When asked to name the issue most important to voters, most candidates for Whatcom County Council say "jobs."
Incumbent Bill Knutzen and his challenger, Rud Browne, agree on that. They part ways on the types of jobs the area should attract, and what the future of the county should look like.
Browne decided to run for council, and for Knutzen's seat specifically in the Nov. 5 election, after watching the debate on the "reconveyance" - the county's acquisition of 8,844 acres of forestland around Lake Whatcom from the state. The land will transition from commercial timber to a park.
Knutzen voted against the reconveyance, saying it would harm the timber industry. Browne, founder of Ryzex, a Bellingham business that refurbished and sold barcode equipment and mobile devices, organized other business leaders in a show of support for the reconveyance.
The land deal, Browne said, was a sound business decision. The future of job growth in the county is in "low-impact recreational tourism," he said.
Knutzen said Browne and the other three county candidates endorsed by the Democrats, who bill themselves as the real job creators, are too selective about the jobs they want to create.
He cites the council decision on the reconveyance and the minority vote against slaughterhouses on farmland, both this year, as examples of the progressive candidates' unwillingness to protect timber and farm jobs.
"In the current economic climate, we can't afford that," Knutzen said. "I'm going to work with everybody to create jobs."
Knutzen referred to the 5,000-plus timber jobs in the county as part of its "economic foundation." Browne said that number, from the Washington Forest Protection Association, might be exaggerated.
"Even if his number is right, 8,000 acres in the watershed is not going to eliminate thousands of jobs," Browne said.
Ryzex, which Browne sold to a competitor in late 2011, was a model for the type of business Browne would like to see come to the county. Besides getting old devices back into use, the company produced no garbage for a year.
Businesses with a neutral or positive environmental footprint can be sustained by the community indefinitely, Browne said. Businesses that degrade the environment can't be sustained.
This suggests that a coal export terminal proposed for Cherry Point wouldn't fit into Browne's vision for the county. A campaign by Washington Conservation Voters to elect Browne and the other progressive candidates has told voters all four are anti-coal terminal.
Browne has been adamant, however, that he is undecided on the terminal. The council could be asked to approve two permits for the facility, probably more than two years from now. In that role, the council will act more like land-use judges, and any show of prejudice now could lead to lawsuits.
"I have a lifelong history in being a strong advocate for environmental protection, but that does not and should not prompt anyone to jump to the conclusion that I have chosen a position regarding the coal terminal," Browne wrote on The Bellingham Herald's Politics blog.
Knutzen also maintains his neutrality on the coal port, but he is unequivocal about the value of industrial jobs at Cherry Point. He strongly opposes a resolution passed this year by the county Democrats calling for no further development at Cherry Point.
If the council were to put that resolution into practice, Knutzen said, it could mean the end of the refineries and aluminum smelter at Cherry Point because they wouldn't be allowed to expand.
"If we lose those jobs, I don't know what this community will look like," Knutzen said.
Again, Browne said Knutzen was overstating his case. The Democrats' resolution, which Browne does not support, would have "no impact at all" on existing industries at Cherry Point, he said.
As of Tuesday, Oct. 15.
Bill Knutzen ($34,105 total)
-- Whatcom County Republicans - $1,800.
-- Mary and John Ferlin - $1,800.
-- C.H. and Raymond Radke - $1,200.
-- Jennifer and Roger Sefzik - $1,000.
-- 5 donors - $900.
Rud Browne ($101,683*)
-- Eileen and Paul Growald - $1,800.
-- Susan and Robert Kimsey - $1,800.
-- Sheila and Martin Nickerson - $1,800.
-- Marylee and Charles LeCocq - $1,500.
-- Connie and Richard Voget - $1,400.
*Does not include $40,155 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.