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More on Propositions 1 and 9

By On

Well, the reactions to my voting choices has drawn harsh criticism of me personally and of my trust of rural county voters. In particular, Propositions 1 and 9 are discussed in the posted comments. So, a bit more on why I support Proposition 1 and oppose 9. In truth, there is nothing wrong with voting 'no' on Proposition 1, that is, voting to retain county wide voting for council members. I simply prefer district only - and have for decades.

However, Proposition 9, the poison pill that creates five council districts, should be voted NO by all liberals. It is dirty politics at its worst. It is a fabricated issue, it contrives unfair districts, and it ensures Bellingham's control of the Whatcom County Council. Its presentation as 'fair & equal' by Bellingham liberal advocates is deceptive.

But first a few words for readers who may be wondering about the personal attacks and whether I have an understanding of county politics.

I have been involved in county politics for a long time as a liberal and independent. In 1978, I was the public relations advisor to the Freeholders who wrote the Home Rule Charter. I was with them from the first meeting in January until they adjourned in August, and was one of five citizens who organized and ran the campaign to pass the charter - the very document these charter amendments intend to change. Presented to voters that November, it passed with a 55% majority. In 1983, I managed Shirley VanZanten's successful campaign for election as the first woman county executive in Washington state history. I was one of the founders of the Whatcom Independent weekly newspaper about 10 years ago, and served as its publisher for three years.

In my long, county-wide engagement with rural conservative voters, they have earned my respect. Give them a reasonable choice on an issue or candidate and good reasons to vote for that issue or candidate - and they will. If the comments by Dave and Sandy are any indication, I find it sad that my city and liberal friends are terrified of rural voters.

I listed how I am voting and, briefly, why. Some of the comments to my article disparaged the conservatives, saying I glossed over rural voters threat to fair elections. In my experience, all the charges leveled at our rural neighbors can also be leveled at our Bellingham Democratic Party and a well connected group of left wing political operatives. Nothing wrong with that, but we must acknowledge both sides operate that way. Everything Sandy writes about can find its counterpart on the left. Including the influx of outside money that matches or exceeds the outside money for the conservatives. She just doesn't mention that.

I attended Charter Commission Review meetings last summer and met with some of the key people who formulated the poison pills of Propositions 9 and 10. Those meetings were off the record and cannot be referenced. I was trying to learn the truth, see what I might be missing. Well, I learned Propositions 9 and 10 are indeed designed to counter Proposition 1 and ensure Bellingham's liberal control of the council whether district voting - Proposition 1 - is approved or not.

Prop 9. Look at it. Just plain look at it.

Two districts in the city and two at-large seats. City liberals believe those at-large seats will ensure them a majority of four. The three rural districts will be outvoted. Every time. Simple. We have one at-large member now and Proposition 9 creates two at-large positions, so regardless of how Proposition 1 goes - district only or county wide - Proposition 9 will ensure a city liberal majority on the council.

Lisa McShane, Todd Donovan, Tim Douglas and Rud Browne, the small core group that created this proposition, knew very well what they were doing. Not one of them ever spoke or wrote of any problem with three voting districts prior to May when they started putting this together. Tim Johnson and his Cascadia Weekly gave the issue publicity and advocacy. They created from thin air the idea the three current districts are gerrymandered. It is all a false fabric.

Note the deceptive wording of the mailer promoting Propositions 9 and 10. (See photo below this article.) Nowhere on the mailer is there mention of the two at-large districts giving Bellingham the majority vote on the council. It says this is “Fair & Equal.” A lie and a deception by ommission.

The text reads: “Tim Douglas, former Bellingham Mayor: “Fair voting districts is a cornerstone of our democracy. With five districts, rural Whatcom County will have three rural-only districts and Bellingham will have two districts. Our County Council will tackle tough issues in the years ahead, and we all benefit when the diversity of our communities is represented at the table. That's only fair.”” Tim Douglas knows our County Council has 7 members, not 5.

Sandy, is there any article by you or anyone prior to last May that is critical of the three districts? Anything on your website? In the Weekly? Tim Douglas had no concern about it for decades - until this summer when it became a convenient issue for his political goals. My point is, this was not a problem until it could serve as a reason to create five districts. Then it became a “problem.”

If we want new districts, we have plenty of time before the next County Council elections in 2017 to design genuinely “fair & equal” districts.

Vote however you want on Proposition 1 - district or county wide voting. No problem. I prefer district only, but county wide has worked for decades. But vote NO on Propositions 9 and 10. They are unfair propositions and they were created by our Democratic Party city liberals in a deceitful manner.

About John Servais

Writer • 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

Tip Johnson

Nov 01, 2015

Moving toward district-only with the existing three districts is definitely a form of gerrymander - a reverse gerrymander.  It will not increase representation for most of the county’s population.  It should be rejected.

The five supposedly fair districts is worse.  It is a political gambit to undermine the commission recommendation and is a move toward increased control, not greater representation.  It should also be rejected.

