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Election - Confusing or ??

By On

How to make heads or tails of the election results. Bill Knutzen and Ken Mann with the highest margins of the County Council winners. Mike McAuley, a newcomer to activism, elected to the Port while John Blethen, a well known civic person, loses. What were the voters thinking? Did the conservative leadership misread the voters by pouring money into their slate of four candidates and controlling their messages? Or is the success of Knutzen and the close races evidence that next time they can do better?

I think that as in years past, the voters of our county applied their common sense to the meager information they had on each candidate. The Herald did not cover the campaigns nor the issues raised by some candidates. Instead it posed its own questions to candidates and ran mini profiles. Thus voters were left to cobble together their own impressions of the candidates from forums, ads and the few times they could meet candidates. Yes, this lack of coverage allowed money to play a larger role.

Bill Knutzen promises to bring a sharp mind, strong roots in the north county and a property rights perspective to the council. He will aid Sam Crawford in trying to throw a wrench into the gears of excessive environmental programs and meddling non-sensical rural laws. But I think the voters saw the other three conservative council candidates as weak on issues, weak in analytical powers and controlled by behind-the-scenes handlers. When a candidate has to read most of their statements and answers, you have to wonder about voting for them even if you agree with them.

Carl Weimer is an outstanding representative for all the people of our county. I think that is why a majority of voters chose him - including those who were also voting for Knutzen. Ken Mann has involved himself in issues, in the planning process and also ran a campaign of issues. He was not afraid to get out there. People liked that. Again, the reality is that many who voted for Knutzen also voted for Mann.

Personally, I am delighted with Mike McAuley on the Port. I’ve been involved with Port issues over several decades and had a bit to do with a shakeup in commissioners and staff back in the early 1990s. With just one actual representative of the people there, all can be changed. No majority needed. One member can raise issues and ask questions and make public his concerns. We need two big changes there that Mike can facilitate: to focus on economic development, and to consider all viable options before making decisions. Mike can give voice to these concerns and then we citizens can add our input.

A good election. Confusing, but good. The conservatives failed in their huge moneyed attempt to take over the County Council. And we finally broke into the Port Commission with a representative of the people.

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

Tom Pratum

Nov 05, 2009

I have a theory: Ken Mann and Bill Knutzen are both non-incumbents. Neither has much of a record to look at (although Mann has more of one) so their negatives are relatively low. I think Laurie C-S had the highest negatives; she had 8 years of record to look at, and certainly made some enemies. Carl has somewhat less time on the council and fewer negatives - maybe also more positives.
It was nice to see folks pick and choose and not vote for the candidates in “blocks”.
I wish John Blethen would have done better….

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David Camp

Nov 05, 2009

I agree that Whatcom County voters are generally less likely to vote a party slate - look at who got the most votes in the Republican presidential primary in 2004 - Ron Paul. (Frankly, as a relative newcomer (5 years and counting), I have a hard time telling the local rednecks from the local hippies - not that you can tell either group anything). It’s good to see that people saw through the Palinesque put-up-by-big-money candidates.

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Paul deArmond

Nov 05, 2009

A few points worth noting:

The public had little to inform them but style and conduct by both the candidates and their campaigns.

The myth of late returns being more conservative still lives.  I heard it several times on election night and also read it in the BH.  It’s no longer true.  Back when only absentees and the elderly voted by mail, the absentee vote was older and reflected a particular point of view.  Now everybody is an absentee voter and there isn’t much of anything to distinguish late votes from early ones.

The photo of the Rotunda shows how absentee it really was.  I miss seeing everybody all in one place.

Any other voting myths worth examining?

All the women candidates lost.  I dunno what that means, if anything, but it happened.

Since we have a considerable time before the final results are in, let the tea-leaf reading begin.  Later, we can get down to precinct analysis and look over the PDC reports.  What would be nice would be some honest polling and focus groups.  Perhaps WWU’s softer sciences could step up?

John Servais correctly predicted every contested race for the Port, County Council and Bellingham Council.  It’s not final, but if the numbers stay the same, that’s what he did.  I did the worst of our little group of crystal gazers.  When the final results are in, I hope that John will a) buy us drinks and b) tell us how he did it.

