Important Election Issues Undecided

What to make of the returns? Me thinks that some bets are on hold. We have a low number of counted ballots as of this morning - about 40,500, or 31% of all registered voters. This is probably only two thirds the total ballots that will be counted. A low turnout of 45% to 50%, about 62,000 seems more likely, IMO, than the earlier thinking of 59% or 78,000 ballots. Either way, elections can easily adjust 1 or 2 percentage points. And could adjust more.

In order of which could change between now and next Monday when all ballots should be counted:

Kathy Kirshner and Satpal Sidhu are tied for County Council. Either can win.

Jail sales tax: This can go either way with 51% approval now. We may not know this for sure until next Monday.

Propositions 1 and 9 are both ahead with just 54%. These could reverse, but it is unlikely.

Todd Donovan has almost 55% for County Council and will probably win.

Bobby Briscoe has 55% for port commissioner. He will probably hold that for a win.

But all of the above could reverse. At least 17,000 more ballots will be counted, and it could be as high as 25,000 more. Ballots are slow coming in this year and the count is below earlier estimates by our auditor.

The sure win is Jack Louws with 71% over Joy Gilfilen. Jack will serve a second term of four years as our county executive.

Back to the charter propositions. Several have less than 53% and so they might reverse. But three propositions put on the ballot by the Charter Review Commission are easily passing, and they show a distrust of elected officials and a trust of citizens and direct participation in government.

Term limits of three terms will be law for the council and county executive with an overwhelming 70% support. And a technically minor but important increase in the number of descriptive words allowed for initiatives was passed with 84% approval. People do want to understand a ballot measure. And the number of signatures required for an initiative to amend the charter was lowered from 20% to 15% of voters. This brings the percentage in line with other initiative rules. All good moves towards citizen direct participation in government.

With the possible passage of charter propositions 2, 3 and 10, our council and courts will come into play as these are contradictory amendments. Not the place here to dive into them, but political junkies will have fun the next couple years. There is a modest chance one or more of these three will fail.

Basically, this was caused by the liberal County Council - under the direction of a small and semi secretive group of operatives - working to thwart the work of our Charter Review Commission. Well, they did it. Two poison pill amendments will probably pass - Propositions 9 and 10 - and the liberals will no doubt blame the Charter Review Commission. One, conservatives, worked in the open under the rules and the other, liberals, worked secretly and illegally.

A bit of disheartening trivia. As of this election, the only City Council member we have who was actually elected - actually chosen by us voters - is Pinky Vargas. All six other City Council members got into office by simply filing for office. They all ran unopposed, either this year or two years ago. Oh, we cast votes for them, but it did not matter as the candidates and their families could have elected them.

With that in mind I want to thank Joy Gilfilen for filing and running against Jack Louws. She brought to the public’s attention issues that we would not have heard without her. She knew from the beginning that she had little chance of winning but she felt the jail issue was important, as were some other issues. It is sad the Herald referred to her as a “gadfly,” and that reflects more on where the Herald has sunk to than on Gilfilen. Supposedly it was because the jail tax was her main issue. But then, Bruce Ayers was not called any names for making the jail his main issue. A double standard and, naturally, it insults the woman.

This evening, I attended a couple election gatherings, as I have every election night for many decades. But this year I saw something I’ve never seen before. A crowd of about 40 supporters of a losing candidate stayed an hour after the results confirmed their loss. And all were happy and congratulating Gilfilen. And she gave a speech during which she pointed out most individuals by name and thanked them for specific talents and accomplishments. There was camaraderie in that crowded banquet room. To this old political junkie, it was a clear signal that Joy Gilfilen can be a serious candidate next time, and may have a very real chance of winning if she runs again. Not a gadfly at all. She entered her first political contest and has emerged a more savvy citizen, ready to work with others toward needed changes.

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

Joy Gilfilen

Nov 04, 2015

Thank you, John, for a smart summary.  And congratulations to so many people who worked so hard on campaigns that will change our community dramatically. It is true that more ballots must be counted before people will truly know the results - there are many close calls.

It was fun to do this meeting.  It was especially outstanding to feel the intellectual and capable power of an engaged group of smart citizens who are thrilled to have participated in this election, and they are ready for what is next. A good number of them have never been political, but they are savey in business and life.  This is a new leadership movement, and I feel that a new voice for independent action has been born.  They will be a rising tide of activists with their own opinions backed up by solid information.  To me, that is a huge win.