What other last minute ‘citizen’ initiative has ever garnered sufficient resources to sponsor a glossy mailer typical of the campaigns run by well known political operatives?  I invite Sandy to exercise her PDC prowess and share the sources of this funding.


Steve M. James

Nov 01, 2015

Under Prop 1 I will have the chance to vote for 3 candidates that comprise a County Council of 7. That means that 4 of the elected Council members have no incentive or desire to hear what I say or even speak to me regarding issues. How is that representative government?? Sounds to me to be more like Gerrymandering to special interests and closing out others. The argument from the rural crowd is that the “liberals” in Bellingham are dominating the Council and their needs are not being heard. However, with the exception of one appointment, all of the current council were elected by all of the voters of Whatcom County. That is what I think representative government is. The conservatives have in the past been able to elect council members and I’m sure will be able to do it again. It has a lot more to do with the quality of the candidates offered, not where they live.

Prop 1 will create a divide that guarantees division and gridlock. Maybe that is what some folks want ???


John Servais

Nov 01, 2015

Steve, electing representatives means just that.  Those of us in the southside of Bellingham - in the 40th state legislative district - do not get to vote for representatives in the north part of Bellingham - in the 42nd district.  Each district votes for their own representative.  You talk to your representative, not those in the other district.

There are 98 state legislature representatives and 49 state senators.  Yet only the three that you get to vote for are interested in your concerns.  This is how representative democracy works.  It can be the same for the county. 

The positive side of district only voting is your district representative would have much more reason to listen to you because the district is much smaller and you are more important to their reelection.  And that is one of the main reasons for district only voting.

Another reason is an election is less costly in a district rather than county wide.  Thus money plays less of a role if we go to district only elections.


Tip Johnson

Nov 01, 2015

Did you know that members of Congress were originally elected At-Large (state-wide) and that in 1842 Congress imposed District-Only voting because At-Large elections often resulted in only one party winning seats?  Did you know the courts often impose District-Only voting to implement the Voting Rights Act and overcome minority exclusion? This is old stuff. Both systems have advantages and neither are very good.  Google it.

District-Only voting can improve minority representation, especially when minorities are geographically concentrated.

District-Only voting makes campaigns less expensive and public office more accessible to less wealthy communities.

District-Only voting can help equalize the delivery of services throughout the community.

District-Only voting helps all, especially smaller interests be heard.

District-Only voting helps reduce the potential for interest group slates to retain control.

At-Large voting aids minority representation when minority populations are geographically dispersed.

At-Large voting shift issue focus away from small, local issues toward broader, longer-term, community-wide issues.

At-Large voting can be less confusing because of fewer district boundaries.

At-Large voting reduces parochial district competition and promotes a more community-wide outlook on development.

At-Large voting can help distill community-wide agreement on key leadership issues.

This stuff has all been studied in detail, parsed and even mathematically defined.  Google it.

What we really need are candidates that will consider choice or instant runoff voting and proportional representation - or other actual voting reforms that could make elections more democratic, produce better representation and reduce elite control.


Michael Chiavario

Nov 01, 2015

Tip’s comment on Prop1 is thorough and correct. Basically District or countywide voting being better or more fair or democratic depends on the demographics(see Yakima County) and other factors. John’s assertion that the two at-large positions created by Prop 9 are guaranteed to give Bellingham 4 liberal reps does not hold up to scrutiny. By his own logic, voters should be trusted to do the right thing, and by that logic everybody in the county voting on two at large districts does not give Liberals or Conservatives an advantage.


Ralph Schwartz

Nov 01, 2015

Bravo to John Servais for not being afraid to express his independent thoughts, despite the inevitable blowback from his political cohorts. Too much groupthink in Whatcom politics.


Wynne Lee

Nov 01, 2015

Seattle implemented district-only voting, partly in hopes of reducing excessive campaign funding esp. from outside sources. That hasn’t happened. And think of all the funding throughout our nation in state-only legislative, judicial and executive races:  definitely location-restricted voting, but it hasn’t made those campaigns less expensive.

As to this or that group ‘conspiring’ to gain greater power via 3 districts or 5, district-only or county-wide voting. Suggesting that people work together / organize to advance ideas that are important to them is somehow A Very Terrible, Probably Evil Thing is pretty weird, since all politics—at least effective politics—is about people working together to achieve or advance goals they think are important. And, gee—behind closed doors for the 5-district idea? Wow. Who’d have thunk that citizens with new ideas would ever get together privately to plan and talk over their ideas? Any more or less closed doors than the behind-the-scenes emails & discussions by many of the Charter Commissioners? Gee whiz jumping jehosaphat! Claims of a ‘liberal / urban conspiracy’ are pretty much hogwash, IMO, as a serious reason to vote against Prop 9, just as claims of a ‘conservative / rural conspiracy’ are hogwash to vote against Prop 1.

