Which top issues in Whatcom County will Democrats debate?

Barbara Lewis
Barbara Lewis Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Whatcom County party delegates are waiting to find out if their top issues will be reflected in the party’s national platform or cast aside during the 2016 Democratic National Convention, which starts Monday, July 25.

So far, it’s looking good for them.

From climate change to tribal rights to student loan debt, many of the issues championed by county Democrats and offered up to state and national leaders appear to be reflected in proposed language to be debated in Philadelphia.

Here’s how it works: The Platform Drafting Committee of the Democratic Party accepted input from every state before releasing the draft earlier this month. Whatcom County contributed its hyperlocal Whatcom County Democratic Party Platform, which was folded into the Washington state proposal, and then sent onward to the national committee.

Whatcom County’s delegates to the DNC were elected in a statewide caucus on March 26. Following their election, they were all invited to contribute to the county’s party platform in early May.

The county’s party platform reflects the vision and structure of the Democratic Party on a local level, said Catherine Chambers, chairwoman of the Whatcom County Democrats.

“We’re a very active party,” Chambers said. “We’re a vibrant party and we want to include a lot of new voters.”

When they finished the platform in May, Chambers said, there were a few standout issues on the minds of many delegates: climate change, tribal rights and student loan debt.

The county’s platform took a strong stance on those issues. The Environment, Energy and Transportation section stated the importance of environmental health, biological diversity and accountability for those who have hurt the environment in the past.

The national platform draft echoes those points, calling climate change an “urgent and severe threat to our national security.”

Nickolaus Lewis, 34, a tribal council member of the Lummi Nation, said environmental issues and tribal issues often go “hand-in-hand.”

The Whatcom County Democratic Party Platform promised full respect to both the Lummi and Nooksack treaty rights against interference, including traditional fishing rights.

The national platform draft also seemed to connect environmental issues with tribal rights.

“Our climate change policy will cut carbon emission, address poverty, invest in disadvantaged communities and improve both air quality and public health,” the draft read. “We support the tribal nations to develop wind, solar and other clean energy jobs.”

Both the Whatcom County platform and the national platform draft declared the importance of resolving the crisis surrounding student loan debt.

Whatcom County’s platform stated, “Public higher education must be affordable,” and the national document suggested resolutions such as free community college and investments in historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges and universities, among other options.

“College funding is like the new housing bubble,” said Barbara Lewis, 24, an English instructor at Northwest Indian College. “It’s set up to fail, and something needs to be done before it’s too late.”

Chambers said the delegates will discuss these issues and many more in Philadelphia as the party defines its platform.

“They take the issues they’re concerned about to the convention, and (then) they vote for a nominee,” Chambers said. “We’re looking forward to a great campaign.”

Michaela Winberg is a journalist and a student at Temple University in Philadelphia. This month she will report on the Democratic National Convention from Philadelphia as part of a groundbreaking project allowing students to cover the event for local newspapers, TV stations and digital outlets. Follow her at @mwinberg_.