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Riley Sweeney

Nov 06, 2009

I, too, was quite perplexed by the outcome this election cycle. I knew that Weimer and Fleetwood were safe. Weimer is clearly a great public servant, and the barriers to a write-in candidate are just too high. I was surprised by the other county races and my race, the 6th ward.

I think Paul hit upon that when he said all the women candidates lost.

One of the more basic mental frames for politics is that Republicans are the strict father mentality (do good we reward you, do bad we punish you), while Democrats are the nuturing mother mentality (help your sister with the dishes, she is having a hard time and it will make everyone’s life easier).

During hard times, people lean towards the strict father, while in times of plenty, people are more charitable and nurturing.

I think with the budget crunch and economic woe, Whatcom residents went with men. I’m not saying it is the only reason, or that it was even conscious on their part, but I feel that it played a part.

One of the reasons I got on board with the Chambers campaign (and worked for Sen. Cantwell in the past), is the sheer number of barriers to women becoming involved in politics. This is one, sadly. Both Chambers, and the slate of council candidates fell victim to it.

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David Camp

Nov 06, 2009

With today;s update, Kirshner is ahead of McShane by 200+ votes. So maybe the late ballots are conservative. Or demented.

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David MacLeod

Nov 06, 2009

I’m doubtful that very many voters voted for the male candidates based on their gender. The fact that conservative districts and conservative parties are fielding female candidates is to me a good sign that the great majority have moved beyond voting against women candidates because of their gender.

It’s also inaccurate to say that all the women candidates lost. In fact, if you look at all of the Whatcom County races, there were more women that won than women that lost.

Of the women that ran for office, most of them beat male candidates (and in the more conservative parts of Whatcom County no less): Kaye Koenig, Lucille Claybo, Lee Anne Riddle, Linda Bylsma, Rena Guerin, Jennifer Lautenbach, Bonnie Onyon, and now we can possibly add Kathy Kershner to this list as well (as of this writing leading Dan McShane with 50.22% of votes counted).

Other women that won local races, running unopposed: Debra Lev, Barbara Wayland, Betty Robertson, Katy Monfort, Julie Hughes, Madeleine Anderson, Connie Robinson, and Karolyn Crabtree.

I only count 6 women losing in Whatcom County races: Rebecca Boonstra, Orphalee Smith, Catherine Chambers, Laurie Caskey-Schrieber, Michelle Luke, and Mary Beth Teigrob. Granted, these were mostly in the higher profile races.

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Paul deArmond

Nov 07, 2009

Beware of the mono-causal explanation.  There are always a lot of factors in play.  The ballot falloff shows that there are slightly different groups of electorates for each race, so it’s unlikely that any particular voting bloc is equally influential in each race.

It’s still a long way out until the final results.  County Council Dist 1 could very well go into a recount—or even a coin toss.

Ryan Ferris has done a lot of the heavy lifting on stats analysis at http://bellingham-wa-politics-economics.blogspot.com/

One thing to remember is that all the votes were cast by 8pm, the shifting results are essentially an illusion produced by the counting process.  It’s fun to watch the numbers move as the totals get closer, but what you are seeing is the counting process slowing revealing the results.  The real numbers are the same at the end of the counting and at the start of the count, if you get my drift.  In the words of the Firesign Theater, “The sun is going down.”  “No, the horizon is going up.”

To accurately determine which voting blocs exist and how they interact requires both polling and statistical analysis of the election results.  Without the polling, the contours of the voting blocs are only fuzzily inferred.  It can be done by cross-tabluating several years of elections with the individual voting records.  But that doesn’t tell you how individuals voted or which races, only if they cast a ballot that year or not.

Precinct analysis adds some detail, but it is a very computationally intensive process.  I used to do it years ago and it took weeks to get even a fuzzy grasp of what went on.  It does give a sense of where the voting populations are for each year’s election.  Theoretically possible to cross-tabulate precincts with individual voting history, but I don’t know anybody who has done it.

The tea leaf reading continues…

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John Servais

Nov 07, 2009

If Kathy Kershner prevails over Dan McShane then this makes Barbara Brenner the swing vote on the council.

We will have Sam Crawford joined by Bill and Kathy for reduction of both environmental codes and planning for the future.  They will be in favor of allowing the developers to define our county’s future.  The BIAW, gravel interests, developers and realtors will be in control.

