Conservatives hope to win something they don’t have right now — a seat on the Whatcom County Council — as Bruce Ayers goes against Todd Donovan on the Nov. 3 ballot for the position being vacated by Pete Kremen.
In the August primary for the seat, Donovan won handily with voting conducted only in the liberal south county. He got 62 percent of the vote, while Ayers came in second with 17 percent in a four-person race.
The general election — ballots were mailed Wednesday, Oct. 14 — will be countywide.
Donovan received the Democrats’ endorsement and more than $7,000 in in-kind donations from the party, including office space and staff.
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The biggest donor to Ayers’ campaign was the county Republican Party, which gave $2,650 in cash as of Friday, Oct. 16.
Despite their political differences, Ayers and Donovan showed some areas of agreement in recent campaign appearances.
“We both agree it’s critically important we get a jail done,” Donovan told a Bellingham City Club audience on Sept. 23.
While that may be true, Ayers has been more absolute in his praise for the jail plan, which would be funded by a sales-tax measure also on the Nov. 3 ballot. Donovan has expressed reservations about how the jail would be funded.
$66,753 Campaign money raised by Todd Donovan as of 10/16
$19,938 Campaign money raised by Bruce Ayers as of 10/16
“I have concerns about the sales tax as a source of revenue,” Donovan said in a debate with Ayers on KGMI Saturday, Oct. 10.
Donovan pointed out that revenue from the 2004 jail sales tax didn’t meet projections, “given the cyclical variation in sales tax, due to economic recessions that will happen.”
“I agree we need the revenue,” he said. “I just want people to be aware of the fact that we might need more.”
Ayers said that if elected, he would make sure the jail was run efficiently and the money spent properly.
“The sales tax is a good way to fund it because about 29 percent of that sales tax is paid by people who don’t live in Whatcom County, and that closely approximates the people that end up in the jail,” Ayers said.
Government involvement — or intrusion, depending on your point of view — into property owners’ lives came into sharp focus for the County Council as it tries to comply with the state Growth Management Act. The county for years was in a legal battle, still not entirely resolved, over whether the county was doing enough to protect the environment from new development.
Both candidates were asked Oct. 6 at a League of Women Voters forum how the growth act has affected Whatcom County.
Donovan said the law guides counties in answering questions about how big a city’s footprint should be, how many roads to build, and where jobs should be located.
“I would hope that we have a County Council that embraces those questions and tries to move forward rather than just fighting against it.”
Ayers, a longtime land surveyor, described the act as more of a cudgel than a tool.
“When I was on the (Bellingham) City Council, we had incentives,” Ayers said, a City Council member from 1994-98. “We stopped all that, and we’ve just started regulating and fining. We need to get back to education and incentives.”
Both candidates, predictably, were in favor of good-paying jobs. Both said they supported the expansion of industry at Cherry Point.
“One of the biggest strengths that this county has in addition to the spectacular setting is higher education,” Donovan said at the City Club forum, listing local colleges and Western Washington University, where he works as a professor of political science.
“The county could be much more aggressive in economic development” by promoting the connection between colleges and skilled workers, Donovan said.
“It’s not about bringing more people to Whatcom County,” Ayers said. “It’s about making sure the people who are already here are well taken care of. ... We can’t just tax and regulate and cause for more expense. We have to have existing business reinvest in Whatcom County and Bellingham.”
Lower taxes would mean more money for owners to expand their businesses and pay their employees more, Ayers said.
Candidates at the City Club forum were asked if the council had a role in addressing climate change.
Donovan acknowledged that a small local government can’t take a big bite out of the pollution that causes global warming, but it can take on a leadership role.
“We have a responsibility for doing that, to reduce carbon emissions, either through encouraging public transit use, trip reduction, housing close to jobs,” Donovan said.
“Our community has a high priority for environmental concerns, so should the council,” Ayers said. “Decisions made locally are the best decisions for that issue.”