It also doesn’t ‘alarm’ (scary, scary, eek…) me that the idea of 5 districts took a while to emerge over spring and summer. There’s always *immense* inertia for various reasons that pretty much everyone (regardless of political leaning) is very conservative in the sense of (often mindlessly) sticking with the current situation, even when the situation isn’t working well. (e.g., We MUST keep using more and more fossil fuels even though that’s changing our climate in absolutely devastating ways for Earth’s current biota, including humans). Even the *idea* of changing things (like shifting from 3 to 5 districts) generally doesn’t come easy, without some strong stimulus—like, I’d imagine, the stimulus of watching the recent Charter Commission at work.


John Servais

Nov 01, 2015

Michael, I agree that the two at-large do not in truth benefit Bellingham.  However that is the perception of the Bellingham liberals - as it is their perception that county wide voting benefits Bellingham.  As I write above, “City liberals believe those at-large seats will ensure them a majority of four.”  You try to carry my “logic” to an absurd degree.  You beg the question.  The system needs to be setup to allow the good common sense of voters to be effective.  Large glossy color postal cards that contain lies are what I am criticizing.

Wynne, nowhere in either article did I suggest private meetings or small groups working towards political goals are evil or terrible.  What I said is that is practiced by both liberals and conservatives - to counter the liberals insistence that there is devious and terrible groups only on the conservative side. You try mocking and making simple statements of truth sound absurd.  And you are putting words in my mouth.

I could write more about how this prop 9 and 10 were created and pushed forward - such as the very unethical ‘consent agenda’ placement by Rud Browne on the council agenda.  Rud lied to me last summer about his placement of that agenda item.  He later admitted and apologized.  As a political junkie, I was fascinated how this small group of experienced smart insider liberals fabricated a problem and put forth a solution in only a few weeks.  I spent months tracking down how it happened.  But how it was created is not relevant to whether it is a good issue.  The entire process was motivated to dump on the charter commission and their propositions to the voters.  The liberals - the Democrats - are motivated not towards a more fair election process but to block the rural conservatives in their efforts for some representation on the council. 

Question - who is the conservative member of the county council now?  Barbara?  Pete?  Ken?  There is none.  That is a primary reason I have voted for Kathy Kershner.  She would represent rural interests in a reasonable and intelligent manner. 

The Charter Review Commission was fairly elected by district only voting.  Anyone could file who lived in a district.  It was fair, as the charter set forth.  The commission was a conservative majority and set forth their propositions for us to consider this election.  We should vote those propositions up or down.  The county council, led by Rud Browne, purposely interfered to confuse the voters and put poison pills on the ballot.  I find that reprehensible.  Thus my strong urging that we vote REJECTED on props 9 and 10.

Tip’s comment of the pros and cons of district only are spot on.  Along with his point at the end that we should look at real improvements on how we select our representatives.


Walter Haugen

Nov 01, 2015

Uh, I personally do not have a problem with politically active people using their power to make change. I just want my side to win. Unfortunately, that is neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, neither the liberals nor the conservatives, neither the astroturfers nor the pseudo-libertarians. The key here is to get off the couch and do something. Am I supposed to be mad at Lisa McShane, et al, for doing SOMETHING? Nope.


David Camp

Nov 01, 2015

John - I’m hesitant to attribute motivations to people as I don’t like it when people attribute strange motivations to me. My objection to your recommended upvote on Prop 1 is not based on my being “terrified of rural voters” - what a divisive crock - it’s based on the utter inconsistency of your recommendations.

You dismiss Prop 9 as the product of a shadowy cabal of Bellingham liberals, interested in power. How is Prop 1 any different, but from a different cabal? A consistent approach would be to reject both, no?

So, please give your head a shake. Thanks!


John Servais

Nov 01, 2015

Dave,  When I have coffee with someone and they tell me their motivation - and even try to convince me that I should share that motivation - then I have little trouble ascribing that motivation to them. 

Your objection to vote yes or no on prop 1 should be based on your own perspective on elected representatives.  As I clearly stated, I prefer district only but voting to keep county wide is just fine if that is how you feel.  Maybe try looking at just what I write about prop 1 and add that to your decision process. 

I do not use the words ‘shadowy cabal’.  You are putting words in my mouth. The folks who created prop 9 and 10 created a false crisis about existing districts.  If you need to twist my writing so much in order to counter what I wrote, then maybe you do not have a rebuttal.  Try addressing what I wrote.  And no need to shake your head.  No need to tell others what they should do.  Just address their writing.


Dena Jensen

Nov 01, 2015

Starting off by saying this is all my opinion, based on various facts and information, I think I first want to speak to the suggestion that the plan for a five district amendment to the county charter came out of thin air and that nobody really thought or cared about it before last May.  To me this is not surprising, nor is it a reason to discard the amendment as unworthy of consideration.  The Charter Review Commission was discussing a number of different voting system adjustments, and a five district plan was one of them I remember being discussed at the April 27, 2015 Charter Review Commission meeting. 

Many of us who are concerned with fighting the coal terminal on all possible fronts became aware, early in the Charter Review Commission process, that coal interests were supportive of the conservative Charter Review Commissioners.  If we are earnest in fighting against the nation’s largest proposed coal export terminal, we are going to be finding out how those commissioners might be in a position to be of use to the coal terminal and then figure out a plan to at least offer resistance or competition to their own campaigns. 