On the other side, will be Carl Weimer, Ken Mann and Bob Kelly working for sane and sensible planning.  This will leave Barbara as the swing vote - a position that she has enjoyed in years past.

Farming interests?  Farming will not be protected by the Crawford faction.  The individual farmers who want to cash out on their property to developers will benefit.  Speculation will be the game of the next two years.  The rural folks have been played like a fiddle by the development interests.

My prediction now?  Well, Pete Griffin picks which boxes of ballots to process during the days after an election.  I’ve no idea how he chooses.  The order he chooses them dictates the up and down of the daily tallies.  I do see it as unlikely for McShane to close the 223 vote margin with only about 4,000 left to count.  Kershner gained the lead with a one day count of about 11,000 ballots.

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Paul deArmond

Nov 08, 2009

The new totals are looking like finals, but might as well wait for the official last count.  I didn’t know how many ballots were counted in the last round, but John’s math looks right.  If 11,000 ballots can move the margin by about 200 voter in one direction, it’s unlikely that the 4,000 or so remaining ballots will move it more the other direction.

The apparent difference in early and late votes could be due to the large sums spent on late mailings.  In races like these with a vacuum of content, voters often wait until the last minute to make their choice.  I take this as a sign that they want to be as informed as possible and take their electoral duties as citizens very seriously.

Sad to say, it’s looking more and more like the future of local political campaigns may end up as a contest of advertising strategies and budgets.  It would be interesting to collect the stats on money in local elections over the last decade or two.  It would need to be scaled by the increase in population: $/registered voter or some such measure.

Here’s another factor to consider while you are trying to figure out this year’s elections.  It’s long been known that there is a significant group of voters who vote based on who they think is going to win.  These voters typically wait until the last minute to make their decision.  In some races, this can be several per cent of the votes casts.  Strange but true.  In a close race, sometimes being thought a winner will make you a winner.  This phenomenon explains why there is often so much anguish in big campaigns over the perception of momentum.

As the curtain slowly parts on what looks like a Kershner victory, Brett Bonner is now the only one in our crystal-ball gazing group to correctly call all the races.  I tip my hat to a perceptive prognosticator.

Here’s the tally so far:

Brett predicted all eight races correctly.
John got seven right.
One person got six.
Two people called five.
Four (including yours truly) picked four winners.

So for me, at least, the bright side of Cathy Kershner winning is I’m no longer alone in the cellar.  Misery loves company.

Keep sending your collected campaign literature to John.  It’s interesting stuff when it’s all laid out together.  I’ve already seen a couple of pieces that were new to me and I’ve been told of a couple that I haven’t seen a sample of yet.  Once we think we got a nearly complete sample, there will be some sort of roundup.

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Tom Pratum

Nov 08, 2009

There are a lot of good observations here I think. I agree with John that that Barbara Brenner will be the swing vote on the council if these results hold up. I don’t agree with her on everything, but I think she usually votes in an environmentally sensitive manner. She is more fiscally conservative, which will change a few things, and often favors allowing individual property owners “flexibility” in determining how best to protect the environment - which I don’t think works very often, but that is just my opinion.

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David Onkels

Nov 08, 2009

I haven’t been around for a while.

I see a lot of navel-gazing here that ignores the broad forces that drove the election results. I am not a party, by the way, to the nitty gritty of local politics.


I see a rural population that consists of people who live in small towns, of farmers, rural landowners and residents, and business owners in unincorporated areas of the county. The county government has systematically crushed their farm businesses, squeezing them between the hard spot of zoning and the rock of the rigid enforcement of environmental rules. Landowners in the LAMIRD areas are seeing their land, previously zoned for commercial use, rezoned R-10.

The speculators, drawn to a trainwreck, are lurking, waiting to snatch up commercial properties on the cheap, anticipating a change in the political winds.

I see an urban population, aided by forces from the outside, using the GMA to radically alter the lifestyles of rural landowners, with, in my opinion, scant justification, other than the pleasure that they will derive from a drive into a bucolic, although economically depressed, countryside.

“Oh! look at the rusty tractor!”

I see a county government rolling over for will of the GMHB, which I think is focused on too few of the goals of the Growth Management Act.

Durn! I wonder why rural residents and landowners are not happy!

