If the Whatcom County Council elections were a referendum on a proposed coal export terminal, then the community appears to have taken a stand against it.
The four progressive candidates held wide leads over their conservative opponents according to the first ballot count, released late Tuesday, Nov. 5.
Incumbents Ken Mann and Carl Weimer, and challengers Rud Browne and Barry Buchanan, were portrayed by Washington Conservation Voters as opposed to a proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point. All four men maintained they were neutral on the issue, which they could help decide in their upcoming term.
The Seattle-based political action committee spent $279,000 to get the four men elected.
Mann and Weimer had the largest leads and have almost certainly retained their seats. Mann had almost 56 percent of the vote, with his challenger, Lynden farmer Ben Elenbaas, getting a little more than 44 percent.
Weimer had 57 percent and will defeat his opponent, county Planning Commission Chairwoman Michelle Luke who had 43 percent of the vote.
Mann was confident in the days leading to the election, publicly predicting he would win.
"I expected to win, and now that I have 55 percent in a preliminary count, that hasn't changed," Mann said Tuesday night.
Browne led incumbent Bill Knutzen 54 percent to 46 percent. Buchanan was ahead of Kathy Kershner, the County Council chairwoman, 55 percent to 45 percent.
In addition to the backing of Washington Conservation Voters, Browne benefited from raising twice as much in donations as Knutzen.
Browne stopped short of claiming victory, even as guests at a jubilant county Democrat election night party were giving congratulations to all four candidates.
Knutzen wasn't ready to concede defeat.
"I think it's still early. There's a lot of votes to be counted yet," he said.
Browne spoke of the camaraderie that developed between him and the other three progressive candidates over the past six months.
"I'm very enthusiastic about serving with them. I think the next four years, we can really get some stuff done," Browne said.
The two winning incumbents both said the coal issue brought a surge of volunteers and local donations to their campaigns.
"I encountered many people for whom coal was their main issue," Mann said.
Weimer noted that four years ago, a perceived threat to property rights swept conservatives Knutzen and Kershner into office, only to be most likely ousted after one term.
"I think coal this year drove our side to the polls," Weimer said.