Conservative Charter Review Commissioner and Vice-Chair Joe Elenbaas pushed through district only voting as the first approved amendment in 25 minutes, when only 4 public comments had been heard on the subject (a great deal more public comment was heard and many more letters from the public were received before County Council members made a decision on their amendment). Conservative commissioners never allowed any other voting options from the commission onto the ballot.  After observing the whole charter commission season and near the end of the commission’s decision making term, it became obvious that voters would be afforded no other voting system options on the 2015 ballot by the commission and two of the amendments would, if approved by voters, serve to lock in the district-only coal-supported amendment.  Thus, I don’t think it is impulsive at all that people would use the short time left to act, to try to come up with a solution to offer voters a single amendment that would actually serve to increase their voting options in more than just one single way:  District only with 3 districts, district only with 5 districts, county-wide (for council) with 5 districts (for other district only elections), or district only with 5 districts. 

The pressing toxic power of the Gateway Pacific coal terminal does not allow us to relax and take our time if we can act now.  Each time we relax and the terminal project advances in some way, it will require that much more doubled, tripled, quadrupled effort to keep out the danger, pollution and degradation,  societal oppression, species extinctions, treaty rights abrogation, and economic and governmental manipulation that is the living breathing creature of GPT.  We have never seen more clearly than in the timing of this election, that this is what is beating down our county door.  To name a few examples, it manifested in the Charter Review process as seen in emails of the commissioners; it is manifesting in unsubstantiated rumors about Lummi Nation and demands of the Army Corps by Montana senators, Whatcom County businessmen, a paid GPT spokesperson, and solicited residents that if acted on, could serve to abrogate treaty rights; it is manifesting in large campaign contributions from a PAC to advance props 1,2, & 3, and against 9, that were only revealed at the last minute to be from the corporate co-owner of the GPT project, Pacific International Terminals.

And now, Gary Jensen?  He has, quite simply, placed himself as a primary element in the face of this beast.  He can only step out of his synonymity with GPT by visibly fighting it with the urgency and power that so many people in our county have had the foresight and life-saving motivation to do. Until then, to me, he stands for, everything this Powder-River-Basin-to-Whatcom-County-to-continents-overseas-poisoning project does. 
GPT, now there’s a poison pill for you.


John Watts

Nov 01, 2015

It seems to me that some of the same folks contributing to this forum have actively promoted the idea of increasing voting Districts from 3 to 5 regarding the Port of Bellingham. What’s the difference when considering County-wide voting?

The idea of District-only voting can be argued both ways, depending upon the size of the districts and whether Gerrymandering is minimized. Among other things, District voting favors the incumbent and creates fiefdoms that do not benefit cooperative efforts on the behalf of all voters and interests.

BTW, how to go about making voting districts politically fair is far from an exact science; even the US Supreme Court hasn’t figured that out!


Sandy Robson

Nov 01, 2015

John S: I just want to clarify some things in terms of your article above.

1) When you wrote, “If the comments by Dave and Sandy are any indication, I find it sad that my city and liberal friends are terrified of rural voters,” I was unsure whether you were attributing “terrified of rural voters” to me, or not. If so, that was surprising to me since I had not made any remarks resembling that characterization in my comment I posted yesterday, on your October 31 article.

In response yesterday to you writing, “We in Bellingham should not be so fearful of our rural neighbors,” I had commented:

“That sounds like a straw man argument to me. I have not heard that idea from people who oppose Prop 1. However, I do hear similar messaging coming from the DOVE PAC/Karl Uppiano, the Whatcom Republican Party, and Kris Halterman/Liberty Road, pitting rural versus city, which I do not think this is a case of. But they want to put that idea forth to people.”

2) You wrote in your article posted today: “Everything Sandy writes about can find its counterpart on the left.  Including the influx of outside money that matches or exceeds the outside money for the conservatives.  She just doesn’t mention that.”

I am interested in the coal terminal as most people know from my articles. I do not want it permitted or built as I think coal is a toxic product, and I think that a 48 million ton per year coal export terminal would harm our county. So, in terms of the Charter Review process and resulting Charter Commission-generated propositions, I looked, and am still looking, for coal terminal interest connections, and money is one of the connectors. I have brought forth as much information about that subject relating to this 2015, the 2014, and the 2013 elections as I could find as a citizen (not professionally trained) writer with limited skills, time, etc., and limited knowledge of how the PDC works.

I consider it to be a problem that SSA/PIT and other coal terminal interests which stand to make a significant private financial gain from the coal terminal, are trying to influence our county council elections and the voting on propositions 1, 2, 3, and 9, which directly impact the future makeup of our County Council. That is what I’m concentrating on.

3) You wrote, “Sandy, is there any article by you or anyone prior to last May that is critical of the three districts? Anything on your website?” First, just to clarify, Dena Jensen runs and manages the Coal Stop blog and definitely makes all the decisions about the website. She posts my articles on it which make up the bulk of what’s on it, so many people think it is my website, but it is not.