I am looking forward to the new counts. I do believe that the later returns will show the Jail Tax going down.

Personally, I am delighted with my showing. As a political novice, I had to fight in two rings against a gang of political power-mongers including the jail industry lobby. And I started behind the 8 ball with no team at all, and no money backers. 

While I am not apparently going to take office, I now know that there are at least 10,000 voters who voted for me.  And these are new thinkers who are now awake in Whatcom County listening to a whole new view of politics, and aware they have a pile of all new ideas and choices to advocate for that will help our community be stronger and safer. 

That means that politics as usual is old news.  There is a new game that will roll out over the next few months. I am looking forward to it.


Tip Johnson

Nov 04, 2015

Both props 1 & 9 passing.  I guess that means folks want district only voting with five districts????


Walter Haugen

Nov 04, 2015

Pretty good summary John. However, let me correct you on one point. The Whatcom County Council is not a “liberal” council. It has 6 moderates and a conservative. It is generally accepted that the Democratic Party has not been a liberal party since Bill Clinton, when he was willing to throw welfare mothers under the bus to compromise with Newt Gingrich and his Contract on America. (Whoops! Contract WITH America - or did I have it right the first time?) In fact, we could probably discount Jimmy Carter as a moderate too, evidence being the “Carter Doctrine” which formed the basis of our current wars for oil in the Mideast.

Those young folks who are now politically active have never seen a liberal administration, even one as two-faced as the Johnson Administration, or as war-mongering as the Kennedy Administration. Nor have politically active young folks ever seen a moderate Republican Administration, such as the Eisenhower Administration. So it is important in my mind to keep things straight. Ken Mann is no liberal - he just appears liberal in relation to the whacko Tea Party extremists. Carl Weimer is no environmentalist or a liberal - he voted for (and justified!) using glyphosphate on county roads, as did the other Council members. Rud Browne and Barry Buchanan are obviously moderates and not liberals. Barbara Brenner is a moderate, as is Satpal Sidhu. Pete Kremen is the lone conservative left on the Council.

Just because someone belongs to the “liberal wing” of the Democratic Party does NOT make them a liberal, simply because the Democratic Party has moved so far right, even Richard Nixon would be too liberal for them! (This is a common internet trope, by the way.)

The people who would actually qualify as “liberals” nowadays are the so-called “progressives.” People like Naomi Klein are an example. Check out the picture of Klein on this New Yorker story from 2008. She is wearing a Move the Center button, because that is what needs to be done - to move the center back to where liberals are liberals and not moderates.


John Servais

Nov 04, 2015

Walter, as an old guy myself - and I watched live the first televised political convention, the 1952 GOP - I agree that you do parse the historic liberal vs conservative correctly.  And to folks alive back in the 1970s, today’s organizations are all more to the right. 

That said, the terms liberal and conservative are relative descriptions for each generation.  In the future the trend could go in the liberal direction. In 30 years, an old conservative could complain that those who call conservative in 2045 are actually liberals by the old terms of 2015.  And the 1950s liberals were not nearly as liberal as those of the early 1970s.

That said, I doubt that most county council members would self describe themselves as liberal because the word, like socialism, has been made to be a pejorative description.  I’ll have to ask them. 

Relatively speaking, I generally agree with your descriptions of each of them.  But the giveaway of your descriptions being too personal to your viewpoint is your statement that “Carl Weimer is no environmentalist or a liberal,...”.  Tilt.  Carl is a fine environmentalist, in my opinion and that of most locals.  I suspect you are letting your disagreement with some of his votes get in the way of the greater description of Carl.


Dick Conoboy

Nov 04, 2015


Did you feel a shift in the “force”? :-) I agree entirely with your statements regarding liberals. Neither of our councils are liberal by any stretch of the imagination let alone progressive.  As I have said before in comments here and on the Hawk and the Watch, a dinner for true progressives in this county would require a small table.


Walter Haugen

Nov 04, 2015

John - I have been an environmentalist for over 45 years and the effects of glyphosphate on the environment, as well as the social fabric, are HUGE. My opposition to glyphosphate is because I do the science every day, as well as do plenty of research every day. Glyphosphate really IS a deciding issue. The other deciding issue for calling oneself an environmentalist is whether one acknowledges recession/depression/collapse as necessary to have a clean planet. This is well documented too, by the way.

