Jack Louws is running a low-key campaign for re-election as Whatcom County executive, preferring to list the accomplishments in his first term rather than pay attention to his challenger’s criticisms.
Joy Gilfilen, president of the Restorative Community Coalition and Louws’ opponent on the Nov. 3 ballot, is waging two campaigns — one for Louws’ seat, the other to defeat the sales tax measure on the same ballot that would pay for construction and operation of a new county jail.
Before becoming county executive in 2012, Louws served two terms as Lynden’s mayor and a term before that on the Lynden City Council. Gilfilen, a life coach and business consultant, has not served in political office.
Both seek a job that includes overseeing the county’s departments, writing the two-year county budget and shaping county policy with the cooperation of the County Council. The executive’s salary in 2016 will be $148,494.
Gilfilen lays much of the blame of what she called mismanagement of the jail planning on Louws. The county and its biggest partner in the jail project, the city of Bellingham, could not resolve their differences on jail funding before the election.
“It was not resolved because specifically of the leadership method and manner of behavior of Executive Louws,” Gilfilen said Oct. 6 at a League of Women Voters forum in Bellingham. “When he provided his solution he gave the (Bellingham) council no alternative.”
$18,497 campaign money raised by Jack Louws as of 10/19
$2,319 campaign money raised by Joy Gilfilen as of 10/19
As for what’s wrong with the jail plan, in Gilfilen’s view the list is quite long. The plan siphons away money that could be spent on parks programs and other county departments, she said. It uses county resources to support the multinational corporations that profit from what she calls the “prison industrial complex.” And locking up suspected criminals remains the go-to option for the county justice system, when Gilfilen has something entirely different in mind.
Those unfamiliar with restorative economics and restorative justice would need to study them to understand where Gilfilen is coming from. These models for running a society involve diverting people away from jail by supporting them with housing and other services so they can find work rather than going in and out of jail.
Louws has countered that the county already spends $11.5 million a year on behavioral care programs intended to keep people out of jail.
As Gilfilen describes it, restorative economics also involves protecting natural resources as a way to achieve food security in an uncertain future threatened by climate change and the possible collapse of agriculture in other parts of the U.S.
While campaigning, Louws will point to success he has had with Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville and other leaders in protecting water quality in Lake Whatcom, establishing an emergency operations center at the airport, and keeping the countywide emergency medical services intact.
Louws steered a $1.5 million courthouse remodel to completion, to accommodate a fourth Superior Court judge. He also ushered in new telephones and new computers in county-government offices, and a new records-management system for the Sheriff’s Office.
Despite the controversy surrounding the jail proposal, Louws said he wouldn’t back down from the challenge presented to Gilfilen and other jail opponents just because it was an election year. The costs of jail construction escalate every year, he has said, and soon the county will need to go back to the voters to ask for another tax to fund emergency medical services.
“I believe it’s the right time to get it done,” he said.