Secondly, I never heard of the Charter Review Commission until last year. When voting for Commissioners in Nov. 2014, I was bothered that I was only allowed to vote for 5 out of 15 commissioners (another reason I like the idea of 5 districts). Then, I started following the Charter Commission in February and went to my first ever Charter Commission meeting on Feb. 23, 2015. That was the meeting when there was over 2 hours of public comment about the proposed amendment to prohibit county funding of non-profits (Amendment 7). Almost all of the commenters that night spoke about Amendment 7. I had to leave after the break which was after the public comments were finished, however I listened to the audio recording of what I missed. When I learned how Amendment 1 (now called Prop 1) was voted on during that meeting, that is what propelled me to become involved in terms of looking into things and eventually writing about it relating to the coal terminal.

Charter Commissioner Joe Elenbaas who was Chair pro tem for that Feb. 23 meeting, after a very lengthy public comment period that clearly had been centered almost entirely on a hot-button emotional issue which was prohibiting county funding of non-profits—and after only 15 minutes of debate by commissioners, called for a vote on a knowingly contentious amendment, district-only voting (Amendment 1 now Prop 1). After a few murmurings of dissent from what sounded like 2 or 3 commissioners, regarding a vote having been called for so soon, Joe Elenbaas reluctantly allowed for approx. 7 to 8 additional minutes of discussion by commissioners, and then pushed forward again for a vote.

Keep in mind, Amendment 1 (Prop 1 on the ballot) was an amendment Joe Elenbaas, himself, had proposed. Also, after he pushed/motioned for a vote, it seemed to me that he tried to move forward without a “second” motion having been made, and when questioned on that from one or more of the commissioners, someone then volunteered to second his motion for a vote.
That whole voting process on Amendment 1 seemed very questionable to me.

So, after that Feb. 23rd vote on district-only voting, and after listening to the April 13 Charter commission meeting in which Chair Ben Elenbaas summoned RE Sources’ Matt Petryni to the podium, I decided to write about those happenings because I thought those two things were wrongly handled and were likely symptomatic of a potentially flawed Charter Commission process. I was very interested in why was this district-only voting amendment being rushed through when there was extremely limited public comment and how that voting system would impact the makeup of the county council which is one of the decision-makers on permit/s for the coal terminal.

And most importantly of all, I was interested in why the conservative Charter commissioners were proposing and passing two amendments (now called Props 2 and 3 on the ballot), that sought to outright prohibit the County Council from proposing Charter amendments relating to the election of County Council members; and from proposing amendments to previous Charter amendments that have been approved by 2/3 majority of voters.

My article was published on Coal Stop on April 26. Link to article for anyone interested is: http://coalstop.com/2015/04/26/the-import-of-a-local-election-in-the-coal-export-scheme/

If the Charter commissioners had reasonably allowed for the public to comment on Prop 1 district-only voting, and had it received a reasonable debate and voting process by Charter commissioners, and had two amendments (now called Props 2 and 3) not been proposed and passed seeking to limit County Council’s powers to propose amendments as I described above, we would all be in a much different situation than we find ourselves.

John, I hesitated before posting my comment yesterday because you were giving your voting recommendations which are simply opinions, and voting is personal for people, so I dont want to criticize voting choices in general, by anyone. However, I found myself conflicted by some of the reasoning you provided and how it was provided, so I decided to post my comment.

I’m not sure when you mentioned in your email sent out to your reader list today when you wrote, “In comments to my voting choices yesterday, I was personally attacked for being naive and for not providing evidence of my choices,” if you meant my comment yesterday. I hope not, because I would not personally attack you. I just disagreed with some of your reasoning.


Tip Johnson

Nov 01, 2015

My foregoing comments notwithstanding, I am certain five districts would be fairer than the three as drawn, especially moved to district-only voting.  I’m just not sure that six wouldn’t be even fairer.  My problem with Prop 9 is that I don’t know how the decision to propose five districts was decided. Stakeholders need to be involved in stuff like that.

As for district-only (D-O) versus at-large (A-L) voting on district positions, there is no evidence that D-O secures incumbency any more than A-L, but plenty of evidence that A-L costs more to enter and thus restricts access.  As Wynne points out, that doesn’t mean that a D-O election can’t be flooded with money.  But the advantage of massive cash infusions can be more easily neutralized in a a D-O than an A-L campaign.
@John Watts, no one advocated for five port districts.  The petition was for increasing the commission with the addition of two at-large positions. 
There are distinct advantages to this over more districts, because ports consider narrower scopes than counties and it makes it possible for people with good issues or skills to run when needed even if they do not reside in an open district.  Having six county districts and one at-large for a seven member council would dovetail better with the port because even if the commission remains at three, each position could cover two county districts.


