Under new leadership, Whatcom Democrats to frame strategy for 2015 elections

New officers will lead the Whatcom County Democrats into this odd-year election season, which will feature crucial city and county races.

Two well-known faces of the county party left office altogether, while several top Democrats in the party changed titles.

Former Chairman Mike Estes, who served in that role for more than two years, stepped away from party leadership to spend more time with work and family.

In a statement provided to The Bellingham Herald, Estes said since taking on the chairmanship he and his wife had a baby, and his tech startup, PriceWaiter, got funded.

“Working full time has its benefits — volunteering many hours a week is not one of them,” Estes said in his statement. “Last summer I decided I would need to step away from leading the party at the end of the year. I really enjoy doing this work but didn’t want to continue if I couldn’t honestly give it my full effort.”

Catherine Chambers was selected at a county party meeting on Jan. 8 to replace Estes. Chambers was state committeewoman for the county party for the past two years. She also has served in that role for the 40th and 42nd Legislative District Democrats.

In an interview, Chambers said the party’s plans for what should be a busy 2015 haven’t been firmed up yet. Highlighting this year’s ballot are races for county executive and council, Bellingham mayor and council, and Port of Bellingham commission.

Party members will hold a retreat in February to discuss strategy, Chambers said.

Two years ago, the Democrats coordinated the campaigns of four candidates running for the nonpartisan Whatcom County Council. All four Democrat-endorsed candidates won in an election that was watched nationally for its potential impact on a pending decision on Gateway Pacific Terminal, a coal-export facility proposed for Cherry Point.

Last year featured races for seats in the state House and Senate in the Republican-stronghold 42nd District, comprised of north Whatcom County. Democrats couldn’t break through to win any of the three races.

Chambers pointed to national disaffection with Democrats and the resulting low voter turnout as the reason for the Republican sweep in the 42nd.

“We felt like we had a good message and that we had good, strong candidates,” Chambers said. “Unfortunately, we were suffering from some of the same sentiment felt nationally, at the local level.”

Along with Estes, last term’s vice chairman has left the party leadership. Riley Sweeney, perhaps best known for his work on the blog “ The Political Junkie,” said in an interview he wanted to separate himself from the party to give himself more freedom on his blog.

“It’s one of the things I considered when I stepped down from my post: I could be more openly critical of my fellow Democrats,” Sweeney said.

Here’s the full slate of officials for the Whatcom County Democrats. They will serve two-year terms:

• Catherine Chambers, chairwoman

• Abe Jacobson, first vice chair

• Candice Wilson, second vice chair

• Aileen Satushek, secretary

• Peggy Borgens, treasurer

• Catherine Chambers, state committeewoman

• Richard May, state committeeman.