Professor Maas's opinion about the aims of No Coal calling for greater local community control over our own lives cries out for a detailed response. He debunks the present system in place, claiming it is subservient to the interests of outside corporate interests pursuing greedy gain as opposed to the public welfare, and in particular our local public welfare. Debunked along the way are our local elected officials, our judges, as well as state and federal office holders subsumed under the head of flunkies or lackeys or worse of this invidious insidious corporate juggernaut.
What nonsense. Our government consists of layers of democratically elected office holders and officials and employees hired to effectuate public policy as expressed in our laws and regulations, and all subject to both the grants of power and limitations on that power as set forth in our state and federal constitutions. These various layers of government in our federal system and delegated powers of self-rule to municipal corporations such as the City of Bellingham may not always cohere smoothly, but sooner or later things get worked out and if not the court system(s) sort out the competing claims to jurisdiction. No one, absolutely no one, gets to call all the shots in our democratic system of overlaid jurisdictions. It is simply false to claim otherwise. What appears to be bugging the professor and his group is that they don't get to call all of the shots, while portraying themselves as martyrs under the banner of frustrated local popular sovereignty.
But our democratic system is inherently frustrating, most especially for people who already have all the answers. Competing interests actually get to state their claims in an effort to further or protect their own perceived interests. Then our elected representatives have to balance off all the competing claims. It's simply laughable to claim that real estate developers call the shots on new projects. Instead they face literally a mountain of regulations, federal, state and local, and have to run the gauntlet of public hearings and environmental review, while trying to figure out how to make some kind of profit. All businesses are subject to innumerable laws and regulations covering every single aspect of their activities.
I need to direct attention to the actual implied threat in the article: The argument is stated in such a way, and this was by no means the first such expressed over this coal train controversy, that, claiming frustration of the democratic process and exhaustion of available legal avenues of redress for their grievances, more than a little hints at a rationale for the use of extra legal means to accomplish their goals: "We must seize the only governments we can," "and change requires raw force," "And changing 'who decides' means coming face to face with a structure of law that has been designed very carefully to eliminate the democratice process and then openly and frontally challenge that system of law." And, by the way, how much opposition would this bunch tolerate once they came into power?
The initiative specifically seeks to deny private, for-profit corporations the right to defend themselves in a court of law. It purports to supersede both federal and state laws and constitutional provisions inconsistent with it. It gives any resident (and of course non-profits) the right to go to court to litigate on behalf of Bellingham's flora and fauna.
I very seriously doubt that the vast majority of people who signed the initiative petitions had any notion of what the proposal contained, other than a generalized opposition to the coal trains coming through. From the tone of the professor's op-ed and several prior vituperative letters on this subject, I get the queasy feeling that this whole petition drive was a calculated tactic, meaning the ordinance was drafted to be so ridiculously over the top in terms of flagrant violations of the state and federal constitutions that the city council would have no choice but to seek to keep it off the ballot so as not to be required later to defend it in court, precisely so the proponents could then claim political martyrdom and justify their next set of moves. Quite a thought.
Mark B. Packer served on the Bellingham Planning Commission from 1975 to 1984 when Bellingham's comprehensive plan was being reworked.