Dianne Foster

Nov 02, 2015

John, I respect and appreciate your providing this platform for public opinion.  And respect your experience on charter matters.  I do have problems with “identity” politics, such as “liberals” and “urbanites”.  Most of my Occupy Bellingham cohorts live out in the county, and like myself, do not consider themselves “liberal”.  We are progressive or radical, pertaining to getting to the root of a problem. Liberals are wishy-washy, often retreating to conservative positions, especially supporting American-funded regime changes when they might perceive economic benefit.  (As Jim Hightower noted, “the only things you see in the middle of the road are dead armadillos and a yellow stripe”.)  That said, my friends and I have been working against prop 1 and for prop 9. Given my white trash background, and my little piece of Appalachia in the backyard, I could probably qualify for rural occupancy, and have spent more than half my life there. 
I notice that often progressive bloggers will suddenly endorse a conservative cause, such as Tim Johnson fawning over Kathy Kershner’s reconveyance vote, or her support for domestic violence funding before she voted against it, or his fondness for Pete Kremen after his appointment of Ward Nelson to an open seat.  I don’t know if this is a knee-jerk reaction to a perception of (God forbid) “partisanship”, or a seasonal occurrence such as geese heading south.  Having attended as many Charter Review meetings as possible, in spite of the broken sound system, I was able to hear some testimony. It sounded like the original idea for 5 districts based on like-mindedness came from a 14-year old Vista Middle School student, for whom the audience applauded his precociousness.  Progressives (as usual on that body) were pushed up against the wall by right-wingers whose coal funding is well-documented.  This new idea could be a thoughtful antidote, and it was born.  My county friends and I at first were a little puzzled, but with some study, could see the logic, especially if this complies with the state trend.  Having my poli sci degree in international relations, I don’t claim to be an expert on electoral politics, but it strikes me as fair that each area is guaranteed a voice.  Barbara Brenner and I campaigned to restore countywide voting after the disastrous experiment with district-only in’06;  she reacted to a fellow council member from another district who told her to “butt out Brenner” when she attempted to discuss an important issue.  The Nooksack River has problems, and doesn’t recognize district boundaries in its meandering.  It and hundreds of other issues, need holistic problem-solving.  I plan to vote No on 1,2,3, and yes on 9.  And of course, NO (reject) on the jail tax disaster.  (THANKS for all your muckraking on this).


David McCluskey

Nov 02, 2015


I just wanted to thank you for your well written article.  I am glad there are some on the independent/ liberal side that are able to see through what Lisa McShane and her core group (don’t leave Ken Mann off the list) put together with Proposition 9.  The whole way it came about left me stunned and confused.  Things just did not pass the sniff test.  There is nothing wrong with propositions being put on the ballot for the people to vote on, but the way it happened with 9 and 10 just left me shaking my head.

The one good thing that came out of this, for me, is that I started to become more involved in local politics.  I started reading up more on the Charter and the Review process.  The more I looked into things and the more info I got back from public disclosure request, the more upset I got.  How is it that a small core group of people could essentially dictate how things were going to happen in Whatcom County.  A small group should never be able to speak for the majority, but this is my fault, its also the fault of everyone that sits back quietly and lets it happen.  This led to me filing an ethics complaint against the County Council; if for nothing less then to let people know what was happening.  If you told me at the beginning of the year that I would be on a Con-Committee to help author an explanation for the voter’s guide on why Propositions 9 and 10 should be Rejected, I would have called you nuts.

No matter if we are Liberal, Conservative, or Independent,  we need to come together so that we can make the best decisions that include everyone.  Not just the agenda of a small Group. Rejecting prop 9 will allow us to continue the discussion of districts and representation.  Heck I don’t know why we even have to be set with 7 council members.

It was interesting to read that you were involved in the initial Home Rule Charter.  Have you written anything on that experience? If so would you point me to it.


John Servais

Nov 02, 2015

David, thanks for writing about your experience this year.  It is important for others to know that normal processes were not followed regards to props 9 and 10.

I’ve not ever written about my experiences with the original Freeholders and the creation of the Home Rule Charter in 1978.  I will if I see how it can benefit where we are today. 

One thing stands out whenever I recall those 21 citizens and all those meetings.  The county conservatives and liberals worked together all year to craft a better government for the county.  They trusted each other.  Don Hansey, a staunch Republican and leader of the local party, was not the kind of guy to reach across and work with Democrats.  That year he did - and worked with them in an exceptional manner.  Don was elected at the first meeting as the chair of the Freeholders.  He acted with class and care all year. Much of the success of the charter is due to Don Hansey.

I can tell you that no Home Rule Charter in Washington State had passed on the first try before.  Ours did. And none had passed with any of the three county commissioners campaigning against a charter.  Ours did.  A solid 55% to 45% passage in November 1978.  I snuck a bottle of champagne into the old courthouse and we popped it when the first results were announced.  Was chastised by some bureaucrats for doing that. 

There was much agreement about the every ten year reviews.  That was seen as a way to get the charter done and to the voters without worrying about every detail.  It was a selling point in the campaign for passage.  We visited all the rural areas and had calm and informative Q&A sessions.  We answered all questions and followed up on all issues raised.  We sent teams of two to these.  The whole campaign was one of education and endorsement.  We had endorsements from old, retired county leaders - judges, high school principles, commissioners, business leaders.  The ones you might think would say things were fine and in no need of change.  We had them tell the voters why the home rule charter was change for the good and better future of the county.

