Local Election

Here’s how Whatcom political parties are addressing #MeToo after Bonner, Ranker woes

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Just like many movements for equal rights in America, the path for women to seek recourse from sexual harassment has been through the courts. But grassroots activism in the 1970s opened the space for a nationwide conversation, and the Civil Right
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Just like many movements for equal rights in America, the path for women to seek recourse from sexual harassment has been through the courts. But grassroots activism in the 1970s opened the space for a nationwide conversation, and the Civil Right

Leaders of the two major political parties in Whatcom County are asking candidates they support to develop a code of conduct in the wake of recent incidents that forced a Democratic state senator to resign and derailed the campaign of a former Republican official.

Whatcom Democrats said they don’t have a specific code of conduct for candidates but do require them to make a personal statement regarding their integrity and post that statement on their campaign pages.

Likewise, Whatcom Republicans are in the process of adding a code of conduct to go along with character-oriented questions that candidates seeking endorsement must answer.

“I’d like every candidate who is involved to abide by a general code of conduct,” said Kathy Kershner, chair of the Whatcom Republicans.

“We certainly saw what was happening across the country,” said Andrew Reding, executive board chair of the Whatcom Democrats. “This was on our radar long before that.”

Representatives of both local party organizations have several women in leadership roles.

Kershner and Reding said emphasis on candidates’ character is partly a reaction to the #MeToo movement that has draw attention to harassment and sexist behavior in Hollywood, politics and business, and partly because of two recent local incidents:

Former state Sen. Kevin Ranker, a Democrat representing the 40th District that includes part of Whatcom County, resigned in January amid an investigation over sexual harassment and other allegations made by a former employee.

Just last week, Brett Bonner, former vice chair of the Whatcom Republicans, suspended his campaign for Whatcom County Council after he admitted harassing a woman online while “blackout drunk.”

Reding said the Democrats don’t impose a code on candidates, but rather require them to have a publicly posted code of conduct as a precondition for certification and/or endorsement.

Reding said in an interview with The Bellingham Herald that candidates are expected to be aware of racism, sexism, unconscious bias and harassment in their campaigns.

“We require that they give us a link to their code of conduct policy at their website. They’re required to have one,” Reding said.

Kershner said the Republicans’ endorsement process includes a social media policy that rejects online harassment and bullying — asking that online interactions be kind, courteous and respectful.

“We are just beginning our endorsement process,” Kershner said in an interview with The Herald. “We do have an interview that all prospective candidates will be a part of. It includes questions about the candidate’s character.”

Whatcom Democrats’ code of conduct was corrected June 3, 2019.

Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.
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