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."