The new year is a time for reflection and resolutions. It is also the time to swear in a new crop of local elected officials. We hope, and respectfully expect, that they will be resolved to keep their public promises.
Few of us probably thought that we would live to see the day that more than $1.3 million would be spent in our local County Council races. By far, most of that money came from outside of Whatcom County, and much of it came from out of state. The "liberal/progressives" outspent the "conservatives" 2 to 1. Does all of that spending distort election results and drown out local voices? Do local politicians simply become the puppets of special interests from San Francisco, St. Louis or Seattle? Perhaps we will understand this better over time.
For all of that spending ($25 for each vote captured by the winning candidates), the results were surprisingly close. The four winning candidates captured, on average, just 53 percent of the vote. Two of the four lost the vote in the council districts that they now represent, having been thrust into office primarily by voters from Bellingham. Only 55 percent of countywide eligible voters bothered to cast their ballots. All in all, it's hard to discern a public philosophical mandate out of this election, although some will no doubt try.
Elections are seldom decided by a single issue. But certainly one matter was settled and that is a sound rejection of an ill-advised and extremist resolution passed last July by the Whatcom County Democratic Central Committee. The resolution opposed "all industrial, commercial, and residential uses of the remaining natural lands and waters on and adjacent to Cherry Point." Every single County Council candidate stated "no" when asked if they agreed with that resolution, and we take them at their word.
The Gateway Pacific Terminal project has attracted widespread attention; significantly, the AFL-CIO adopting a strong resolution of support at its national convention last September. Certainly, the potential benefits and impacts of the Gateway project were of interest to many local voters, but that issue was not actually on the ballot. And it would be presumptuous to conclude anything about the future of that project based upon this or any other election. That matter will be decided by a variety of federal, state and local regulatory agencies, including Whatcom County, after an exhaustive multi-year review environmental review process governed by law. Facts and science, not emotion, are supposed to drive that process.
No self-respecting and ethical elected official will submit to being "bought" by campaign dollars and all of the winning County Council candidates have pledged to objectively apply the facts and law to reviewing the merits of the Gateway project after the environmental review process is complete. They have promised not to "pre-judge" the matter, even though some of their campaign supporters have proclaimed that they will do otherwise.
Wherein lies the truth? It would be a sad day were it to come to pass that the highest bidder could purchase the thoughts and actions of our local elected officials. The winners have denied such a thing. Realistically, one can only judge the veracity of the candidates' words in the fullness of time. For now, we take them at their word and hope that there is still such a thing as honor in politics. Now that would be a New Year's resolution that we could all get behind.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
John Huntley owns Mills Electric, a Bellingham electrical contracting firm, and Brad Owens is a local construction and building trades official with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union, Local 191. They are co-chairs of the Northwest Jobs Alliance, a local organization formed to promote the growth of family wage jobs in the context of sound environmental practices related to the Gateway Pacific Terminal. For more information about the group, email firstname.lastname@example.org or send mail to NW Jobs Alliance, P.O. Box 2162, Bellingham, WA 98227.
The information about the group and it's contact information was corrected Jan. 17, 2014.