I think that Whatcom County should defend the rural landowers, many of whom have seen the value of their land plummet so that their estate is destroyed and their means of making a living is snatched from their grasp.

As a result of these forces and in response to them, people interested in property rights recruited a slate of candidates for the Whatcom County Council. All of these candidates were, of course, less experienced than the incumbents against whom they ran.

In the forums, the difference was painful to watch, as the aspirants struggled with the details of issues with which incumbents were thoroughly familiar.

The election contained some lessons, didn’t it? The statist, restrictive, actions of the administration were not very popular, were they?

The lesson here is not contained in the fact that Kathy Kershner beat Dan McShane, nor that Bill Knutzen beat Caskey-Schreiber, but in the fact that Michelle Luke is losing only narrowly to Carl Weimer.

Good Lord!

Mr. “Everything that is wonderful and good about civic activism in Bellingham and probably everywhere in the universe, whose only interest is in the good of you and me and everyone who cares about the quality of life in Whatcom County, who saved us from the pipeline interests, and who would certainly be the most fabulous ever County Executive in the history of the world” is in some peril from a newbie with a hitch in her public speech?

You gotta be kidding.

Maybe you missed something.


John Servais wrote,
“Farming interests?...Speculation will the name of the game of the next two years. (by the way John, I don’t seem to be able to cut and paste, and that’s a pain the ass.) The rural folks have been played like a fiddle by the development interests.”

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but the developers are all tits-up. They don’t influence anything.

Anyway,
I’m sure that Barbara’s dance card is full. Good enough.

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David Onkels

Nov 08, 2009

And if you think that the “gravel miners” are the driving force here, you might, for your own benefit, re-examine your analysis of how the world works.

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Larry Horowitz

Nov 09, 2009

David,

You had me until you wrote, ?people interested in property rights recruited a slate of candidates for the Whatcom County Council.?

As you suggest, perhaps we need to examine ?how the world works.?  In other words, let?s follow the money.

A more accurate picture, I believe, is that ?people who profit from population growth? recruited a slate of candidates rather than simply ?people interested in property rights.?  Most ?urban dwellers? I know are every bit as concerned about their properties losing value as their rural friends and actively support and defend the rights of property owners.

In this election, those who profit from population growth used the most potent political weapon ? fear ? to energize and amass a powerful voting block, one strong enough - as you observed - to give even Mr. Weimer a run for his money.

The majority of the ?urban population? has absolutely no desire to use the GMA to radically alter the lifestyles of rural landowners.  Where do you get this stuff?  Urban residents simply want to protect and preserve their own quality of life from the threat of over-growth and over-development? a threat advanced by the same group who recruited Bill, Kathy, Mary Beth and Michelle to run for Council.  Ironic isn?t it?

I suspect that most people who live within city boundaries and those who live in the unincorporated county are primarily interested in the same thing, preserving what we already have.  The biggest threat is a rate of population growth that imposes significant adverse impacts on urban and rural residents alike.  The only ones who win are those who directly profit from a high rate of population growth. 

Urban and rural residents would be wise to work together to deal with this threat rather than allow ourselves to be divided and conquered by those who would impair the quality of life we have all been fortunate enough to inherit.

I believe this analysis of ?how the world works? is much more accurate than the picture you have portrayed.

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Larry Horowitz

Nov 09, 2009

I almost forgot.  I agree with Mr. Servais and Mr. Pratum.  Barbara Brenner holds the key, and in my opinion, that?s a very good thing.

It has been my experience that Barbara Brenner is the embodiment of integrity.  She is diligent, thorough and curious to a fault.  She never cheats the taxpayer by ?calling it in? and always does her homework.  She hasn?t always agreed with me, nor I will her; but she has always listened with genuine interest and attention and was never offended when the conversation took on the quality of an argument.

Barbara has earned the opportunity to play a decisive role, and I have faith she will faithfully honor our trust in her.

My best wishes to you, Barbara, for an enjoyable and satisfying couple of years.

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David Onkels

Nov 09, 2009

Larry,
It’s almost as though you didn’t read my post. I’ll respond tomorrow, but you think that growth is bad, and I, and most in the county, think that growth is life itself.

You think that “urban residents want to ...preserve and protect…”. I think they want to have “open space” for their own enjoyment at no cost to them, while imposing the huge costs of their vision on the poor saps who happen to own the land that is affected.

