Kathy Kershner's victory in her first election four years ago helped tip the balance of the Whatcom County Council to the conservative side. The new council reversed some decisions made before the election by allowing more areas of denser, urban-style growth.
Her opponent in the Nov. 5 election this year is Barry Buchanan, a former Bellingham City Council member who said he wants to switch to the County Council because that's where the big decisions will be made over the next four years.
Buchanan, endorsed by the county Democrats, said he would be an antidote to the development-friendly land-use decisions by council members such as Kershner. Claims that the county has allowed too much commercial development in rural areas and afforded too little protection to Lake Whatcom have kept the county in legal battles for most of a decade.
Buchanan said residents he's met while campaigning are aware of the land-use disputes and are concerned about the county's legal fees.
"They'd like to see a more reasonable approach," he said.
In her first months in office, Kershner established herself as someone who fought for more high-density urban growth areas. She targeted Yew Street Road, 500-plus acres north of Lake Padden. Buchanan, who was on the City Council at the time, said the city was justified in keeping Yew Street Road rural.
"We don't want to gobble up the whole county with urban growth area for eventual annexation to the cities," Buchanan said. "Putting our growth where our services are is important to make sure that we are not doing this huge urban sprawl."
In his campaign, Buchanan speaks of maintaining those elements that make Whatcom County "such an awesome place to live." He supported the council's decision earlier this year to take control of 8,844 acres of forestland around Lake Whatcom for use as a park. The land was under state management for timber harvesting before it was "reconveyed" to the county.
Kershner, who said she has been known to vote the Republican Party line on the nonpartisan council, strayed from her base when she voted for the reconveyance. Conservatives in the county had spoken out fervently against it.
"I never really did understand the conservatives' point on that. I never got why they were so against it," she said. She sympathized with people in the timber industry concerned about the loss of jobs, but she proposed continuing to allow some timber harvesting on the land.
The two candidates have set themselves apart on the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point.
When asked about the council's upcoming decision on two permits for the coal port, Kershner limits her answer to the seven criteria in the county code that will guide the decision. The terminal must meet those seven standards, she said - no more and no less.
Buchanan speaks more expansively, citing the state's decision over the summer to include global impacts such as climate change from the burning of U.S. coal in Asia.
Kershner is disappointed that much of the discussion about the County Council races has revolved around coal.
"It's unfortunate that the election is going to come down to one issue," she said. "It's unfortunate because all the good work and all the good qualities of candidates will be swept aside based on people's perceptions of how they will vote on that issue."
As of Monday, Oct. 14
Kathy Kershner ($21,156 total)
-- Whatcom County Republicans - $1,800.
-- Mary and John Ferlin - $1,000.
-- Catherine and Scott Seemann - $1,000.
-- Cora Crossman - $900.
-- Dusty Gulleson - $900.
-- Nicholas Kaiser - $900.
Barry Buchanan ($42,194*)
-- Eileen and Paul Growald - $1,800.
-- Eileen and Steve Nelson - $1,800.
-- Maureen Ryan and Pete Trenham - $1,000.
-- 8 donors - $900.
*Does not include $38,227 in independent expenditures from Washington Conservation Voters Action Fund.
Source: Public Disclosure Commission
MORE CANDIDATE INFORMATION
To see responses to various issues from these and other candidates on the Nov. 5 ballot, go to our online voter guide.
This is one in a series of articles on races in the November general election. Other articles are at BellinghamHerald.com/elections.