Five districts pass; GOP incites conservatives to fight map in court

Republicans rolled over and approved the Democrats’ map to set the stage for a legal challenge

Republicans rolled over and approved the Democrats’ map to set the stage for a legal challenge

• Topics: Whatcom County, Elections,

Democrats are confident and are celebrating victory after getting the five-district map they wanted at the final meeting of the Whatcom County Districting Committee on Wednesday, April 20.

Meanwhile, conservatives are sharpening their knives.

The final, unanimous vote might have come as a surprise. Republicans Mark Nelson and Brett Bonner insisted several weeks ago they were drawing a line in the sand and would not approve the map unless Sumas, Nooksack and Everson were moved from the farmland district with Lynden and into the foothills district.  But in the moment of truth they rolled over and accepted a Democratic amendment that put all three small cities in the farmland district.

Democrats had urged for this map all along, saying it's what voters approved last year when they elected to change the number of political districts for county council from three to five. Starting with the next council election in 2017, candidates will come from one of five districts -- two in Bellingam, and one each in the foothills, the farmland and the coast -- with two council members elected countywide. The five district council members will only be elected by voters who live in their district.

Republicans on the committee were unhappy with the Democrats' map because, they argued, lumping Sumas, Everson and Nooksack in with Lynden packs too many Republicans in one district and makes all the other districts more favorable to Democrats.

Still, Republicans voted for the map they didn't want. They were admitting defeat in this round.

"I urge citizens to challenge Proposition 9 (the proposal for five districts) in court," Bonner said in a speech after the vote. He said the proposal violated state law on a number of counts. Conservative citizens already tried and failed to challenge Proposition 9 last summer in Skagit County Superior Court.

Bonner said Democrats would only have themselves to blame if the five-district map disenfranchised voters and poisoned Whatcom politics in much the same way national politics are already corrupted.

"Voters will become increasingly disenfranchised and feel that the system is against them," Bonner said.

Despite withering criticism and dire incitements to legal action by Republicans, Democrats were upbeat the day after the committee's final meeting.

"We're celebrating," Democratic committee member Lisa McShane said of the Democrats' mood one day after the vote. "I was really glad and really thankful that Mark and Brett voted for Mike (Estes') amendment." Estes is the fourth committee member and a Democrat. 

"I just thought it was gracious and the right thing," McShane said, apparently willing to overlook Bonner's final speech.

(Full disclosure: Lisa McShane is the wife of Dan McShane, who is my boss in my day job. The McShanes are not associated with Northwest Citizen.)

Or, more to the point, Democrats don't see a threat in any potential litigation from conservatives.

"I'm not worried about litigation," McShane said. "Any court in the United States is going to rule in favor of the voters," who asked for a map that is consistent with what the committee finally approved.

Alex Ramel, who campaigned for Proposition 9 last year, was not at Wednesday's meeting but has been following the committee closely.

"The question isn't, is there going to be a lawsuit," Ramel said by phone on Thursday. "The question is, if there's a lawsuit does it have a leg to stand on?"

Ramel doesn't think conservatives have any more of a case than they had last year, when a group called Common Threads Northwest sprung out of the pockets of some well-heeled conservatives to file a lawsuit against Proposition 9.

That unsuccessful lawsuit "was absurd on its face," Ramel said. "They wanted a talking point. They didn't want a solid legal case. If they had wanted a solid legal case, they would have done something completely different."

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About Ralph Schwartz

Posting Citizen Journalist • Member since May 23, 2014

After writing for NWCitizen for five years, Ralph Schwartz helped launch a new Whatcom County newspaper, Cascadia Daily News, joining the staff in December 2021 as government reporter. Before the Daily [...]

Comments by Readers

Penny Tillson

Apr 22, 2016

John, time after time you have been the Go To source for the real, and TRUSTED,  NW news and information. From early days (longer ago than I admit to having the age for remembering) I watched from afar and wondered why a friend’s brother (you) was always going on about the Port. But I continued to pay attention to you and now to NW Citizen and have been rewarded a hundred fold.

As a journalism grad from UW, I join others in mourning a sad erosion of true reporting and publications. My own survival was to choose entertainment publications: a feature paper in Seattle for many years, and in Bellingham I was Owner-Publisher-Editor of the Farhaven Gazette magazine for fourteen years.

For Bellingham information, my day begins with coffee and your Northwest Citizen. I am also deeply appreciative of your help and kindness with my own involvement in writing and Fairhaven activism.

Thank you for the ongoing Good Fight(s), and for keeping us aware.

A check is in the mail.

Penny Tillson


Jack Petree

Apr 22, 2016

Ralph’s column could have been more informative but, as I’m not sure whether he is acting as reporter or as press agent it’s difficult to parse out some of his comments.

First, while I’ve had no communication with either Mark or Brett, I’d have to say characterizing their actions as “rolling over” is inaccurate.  Ralph is not, of course, obligated to read the charter but, had he ever done that he would have noticed there is no option but adoption unless an amendment can be agreed upon.  As was clear from the start, there would be no potential for compromise from the left so Mark and Brett did what is demanded of them by the charter and voted to move it on.

“...admitting defeat?”  Same point Ralph.  While none of the committee members nor the Master paid attention to Lisa’s much repeated “...will of the voters” mantra, Brett and Mark at least did what the charter demanded of them in the absence of any potential for an amendment.

Most troubling is Ralph’s not calling BS on Ramel and Lisa regarding the lawsuit last year.  In that case the judge mostly said the time to challenge is after a vote, not before.  The judge appeared to buy off on the fact that the county’s legal work on the charter amendment was sloppy and that the Council had been even more sloppy but, as the judge pointed out, courts seldom act before a vote takes place.  My socialist friends will feel the righteous Bern when they recall how seldom they win against Tim the initiative king before a vote takes place and how often they win after the vote takes place. 

Lisa should remember, the voters specifically voted to be represented by a Council member living in their district.  Now, because the committee and the District Master couldn’t have their pretty little heads bothered by the issue, for the next two to four years each district will be represented by someone living outside the district they purportedly served; unless a court decides the lines were improperly drawn.

I would urge those who cried Fair and Equal with large alligator tears in their eyes to go to court on that one.


John Watts

Apr 23, 2016

Jack, you are so predictable! Persistent sour grapes and right wing spin are your trademarks. Give up the rear-guard action and accept that the will of the voters has been well and truly served!

The new 5 districts divide Whatcom County about as equally and fairly as anyone who is unbiased can plainly see.

Methinks you have protested once too much over this lost cause!
Why not weigh in on some worthwhile cause unweighted by partisan politics?

Who is paying you for this BS? If no one, bad on you.

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