Maybe I should write.  Half or more of the freeholders are gone now.  You can see a photo of them framed and on the wall near the atrium in the courthouse.  Actually near the security check station. They all worked together for the good future of Whatcom County.


Dena Jensen

Nov 03, 2015

I literally woke up this morning with a question for you, John.  I am not asking it in an attacking way, but because I am curious and would like to know the answer, and I am asking it publicly, because this discussion has been a public one.

Why would you be voting for Prop 1, which to me, clearly had a strong amount of questionable political maneuvers by the Charter Review Commission wrapped up into its making, and at the same time you are recommending so strongly against Prop. 9 because of questionable political maneuvers.  It would seem more reasonable to me to kick them both out for such a standard, but not one over the other.  And to me it seems Prop 1 was the leader, and maybe catalyst for additional struggles during the Charter Amendment season.


John Servais

Nov 03, 2015

Sure, Dena.  Because Prop 1 came legitimately from the charter commission, not with “questionable political maneuvers”.  Also, prop 1 district only voting is a long standing issue and we all knew going into the election last year of charter commission members that the district only proposal would be put on the ballot.  The majority of commissions members wanted it on the ballot, and they promptly put it on the ballot - and then made sure it stayed there.  All very legitimate. 

But I have voted for prop 1 because i personally believe in district only voting - for county council and for city council.  Always have.  Voted for it several years ago. I believe that districts should have their own representative.  I have no problem with people voting no on prop 1 if they prefer to continue county wide voting for council members.  I personally prefer district only.

Prop 9 creating 5 districts was actually a very illegal and corrupt political maneuvering by the liberals to poison the district only proposal.  It was intended to confuse voters and, if prop 1 was passed, to retain Bellingham and liberal control of the county council.  I have written about the corrupt process as it happened in July - http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/county-council-adds-ballot-measure - and have written again in the above article. 

The 5 district proposal was a total ambush maneuver which was sneaked onto the council agenda and passed as a consent item minutes after the charade of a public hearing.  The votes were already in the bag.  The fix was in, as they say.  I was there, Dena, sitting up front for this entire county council process on July 7.  I questioned several people after about this - and Rud Browne even lied to me about his part and later admitted to me that he had not told the truth.  It was a perfectly executed corrupt political maneuver. 

We need a fair electoral system for democracy to function fairly.  We can be partisan on issues, but not on setting up our voting and election systems.  We liberals claim the high ground on moral principles - and yet we constantly play dirty games trying to tilt the system in our favor. Prop 9 is an example of that. 

Hope that explains it.  Prop 1 was a long standing desire and was legitimately won at the election for commissioners last year.  Prop 9 is a fabricated issue that was invented secretly during the summer and illegally put on the ballot by the liberal county council.


Dena Jensen

Nov 03, 2015

Thank you for answering my question, John.

I believe rushing Amendment 1 through without public input was definitely a questionable political maneuver.  It seems reasonable to think that anyone concerned about elected officials representing the public’s desires would question that half hour decision-making process on amendment 1 on February 23rd.  And as the public hearing phase of the Whatcom County Charter Review Commission decision-making season went on, there were many things that made the operation of the Charter Review Commission as a whole, in terms of welcoming, considering, and addressing public opinion seem highly questionable. 

One of the things I have trouble with, is that in the series of articles that have been offered here on NorthwestCitizen on the 2015 Charter Review Commission, the focus went entirely away from “The conservative majority [of the Charter Review Commission] has shown their contempt for democracy and fair process with their tricky and clever moves” to only the potentially tricky moves of a small core group and the County Council.  This direction feels like it ignores the fact that the commissioners, the public, and the County Council moved through those six months that the Charter Review Commission was in operation before Prop 9 was brought to a decision before the County Council.

From the perspective of a person who was involved in witnessing and participating in the Charter Review process, the proposal for five districts did not occur as an independent ambush maneuver.  It was being considered by the Charter Review Commission.  As voter options for alternative voting systems continued to be voted down by Charter Review commissioners, so many of us who were involved in the process, who do not belong to any organization involved in this election, were trying to come up with ways that we would not be stuck with a choice only between countywide voting as it currently exists and district only voting as it was approved by commissioners voting on the ballot.  The commission’s operation regarding public participation seemed very unfair to me, and that coupled with the fact that I knew coal interests were supporting district only voting made me recognize that the less choices voters had, the more unfair this election would be.  We were watching the commission to see if they would ultimately offer up more options for voters, and they did not.

I have seen quite a few people from various persuasions admit that there really is no “fair” system for our government.  Any system can be manipulated and highjacked. Watching the Charter Review process, I did not like the feeling of choices, asked for by the public, being shot down by a group of people who claimed they wanted more fair representation for the public. If things are questionable as far as government operations and potential influence of vested interests are concerned, I think it is much better to err on the side of more choices for voters. And to me, as I mentioned before, Prop 9 succeeds well in widening the options for voters in numerous ways.


