anything about the south county, or know Point Roberts.  Objectivity and breadth would be good for “at large.”   I’m weary of candidates and applicants with special interests on their speed dial.  Far too much countywide policy is already mypoic, to put it mildly.  This is not my idea of a wide field to choose from - but of course it’s not our choice.   This “transition” business has not gone well, in my opinion.

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Wynne Lee

Dec 19, 2017

I generally agree with Ellen & wish there were more info about all the applicants’ views, experience and priorities.

I really don’t give a hoot about political diversity OR uniformity.  Those who put political or religious or economic  ideology and identify before understanding and trying to solve ALL citizens’ problems, are IMO, a curse.

We need legislators can make well-reasoned, compassionate, long-sited and data-supported decisions about issues that impact the current and future health and welfare of whole county, e.g., land and water use policy; health and safety, including EMS, fire; justice and legal system; pollution; sustainable natural resources; economy with long as well as short term viability; development - qualitative and quantitative costs and benefits.

None of us in Whatcom County live in a Star Wars force field bubble, isolated from everyone else. Directly or indirectly, we share our air, water, soil, natural resources, roads, positive and negative effects of population growth and housing costs, development, jobs available, etc. 

We need council members who will enactlegislation which reflects that basic reality.  I also agree with Ellen that sound legislative decisions require all councilmembers to have reasonable basic understanding of the diverse needs of various parts of Whatcom County, as well as what impacts us all. 

The applicant descriptions don’t shed light on any of this.  Sigh…

PS.  Unlike some who also live in unincorporated WC, I’m neither afraid of nor do I complain about ‘domination’ by Bellingham ‘metro’, or by this/that political party/tribe, or by ‘special interests’ (well, other than the uber monied class). History teaches us that we either figure out how to solve problems together or we all fail—except, maybe, for a while, those at the top of the heap.

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Ellen Baker-Glacier

Dec 19, 2017

Wynne Lee:  I appreciate your response.  Note that I used “myopia” simply to convey the literal meaning - near-sightedness.  I didn’t say anything about domination, although densely populated areas can have the votes to “wag the dog,” so to speak.  We surely agree that all councilpersons (and I would hope the executive and staff) need to understand what a whale-sized county this is, with widely-varying geology, ecosystems, and even climate.  Something like two-thirds of the county experiences conditions different from the west end and north belt (that’s simply a reality, an observation, not “political”).  The beauty of representative government is it brings many different perspectives together.   I wonder, “How can we get to know more about these applicants?”   I realize there simply may not be much time, and I’m not sure that there’s much citizens can do to weigh-in.

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