The central phrase in my post is, “...at no cost…”, and I continue to think that advocates for the preservation of “open space” do not want to bear the true cost of their position, and do not want to see the continuance of the “rural lifestyle”, which might (gasp) include farming.

You’d rather see weeds and rusty tractors, when you take a drive into the sticks to see the “open space.”

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Larry Horowitz

Nov 09, 2009

David,

I would really appreciate it if you wouldn?t put words in my mouth.

I did not say ?growth is bad.?  I said that over-growth and over-development fueled by an unsustainable and manipulated RATE of growth threatens the quality of life we have been fortunate to inherit. 

Regarding the cost of acquiring open space, urban residents have purchased land to preserve for open space at market rates through the Greenways Levy for years.  Property owners have not been forced to sell.  On the other hand, property owners who have overpaid will not achieve the profit they had hoped for, regardless of whether they sell to the city or to another buyer.  Where do you get the idea that urban residents are trying to acquire open space at no cost?  And the concept that landowners are poor saps? 

Landowners should be paid fair value for their land;  but not more than fair value.

Who are these urban residents who ?do not want to see the continuance of the ?rural lifestyle? which might include farming??  You?re not describing anyone I know.

I have no desire to ?see weeds and rusty tractors,? and I don?t even want to ?drive into the sticks to see open space.?  The city Comp Plan envisions open space within the city, not ?the sticks.?  Rural residents should be empowered to make their own decisions; I have no interest or desire to tell them what to do. 

Why do you insist on putting words in my mouth?

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Ryan M. Ferris

Nov 09, 2009

10 years from a devastating, game-changing and controversial presidential election we have still not answered the most important political question at all in this county or in the country:

“How are the votes counted?”

The second most important question gets lots of discussion, but in the end, unsatisfactory answers:

“When do citizens care to vote?”

Ideally, the answers to these questions should be: A fully committed and informed citizenry exercises there right and civic duty to vote the full ballot for every election. The vote itself is secure, audited or at least sampled enough to discourage the appearance of fraud.

I remain very skeptical that any of that happened this election.

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David Onkels

Nov 10, 2009

Larry,
I think that you make a mistake when you impute low motives to those with whomn you disagree politically.

John! Is there some reason I can’t cut and paste for the purposes of reply? This sucks!

Rant over. You wrote, “...people who profit from population growth…”

Do you really think that the election turned on issues as shallow as those that you’ve presented? You’re living in some sort of echo chamber.

You wrote, “...used “the most potent political weapon-fear-...”

I guess that you don’t live in the county, haven’t tried to operate a farm there recently, and probalby haven’t talked to many rural residents of Whatcom County.

You wrote, “Urban residents merely want to preserve and protect their own quality of life from the threat of over-growth and over-development…”

Nobody in this contest controls markets, and I continue to maintain that you’d like to alter rural lifestyles and reduce rural growth to suit your urban tastes, using zoning, the GMA, and water regulations to achieve your goals at no cost to yourself and no cost to those “urban residents”.

I haven’t put any words in your mouth, but I have quoted you. If you take exception with anything I’ve written, please feel free to post a response.

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Larry Horowitz

Nov 10, 2009

Yes, David, I do take exception with virtually all you have written; however, I have no desire to post a substantive response.  I?d rather live in my echo chamber and impute low motives to those I disagree with politically.

Sadly, I enjoy discussing these issues? with most people.  Not you, however.

Your anger bleeds into everything you write, so I?d just as soon walk away and let you have the last word.

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Paul deArmond

Nov 12, 2009

I, for one, salute our new conservative county council masters.  Heh.

I’m puzzled by the repeated assertions that the propertarians were big players this time around.  It may be true that it’s more or less the same crowd now as before that serves as the audience and cheering squad for paleopolitical activism, but the ghost of Alvin Starkenburg seems to be haunting the dreams of those seeing gravel miners under every bed.

The debate over urban and suburban development in rural areas might be best handled as lead articles in their own right.  Lay out yer positive assertions of the case.

This debate is going to be around for a while, unless Whatcom County secedes from the United States.  Bumper sticker:  US out of Whatcom County.

(* fondly remembers John Belushi jumping up in the cafeteria in “Animal House” and yelling “food fight!” *)

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