Eli Mackiewicz

Nov 03, 2015

Hello John,

Thank you for keeping this blog running and active throughout the election season. As a member of this year’s Charter Review Commission I wanted to comment in defense of the whole of the public record. You wrote, in reference to four individuals, that “Not one of them ever spoke or wrote of any problem with three voting districts prior to May when they started putting this together.” I believe this is inaccurate. I can’t speak for these individuals, nor do I have much insight into their motives, but I can relay to you that the antiquity of the three-district system was something that was discussed before the Charter Review Commission as early as February.

I know because I am referencing my own statements, on the record, that occurred in the 30-minute debate prior to the passage of what is now Proposition 1, concerning voting by district. The way the current districts are shaped was my primary argument against passing Proposition 1 onto the voters. In my argument, I told the story of how I could leave my house in District 1, walk 5 minutes North and pass into District 3, and then head 5 minutes east and be in District 2. Could anyone, with a straight face, suggest that the people living in the homes I passed on my short walk have unique needs and interests? Do these citizens not share the same needs from representative government? I found it perplexing and unsettling that many of the arguments put forth by my fellow commissioners seemed to indicate that the three districts were unique in every way. Well, they weren’t in my example. To split these citizens into thirds divides a community of interest and I made it clear that I couldn’t support District Only voting using the current districts.

Now, I know at least two of the people you reference were in the room at that time, and I’m hopeful that they were listening. One commissioner droning on, I admit, does not a conversation make. However, I believe this does qualify as “speaking” about the issue long before May, in contradiction to your assertion.

Had a five-district system with - in my estimation - fairer and more representative districts been in place at the start of this debate, I may have been swayed to support sending Proposition 1 to the voters. Please understand that my view, from the start, was that it really didn’t matter what I thought about the proposed amendments themselves—it only mattered if I thought it was a decision that was worth the voters’ precious time and energy. Asking the voters to weigh in on District Only voting without representative districts, again in my view, didn’t pass that test.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment. To your readers I say, I don’t care how you vote, as long as you do.

Eli Mackiewicz
Charter Review Commissioner
District 1


John Servais

Nov 03, 2015


Thanks for the very fine and informative comment.  While you spoke of this before May, the four persons I named probably did not - or at least no one has shown that yet. 

There is a saying “never explain and never apologize”.  Well, that aside, I wish I had posted this article three weeks ago.  Personal things were in the way.  I am hopeful that future posts will be more timely to allow full development of issues and uncover more facts. 

I agree the three districts need review and probable changing - but there is sufficient time in 2016 for us to discuss and then vote on new districts - and still leave a year before they are needed for the next county council elections in 2017.  We have a problem with both redistricting and whether voting is by district or county wide as it presents 4 possible outcomes. No one knows before the election which of the two will pass or fail.  A vote should decide one of two options and not potentially result in a system that no one likes.  That is what we have in this election.  And that is caused by the county council, not the charter commission. 

Again, a few smart Democrats set out to create a dilemma and confusion in the voting public.  They succeeded. 

5 districts with two at large is not fair.  6 districts with one at large can be fair.  We should have full public discussion and plenty of time next year for all these issues to be developed before we vote on them.


Sandy Robson

Nov 03, 2015

When I hear some Prop 9 opponents say they don’t think Prop 9 should be on this Nov. ballot, and that there is plenty of time before the next County Council elections in 2017, to put a “Five Fair and Equal Districts” Charter amendment on a general election ballot for a vote, it is very important to understand some things relating to that idea.

During the July 7, 2015 County Council public hearing on the “Five Fair and Equal Districts” amendment (now Prop 9), a common theme of Prop 9 opponents such as Charter Commissioner Jon Mutchler (and other conservatives) was to ask the Council not to place Prop 9 on the 2015 ballot, and to instead just wait until next year, or later.

They said things such as the “duly elected” (those were their buzzwords for that night) Charter Commission spent 6 months working and so please don’t undue that work—just table Prop 9 for now, and let things stand, and then next year Prop 9 can be brought forth again with more time to supposedly refine it, etc.

The fact that some of those putting forth that reasoning/argument were Charter commissioners was even more disturbing to me because they would be very familiar with Props 2 and 3. Those Charter commissioners testifying to the County Council and public, who suggested just waiting until next year or the next after that, omitted this very important caveat:

Charter Propositions 2 and 3 are aimed at making it nearly impossible (7-0 vote) for the County Council to propose Charter amendments to previous Charter amendments that have been approved by 2/3 majority of voters, and nearly impossible (7-0 vote) to propose Charter amendments pertaining to nominating and electing County Council members.

The people who put forth that “wait until next year idea,” did/do not point out this very critical piece of information:

If district-only voting (Prop 1), were to be approved by voters in this election, and if
Propositions 2 and/or 3 were to somehow be approved by voters in this election, then it would be almost impossible for Whatcom voters to have an opportunity to vote on district-only voting, thereby potentially changing that, because of the limitations of Council powers which Props 2 and 3 would stipulate. And, the next Charter Review Commission does not get elected, and come into play until 10 years from now.

That is very important context for people to be made aware of, and thoroughly understand, when using the “just wait until next year/next election argument.”

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