OUR VIEW: Herald endorses Roxanne Murphy, Steve Smith in Bellingham primary election

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 14, 2013 

We suggest Bellingham voters support Roxanne Murphy and Steve Smith on their primary election ballots, which should arrive by mail any day now.

After interviewing three candidates each for the Bellingham City Council at-large seat and the Bellingham School District Position 4 director we endorse Murphy and Smith as the candidates best able to legislate in these offices.

The top two candidates in the Aug. 6 primary races advance to the Nov. 5 general election.

We're always heartened when more than two people are moved to run for public office. Diverse voices enhance debate. But this year several candidates appear to be more interested in using the races as bully pulpits for their beliefs or single issues rather than in ultimately legislating and dealing with the minutia of actual government.

John Blethen and Hue Beattie are running against incumbent Smith for the non-partisan, four-year position on the school board.

Blethen and Beattie are angry Smith and the majority of the school board voted to close 93-year-old Larrabee Elementary in June 2014.

While we appreciate the sentimental attachment to a landmark school, the value of "small schools" will be realized at the schools those students will move to. It's simply not cost effective for the district to keep the aging school open. The school board must look out for the best interests of all children across the district.

Smith championed Bellingham Promise, the district's strategic plan that embraces involving families in education, providing early childhood eduation and social services where needed to ensure children are able to learn. Many of those services are best provided at schools larger than Larrabee.

Smith also points out that the term "small school" is misleading in the Larrabee debate. When looking at school statistics, all Bellingham schools fall into the "small school" category. And school-to-school comparisons show Larrabee students overall aren't doing as well academically as those at other Bellingham schools.

Only Smith appears to be prepared for the reality of modern school governance where scarce resources must go to the best uses.

Murphy, Bob Burr and Allen Brown are running for the two-year term for the Bellingham City Council seat being vacated by Seth Fleetwood.

Burr, a progressive, and Brown, a conservative, represent such opposite ends of the spectrum that they may actually meet somewhere on the mobuis strip of politics. They both present themselves as experienced outsiders out to change government as we know it.

Burr is the "no coal" candidate, despite the council not having a vote on the issue. He admits he's most interested in "national and planetary" issues. He wanted the council to allow a vote on the Bellingham Community Bill of Rights. He rejects the current port plan and doubts toxics cleanup is adequate.

Brown says he has expertise to share on many topics and would want to revisit past council decisions. He supports the Gateway Pacific Terminal project. He'd take money dedicated to parks and trails and spend it on public safety.

Murphy is a reasonable progressive. She'd like to see port toxic remediation above standards but understands the market will drive that development, adding that parks can't consume the effort to bring jobs to town. She finds development is the issue with Lake Whatcom water quality, her No. 1 issue, but knows that will require working with the county.

She says that as a young woman and member of the Nooksack tribe, she brings diversity to the council. She understands her tribal membership could put her at odds with the city and assured us she would refrain from voting on an issue where the entities conflict.

Blethen, Smith, Murphy, Brown and Burr accepted our invitations to write about their candidacies and you can read more from them online at BellinghamHerald.com/whatcom-opinion-columns.

Also on the primary ballot are three candidates for the Blaine City Council Ward 2 seat. Incumbent Charlie Hawkins faces challengers David Gallion and Brian Thomasson. Hawkins and Thomasson accepted our invitations to write about their candidacies and you can read them online at BellinghamHerald.com/whatcom-opinion-columns.

Voter turnout for primary elections is never as big as it is for general elections and turnout for off-year elections is never as big as it is in presidential years. Whatcom voters turned out at a rate of 83.5 percent for the 2012 presidential election. The turnout rate was 59 percent for the 2011 general election and just 37 percent in the 2011 primary.

And while August may seem too soon to be thinking about elections, we believe the choices in the Bellingham races are worth your attention now. These races should not become referenda on energy policy and school size.

After the primary, we will turn our attention to the Nov. 5 general election. We'll again partner with the League of Women Voters of Bellingham/Whatcom County and the city of Bellingham to sponsor candidate forums.

The general election will have races for most areas of Whatcom County. The deadline to register in person to vote in that election is Oct. 28. Details are available from the Whatcom County auditor's office.

We welcome your thoughts about the candidates as well. Letters to the editor must be 250 words or less. Letters about the primary must be received by July 26. Letters for the general election must be received by Oct. 25. Send your letter digitally to letters@bellinghamherald.com or use the form you'll find online at BellinghamHerald.com/submit-letter/.

Voting by mail has simplified the process. Surely voters can beat the 37 percent turnout from 2011. Please vote.

Reach JULIE SHIRLEY at julie.shirley@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2261.

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