Whatcom executive favors outside lobbyist despite uncertain results

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 23, 2013 

Lobbyists hired for this year to represent Whatcom County in Olympia could claim few victories during the financially brutal legislative sessions.

Even so, the county executive said he would hire McBride and Associates again for 2014, if the County Council approved, in order to maintain a presence in Olympia.

"There's no way to identify directly where their successes and where their direct failures were," Executive Jack Louws said. "I know they helped, and they augmented our message to our legislators down there."

Because Louws prefers to stay at home to manage county business, rather than make appearances in Olympia, the executive said he needs lobbyists to be his "eyes and ears."

One real accomplishment Louws could point to was the firm's work to get money for the county to provide legal help to indigent parents and guardians in child-dependency and parental-right cases. The amount earmarked for Whatcom County for 2013-15 wasn't immediately available.

The list of successes that Olympia-based lobbyists Tom McBride and Ben Buchholz delivered to the council on Tuesday, July 23, included the Legislature's approval of a fourth county Superior Court judge, who will take the bench by January 2015.

But county officials themselves have lobbied for years to get that fourth judge, council member Pete Kremen said, including himself, Judge Charles Snyder and Louws.

Barbara Brenner was the council member most skeptical after reviewing the firm's list. She said local lawmakers are approachable and generally supportive of the county's objectives without any push from lobbyists.

"The few things I could find that were specific to us, we really did do a lot of the heavy lifting. I'm sure these guys are great. I just think this is a complete waste of money," Brenner said.

The county, the Port of Bellingham and the city of Bellingham are each paying $2,500 a month through 2013 to the lobbyists. Similar to Louws, Mayor Kelli Linville and port Executive Director Rob Fix have said they would recommend retaining McBride and Associates for next year.

McBride said it was "unprecedented" for three governments to approach the Legislature with the same set of goals.

"It brought a lot of visibility to your region," he said.

Reach RALPH SCHWARTZ at ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2298.

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