So it is not a personal bias. It is just that I have integrated the science into my personal views. This is a big difference. Most scientists want to do their research and still have their cozy lifestyle. This is intellectually bankrupt.


Dena Jensen

Nov 04, 2015

I’ll start by quoting a section from the above article that I am addressing:
“With the possible passage of charter propositions 2, 3 and 10, our council and courts will come into play as these are contradictory amendments.  Not the place here to dive into them, but political junkies will have fun the next couple years. There is a modest chance one or more of these three will fail.
“Basically, this was caused by the liberal county council - under the direction of a small and semi secretive group of operatives - working to thwart the work of our charter review commission.  Well, they did it.  Two poison pill amendments will probably pass - props 9 and 10 - and the liberals will no doubt blame the charter review commission.  One, conservatives, worked in the open under the rules and the other, liberals, worked secretly and illegally. ”

I am here again, to just continue the refrain of alerting everyone here at NorthwestCitizen to the fact that the Charter Review Commission should not be allowed to be protected from their part in semi-secretive behaviors that made the public, and some commissioners, feel like completely secretive maneuvers were going on to push through a coal-fueled agenda.  So far, to my knowledge, no concrete proof of that complete secrecy has been made available to the public.

If it ever turns out to be proven that illegal actions were taken in the process of approving Prop 9 to be allowed onto the ballot for voters to decide, those illegal actions cannot be assigned to anyone but the people who committed them.  But the adoption of a strategy to offer the voters more choices on the 2015 ballot definitely should be considered as a valid response to conservative commissioners effectively shutting down voters’ options regarding their voting system in the election. And I certainly believe the Charter Commission process should be closely looked at, especially by virtue of the fact that their 6 months of operation and public participation in that process went on up to and including the approval by County Council of Proposition 9.

Why did certain commissioners deny sending or receiving any commission emails (when there was proof of at least a number of emails that had been sent to them by other Charter Commissioners and copies of email they had sent were found in the emails of other commissioners who had provided their emails).  And why would some commissioners NOT be using emails, that would be subject to public review, to interact with the public, when citizens like myself, were clearly writing them with their issues and concerns?

Why was consultant for the Gateway Pacific coal terminal Dave Brumbaugh consulting with commissioners “semi-secretively” about district only voting.

Ask Eli Mackewicz about about his assessment that there was an across-the-political-spectrum appeal from citizens to Charter Review commissioners to investigate the possibility of a different district set-up for Whatcom County.

Here is one public comment that I feel was echoed by many people who participated during the Charter Review Commission’s operation and who were concerned by the influence of coal money in pushing forward the agenda of conservative commissioners.

Here is a link to the meeting with this public testimony: Review Commission May 18 2015.mp3?dl=0

Ronald Colson (at about 25:50 on the audio recording and part way through his public testimony, for May 18, 2015) : “And my concern is that if this ‘district only’ voting goes to the [a few words are indistinguishable here] and if your goal is to have a coal export facility built, well then, don’t beat around the bush. Talk about that. Let’s address the issues pro and con and make a decision based upon that. But if this is a back door thing to get a measure on for a vote that would isolate us into areas that certain groups that would have a preponderance of weight or control over much larger populations, I can see that the money would be poured into this election to literally confuse the voting public. And to make ‘em think that if they vote for the “district only” voting, why that’s the American Way or some such, when really what their goal is, is to build the coal export facility. So let’s not hide behind things. Let’s talk about the value of the district voting, and who it hurts, ‘cause I understand living in a little town and being steamrolled by a large population. That’s, that’s a problem and it needs to be addressed, but the ‘district only’ voting for the purpose of allowing outside corporate influences to bring in large dollars to achieve their corporate goals: that’s oligarchy. That’s not democracy. Thank you.” Review Commission May 18 2015.mp3?dl=0
P.S.  When I click the link above from this comment, I get a 404, so here is a link to the full page of agendas, minutes and audio and this comment came from the 5/18/2015 Special Charter Review Commission Meeting - 6:30 p.m. at The Firs Conference Center, 4605 Cable Street, Bellingham