LYNDEN, Washington -- “Oh shoot!” if one need edit.
There was cursing from Republicans all over Whatcom County as the results of the county council elections slowly rolled in. The right-of-center bloc of four councilmembers had enjoyed a one-vote majority going into the elections, which put three of their seats at risk. All three lost, leaving Sam Crawford as the single conservative voice in county government.
Whatcom County offices are usually non-partisan in name only. Candidates here are endorsed and campaigned for by parties. Local Democrats dearly wanted these county officials to go down, and go down they did.
The Democrats’ campaign pressed two points against their opponents: 1) they are Tea Party-connected extremists; and 2) they want to allow the construction of the deep water Gateway Pacific Terminal for exports to Asia, which would mean more coal-bearing trains running through the most granola-crunching parts of Bellingham.
Tea Party alarums may have softened up some Bellingham voters. My friend Dillon Honcoop, a hard news and analysis-focused host for local KGMI radio, predicts that Republicans “will be running scared next year.”
“I would expect to see them moderate if they’re hoping to win next year,” Honcoop said of state House members Jason Overstreet and Vincent Buys and state Senator Doug Ericksen.
Charlie Crabtree, chairman of the Whatcom Republicans and an avowed “numbers geek,” disagrees that the R’s must change to survive. “I don’t think it changes an iota,” he told me of this year’s election’s effects on next year’s bouts.
Crabtree seems to think the real problem for Whatcom Republicans was faulty organization, which can be fixed. Riley Sweeney, local Democratic blogger and likely future candidate for office, accidentally agrees, with this unsentimental analysis:
While the Whatcom Republicans were putting paid employees in booths at the fairs and parades this summer, the Whatcom Democrats were recruiting volunteers and knocking on doors.
While the Republicans were posting long articles on their multitude of conservative websites (Whatcom Works, Saturday Morning Live, Whatcom Excavator,
Etc.), the Democrats were recruiting volunteers and knocking on doors.
While the Republicans were pushing trumped up stories about party resolutions…
You get the idea.
This sets dreams of socialist sugarplums dancing in Sweeney’s head. He notes that Ericksen is up for reelection next year and thinks the newly energized Dems have a chance of knocking him off and thus taking back control of the state Senate -- currently controlled by a coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats.
In Whatcom, the immediate results of the election should slow growth and hurt some businesses unpopular with Democrats. The conservative bloc had fought with the state government over regulations related to the Growth Management Act.
Crabtree predicts those efforts on behalf of Whatcom locals will now cease, resulting in higher water bills, septic costs, and more restrictive zoning. He thinks dairy farmers will be hardest hit, part of the progressive “war on cattlemen.”
You would think this drubbing would spell the end for the proposed coal terminal, if nothing else. Yet Honcoop tells me he thinks “terminal proponents
have time on their side.”
Honcoop points out that with all the environmental reviews’ bureaucratic wrangling left to go before ground can be broken on the terminal, “there’s a
really good chance it won’t even come up for a vote in the newly elected members’ term.”
“There’s a lot of opposition now,” he admits, but “public opinion is fickle, and I think fear mongering’s success has a shelf life.”
The wild card for the future of Whatcom is county executive Jack Louws. Louws is political royalty, son of Whatcom’s first executive John Louws. He’s also former mayor of Lynden, the natural backbone of the local Republican Party.
Louws won election in 2011 because Lynden refused to throw its considerable weight behind his more conservative challenger Ericksen. He has since infuriated many Republicans by mastering of the fine art of saying nothing.
“Jack was AWOL,” Crabtree complained of Louws’s role in the coal terminal debate -- and so much else.
Is it possible Louws was non-committal because he could rely on a conservative majority to do the dirty work for him and might he now pivot to provide some sort of a check on the Democrats, I wanted to know.
“He may take a different tack with a dramatically different council landscape,” said Honcoop. “But I wouldn’t put money on it.”