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.
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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.