Lynden farmer seeks 'balance' in race for environmentalist's seat on Whatcom council

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 13, 2013 

MCT

Ben Elenbaas, who wants Ken Mann's seat on the Whatcom County Council in the Nov. 5 election, said he would bring something the council conspicuously lacks - a farmer's voice and experience.

As Elenbaas often says while campaigning, he's the fifth generation of his family to be farming. Elenbaas is known to his many customers as the owner of Farmer Ben's on Van Dyk Road near Lynden.

Agriculture is the economic foundation of the county, Elenbaas said.

"I think that the agricultural perspective and intimate knowledge of what goes on out there is very important," he said.

Mann, born and bred on the East Coast, moved to the county in 2000. He responds to Elenbaas' "vote local" slogan by saying the county needs someone with broad experience. Mann owns a farm, too - in Vermont. He worked for four years as an equities trader on Wall Street. He later became a civil engineer working on sustainable developments and now invests in commercial and residential real estate. He owns two buildings in downtown Bellingham.

"Having a diversity of experiences, of knowledge, of connections and networks ... is essential to navigating the complexities of the world," Mann said. "We do not live in a bubble, or let's say the bubble is planet Earth, not just Van Dyk Road or Brooklyn, where I grew up."

Mann is endorsed by the county Democrats, conservation groups and labor. He diverges from the progressive track, however, when he says he has a businessman's understanding of how government regulations can be an obstacle to economic growth.

"Entrepreneurs are not going to take risks ... if there's a risk that the government is going to screw it up for them," he said.

Elenbaas has labor endorsements of his own: the Ferndale firefighters and the Whatcom County Deputy Sheriff's Guild. He also has the support of the county Republicans.

In his campaign, Elenbaas has questioned whether Mann's words match his voting record. Mann wanted new rules for slaughterhouses on farmland that would have been too restrictive for those businesses, Elenbaas said.

As a planning commissioner, Elenbaas had a hand in an early version of the rules.

The slaughterhouse rules, approved by the council on Sept. 10 without Mann's support, were "reckless," Mann said on Thursday, Oct. 10, at a candidate forum.

Mann, who has emphasized his environmentalist credentials during the campaign, was worried about the possible impacts of a slaughterhouse on its neighbors.

Elenbaas said environmentalism needs to be balanced with other interests. Farmers get undeserved blame for the county's environmental problems, he said.

"I see a real bias that's out there, especially from the environmental community," Elenbaas said. "Any environmental issues we have out in the ag lands are not willful violations. A lot of it is just a lack of understanding."

At his farm, Elenbaas' goal is to raise food and make money without hurting the environment.

"I think we do a pretty good job," he said. "That's the balance I want to bring (to the council)."

TOP DONORS

As of Thursday, Oct. 10.

Ken Mann ($49,040 total*)

-- Eileen and Paul Growald - $1,800.

-- Maureen Ryan and Pete Trenham - $1,650.

-- Connie and Richard Voget - $1,000.

-- 13 donors - $900.

*Does not include $38,227 in independent expenditures from Washington Conservation Voters Action Fund.

Ben Elenbaas ($22,478)

-- Whatcom County Republicans - $1,800.

-- Judy and Dave Crnich - $1,000.

-- Jerry Blankers - $900.

-- Kasha Eades - $900.

-- Dusty Gulleson - $900.

-- Nicholas Kaiser - $900.

-- Joe Wilson - $900.

MORE CANDIDATE ANSWERS

To see answers to more questions from these candidates plus their biographical information, go to our online Voter Guide and look for the Election '13 Voter Guide. You'll also find information about other candidates on the November ballot.

This is one in a series of articles on races in the November general election. Read other articles at our Local Elections webpage. Ballots are scheduled to arrive in mailboxes by Oct. 21.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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