Politics Blog

Pitched political battle for seat on Whatcom Conservation District board

The election for a supervisor on the Whatcom Conservation District board has become highly politicized.

That the race between incumbent cattleman Larry Helm and farm-market owner Joy Monjure should rally environmentalists, Democrats, property-rights advocates and Republicans to campaign for their preferred candidates on social media might seem surprising. After all, this is a nonpartisan race for a position with a non-regulatory governmental body that doesn’t levy taxes.

But this is Whatcom County, and what’s at stake is how farmers’ practices contribute to environmental protection.

In Helm and Monjure, voters on Election Day, Tuesday, March 10, will have a distinct choice.

The Conservation District offers technical and financial assistance to help farmers conserve natural resources, particularly water quality in the streams that run through their land.

The role of the districts is described well in short form here. The powers of conservation district board members are delineated in the state code here.

In a phone interview today, Monday, March 9, Monjure said she is the better candidate. She has focused on water protection and sustainable farming in her various roles, including with the city of Bellingham Public Works Department and as founder of the market Field of Greens.

“I have a strong background in water resources, water rights, fish habitat and watershed protection,” Monjure said. “It’s what I lived and breathed for years and years and years.”

Monjure also noted there are no women on the Whatcom Conservation District board.

“I think I will bring a woman’s perspective, and I think that’s valuable,” she said. Also, “There’s no one else on this board that is advocating for or has a strong knowledge in food crop production.”

Helm could not immediately be reached for an interview. Here is his campaign statement in full:

I was raised on a small dairy farm, but I chose to spend my professional career as a state park superintendent in California, where I spent 30 years dealing with environmental issues. When I retired at 55, I moved to Bellingham, purchased a small 20 acre (farm) and started raising Scottish highlanders, bees and fruit trees. Three years ago I was elected as a supervisor to the Conservation District (CD) board. I have learned a lot. We have a great CD staff! They support economic farm viability, but they are guided by the domineering environmental regulations in this state/county. The farmer’s profit is regularly negatively impacted by fees and environmental regulations. We need to focus on our goals! If a farm is not polluting — producing clean water downstream — then government should minimize their impact to that farm operation. Without a healthy profit margin our farms will slowly disappear.

I will round out the information on Helm if he calls me back in time.

To vote in the Tuesday, March 10 election, voters must appear in person at the Whatcom Conservation District office, between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., at 6975 Hannegan Road.

Monjure offered her take on how this election became so politicized.

She said she was approached by people she knew at Whatcom Watersheds Information Network, a group she helped found. They said she would make a good supervisor on the Whatcom Conservation District board, according to Monjure.

“After that, then the Democrats, who also believed I was a strong candidate, said we want to get behind you on this,” Monjure said. “As soon as the Democrats get behind somebody, the Republicans get behind their candidate. That’s how it works.”

Charlie Crabtree, chairman of the Whatcom County Republican Party, corroborated Monjure’s story insofar as the Republicans responded once they got word that the Dems were backing Monjure. Helm is a Republican precinct committee officer, Crabtree said.

Word came to Crabtree in early February that Democrats were doorbelling in Bellingham to get out the vote for Monjure, who ran as a Democrat in 2014 against Vincent Buys, R-Lynden, for a seat in the state House of Representatives, 42nd District.

“Basically what I’m trying to do at this point. … is just to get people aware that there is an election going on,” Crabtree said. The Conservation District election is unusual in that it is not run by the county Auditor’s Office, so voters won’t automatically get ballots in the mail as with most county elections. (The deadline for requesting a mail-in ballot has passed. The only way to vote now is in person, at the Conservation District office, as noted above.)