Politics Blog

UPDATE: Conservation group director: flyer 'not inaccurate'


Washington Conservation Voters Executive Director Brendon Cechovic returned my call, and I asked him to explain a flyer that on its face appears inaccurate. As illustrated in the photo above, it says the four WCV-endorsed candidates for Whatcom County Council -- Rud Browne, Barry Buchanan, Ken Mann and Carl Weimer -- oppose a coal terminal on Cherry Point. The original version of this post, below, explains why council candidates wouldn't stand by that claim.

"We don't think it's inaccurate," Cechovic said.

"From what we know of the candidates," based on endorsement interviews held earlier this year, these four "strongly share our environmental values."

*** Ken Mann called about 4:30 p.m. on Friday to challenge the existence of these "endorsement interviews." He said he never met Cechovic. Lisa McShane of Whatcom Wins, the arm of the county Democrats working on the four county campaigns, called and said those interviews may have been conducted by Alex Ramel and/or Isabel Vanderslice. Mann said he has no recollection of those interviews either, although he knows both of those people well and has spoken with them. ***

Cechovic said coal was the most important issue in these county races. Browne is challenging Bill Knutzen; Buchanan is going after Kathy Kershner's seat; Mann and Weimer are seeking to retain seats with opposition from Ben Elenbaas and Michelle Luke, respectively.

It's not as if Washington Conservation Voters doesn't get the whole "quasi-judicial" element to the decisions council members will make on the coal terminal (explained further below). The group realizes council members and candidates won't speak their mind publicly about the terminal.

"Someone's gotta come in and read between the lines and share information ... on how we see this race," Cechovic said.

"The bottom line is, someone's gotta figure out how we vote for these candidates, or it's going to be a crap shoot."

Further justification:

"Our role here as a public interest group is that when voters cast their ballots, they do that in an informed way. They deserve to know whic candidates share their values and which don't."

(What follows is my original post, before Cechovic's call.)


Do the four Whatcom County Council candidates favored by the Democrats and Washington Conservation Voters oppose the Gateway Pacific Terminal, a proposal that would ship coal and other commodities from Cherry Point?

If they have any opinion at all on the coal terminal, I get the impression that some of these four at least -- Browne, Buchanan, Mann and Weimer -- wouldn't even tell their mothers.

Some -- Weimer comes to mind --assert reasonably that there's nothing to have an opinion on because the environmental impact statement that will provide some of the information council needs to make its decision hasn't been written yet. (It won't be ready for two years, according to the state agency involved, the Department of Ecology. Note that this means there will be at least one more round of county council elections before this much-ballyhooed vote on the terminal comes before the council. Then everyone will be wondering what Barbara Brenner, Sam Crawford and Pete Kremen think of the proposed terminal, assuming they run again.)

It's been explained over and over again -- even the far away National Journal got this right -- that council will be making a "quasi-judicial" decision on two permits for the terminal; hence, they can't show any prejudice for or against it without exposing their decision to legal appeals.

Yet this week, canvassers paid by Washington Conservation Voters are plastering front doors with the flyer shown in the photograph above. I guess I won't quibble with calling all four candidates Democrats. The race is nonpartisan, but the county Dems endorsed all four of them. But the "B" on this multiple-choice question -- asserting all of these candidates are anti-coal -- is wrong.

As Cechovic explained to me last week, WCV in its support of Browne, Buchanan, Mann and Weimer is paying for a poll and the canvassing. One can surmise that the tactics used by canvassers are informed by the poll results. (The poll, by the way, is for WCV staff's eyes only.)

The poll may show that key voters in the Nov. 5 elections are opposed to the coal terminal. To win these four races, which is what WCV is aiming for here, therefore means associating the candidates with an anti-coal stance. Honest? No. (Cechovic has since responded and insists the flyer is honest -- see above.) Politically savvy? More likely.

The candidates would distance themselves from these flyers but they don't have to. WCV is conducting its own campaign, in support of the four but independent of them (hence the term "independent expenditure").

For the record, Weimer did distance himself from the flyers, saying they were inaccurate and reminding me that the local campaigns have no contact with WCV on its campaign.

The total money spent by WCV on the four races is now $152,906. The organization filed a new expense report on Thursday, Oct. 10, with the Public Disclosure Commission in the amount of $59,603. That's on top of the $93,303 reported on Oct. 1.

Each of the four candidates is credited with one fourth of the total independent expenditure, or $38,226.50.

I observed to Cechovic that progressives have outspent conservatives in these races by a large margin.

"And we intend to keep it that way," he said.

No other independent expenditures have been reported so far, either for or against these four progressives or the four conservatives. Ballots will be out in a week, so there's every reason to expect more by then.