Local Election

Republicans win most seats on Whatcom Charter Review Commission

Successful candidates for Whatcom County Charter Review Commission appeared to ride endorsements from the two major parties to victories in the Tuesday, Nov. 4, election.

Of the 15 people who were in a position to join the commission as of Wednesday, Nov. 5 — five from each county district — eight were endorsed by the county Republican Party and six had the endorsement of the Whatcom Democrats.

The one unendorsed candidate who was in the top five in her district, Yvonne Goldsmith, is well established in Republican circles, having served as a county party officer. Goldsmith did not approach the Republicans seeking an endorsement, county party Chairman Charlie Crabtree said.

If the election results don’t change, nine Republican-friendly members would sit on the 15-person commission, setting the stage for proposed changes to the county charter that would favor conservatives.

The Charter Review Commission meets once every 10 years to propose changes to the county charter, the equivalent of a constitution for county government.

The issue most often discussed in the charter review races was a change to the ballot for County Council elections so that only residents of a candidate’s district could vote in the general election.

The issue splits on party lines. Democrats are against it. Republicans have said the current system of countywide voting for council members favors left-leaning candidates in these nonpartisan races because Bellingham voters have outsized influence on the results.

If the commission, when it meets next year, votes to propose district-only voting in council elections, then the measure would go to county voters in November 2015.

The last time the commission met, in 2005, it put district-only voting on the ballot. Voters approved the measure in November of that year.

Council members later decided voters needed to revisit the issue, and council put the same measure back on the ballot in 2008. Voters overturned district-only voting, and the general election reverted to countywide voting for all council candidates.

County Republican and Democratic officials both said their parties’ endorsements were based in part on a candidate’s stand on district-only voting.

Mike Estes, chairman of the Whatcom Democrats, said it seemed likely that voters leaned on outside endorsements to vote in charter review races. Voters could choose up to five candidates among the dozen or more on their ballot.

“How would you research or vet the 15 or 20 people in your district and pick five?” Estes said. “It’s almost an impossible task.”

While Republicans had more winners according to Wednesday’s ballot count, the average votes received by all endorsed candidates was almost the same: 6,553 for Republican-endorsed candidates and 6,519 for those favored by Democrats.

Twenty-two of the 48 candidates were endorsed by neither party. They received 2,612 votes on average — less than half the amount garnered by endorsed candidates.

Republicans might not be able to take all the credit for the success of their candidates. As Crabtree explained it, Republicans would only endorse candidates who were committed to campaigning.

“The party wanted to ask them what their plans were, and that was one of the criteria for being considered,” Crabtree said. “We wanted someone who was talking to voters and trying to work with people.”