Satpal Sidhu and Kathy Kershner might as well have the party labels “D” and “R” next to their names.
The two candidates for the nonpartisan Whatcom County Council each have the backing of the parties. Sidhu was endorsed by the county Democrats and received office space, staffing and other material support from the party worth more than $5,200, according to the state Public Disclosure commission.
The County Council, which leans decidedly to the left, appointed Sidhu in March to fill a council vacancy. Kershner also applied to get the appointment but didn’t receive any votes.
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Kershner was on the council from 2010 to 2013, losing her re-election bid to Barry Buchanan.
Party labels alone don’t shed enough light on where the candidates stand on the issues. Here are a few topics the candidates have addressed in public appearances:
Kershner: “The county has an important role to play in providing social service programs, monitoring social service programs and making sure they’re funded. I was an advocate and a champion on the council for those programs, and that’s because I’ve got 23 years working in the business,” Kershner said Oct. 6 at a League of Women Voters forum. Kershner’s business, Advocations, seeks to connect disabled people with services.
Citing her own figures, Kershner said she voted in favor of more than $20 million in social-service programs while on the council.
Sidhu: “The government’s purpose is to enhance the quality of life, and quality-of-life enhancement is only good if every citizen gets touched with that enhancement,” Sidhu said at the same forum. “When we allocate our budget that should be always on our mind, how every citizen gets that opportunity — maybe a house, maybe for a job, maybe for better transportation.”
Kershner: On Sept. 23 at a Bellingham City Club forum, Kershner said the county needs to stop its war against businesses.
“My experience in Whatcom County is that when you say ‘business,’ it’s almost a dirty word in some circles,” Kershner said.
“We’ve got great businesses, and I’ll say it, out at Cherry Point. We’ve got two refineries and an aluminum smelter out there that are held up to the highest standards of completing their work in an environmentally friendly and safe way. They contribute millions of dollars to our tax base, which allows us then to put parks in place, and Boys & Girls clubs, and programs in our schools. I’m a firm supporter of businesses that are going to bring family-wage jobs to Whatcom County.”
$38,261 Campaign money raised by Kathy Kershner as of Oct. 16
$58,298 Campaign money raised by Satpal Sidhu as of Oct. 16
Sidhu: At the League of Women Voters forum, Sidhu balked at a question about what he would cut from the county budget.
“I don’t think we need to cut anything, and it’s not all doom and gloom as some people would like you to believe,” he said.
“People may be surprised that our recreation industry is worth $500 million. ... We have so much opportunity. We can bring an Amazon back office here. We can bring Microsoft here. What a best place to live for people.”
Housing for seniors, disabled
A question at the League of Women Voters forum stipulated that the county had an inadequate supply of affordable housing for seniors and disabled persons.
Sidhu: “We really cannot look at affordable housing as, ‘Let the government provide it.’ ... It’s not for the government to build houses, but we can facilitate. How can the county facilitate? By permitting fees, by making it easier for land acquisition, or provision of that land.”
Kershner: “It’s a supply and demand issue. When we have lack of supply and we have a big demand, the housing prices are unaffordable. We also can look at (easing) the regulations that we have in place. ... There are programs like Section 8 that we can be more proactive in making sure we are reaching out and getting those benefits here into our county. We can also encourage developers to build housing that is specifically for those populations.”
Both candidates said it’s an important issue.
Sidhu: “I think the very first step council can do ... is to admit that climate change is real,” Sidhu said. “It should be part of our policy. ... We should admit it, we should work towards it and see what contribution we can make.”
Kershner: “I think that the county has a leadership role in the programs and the policies that are passed.”
She recalled votes she cast for electric-vehicle charging stations and the “reconveyance,” a land transfer that put 8,844 of state timberland into a new county park.
“There was talk when I was on the council about using (the protected forest) as a way to offset carbon,” Kershner said.
The county Auditor’s Office mailed ballots to registered voters on Wednesday, Oct. 14. Ballots must be returned by Nov. 3.