The Gristle

Election Fraud
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ELECTION FRAUD: This week marks the end of the reporting cycle for campaign finance disclosures to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission for this election, meaning the curtain now comes down on who receives what in campaign contributions and who spends what in last-minute media buys. We’ve now entered what has traditionally been the Dirty Tricks eclipse of local elections, where ugly shadow money long withheld comes flooding into campaigns only to be fired out again in torpedoes of late-hour hit pieces filled with lies, smears and petty character assassinations, the background of which won’t fully surface until after the election.

The irony for voters who have not yet made up their minds about which candidates deserve their vote is the quality and reliability of information that surfaces from this point forward is much reduced. So let’s review what we already know about this county election:

Several broad themes have been outlined.

Foremost among them is “jobs,” in what is almost certainly a euphemism for support of the proposed coal pier. Candidates are loathe to talk about the Gateway Pacific Terminal directly, although clearly they have the liberty to do so if they choose, and instead reduce this to the encoded dogwhistle of “jobs.” In this context, “jobs” is almost always code-speak for reducing or destroying the regulatory safeguards that maintain the health and safety of county residents. What else can it mean, when proponents of this view invariably cite the incompetence or inappropriateness of the role government plays in job creation? If government is always the problem, then the only positive role government can play is by being crippled and absent from the equation.

A second broad theme revolves around the protection of property rights from “distant boards in Olympia” and “from lawsuits from people who do not care about Whatcom County.” This, again, represents code-speak in support of the destruction of the regulatory framework that protects other citizens and other property owners. Additionally, it serves as coded justification for the county’s continued non-compliance with the state’s Growth Management Act, the only remaining county in Washington still defiant of state law.

Stepping back a moment, what does compliance with GMA mean?

Well, briefly, it means the county no longer supports policies that are “clearly erroneous” in their understanding of state law.

The “clearly erroneous” construction is important, because counties are automatically presumed to be correct in their application of state law, their decisions are presumed to be wise decisions in the public’s interest, and one essentially must go to court and provide compelling evidence that shows the county is in error beyond a shred of doubt. That’s a high bar. Even wrongheaded county land policy that cannot be clearly demonstrated through evidence as being erroneous stands. When the law is so overwhelmingly on the county’s side, think about how terribly unlawful a county must be to be outside of that frame. Then consider the integrity of candidates for public office who declare they intend to stay that way, that they’ll use your money to stay that way.

We’ve mentioned before that the process of appealing county land decisions is litigious by design. The county is presumed correct in its decisions. People who dispute those decisions must file formal protest with the state, they must present evidence to the state through a formal process similar to (and in some cases identical to) a courtroom with a panel of judges on the bench. So when candidates say they are fighting “lawsuits from people who don’t care,” recognize that they are talking about you and your right under the law to protest county acts that are foolhardy or that harm you.

Zooming in, how many aggrieved parties are out there suffering harm from restrictive county land policy? If certain candidates are going to spend four years fighting for these aggrieved landowners, shouldn’t voters know how many are represented?

The short answer is, essentially, zero.

No one who holds a vested property right in Whatcom County has been financially harmed through county land use policies. In some cases, speculative profits have been lost when the county has not authorized a use the speculator wanted, or when—to gain compliance with state law—an improper use is restored back to a proper use.

In the 1990s, County Council upzoned hundreds of acres in defiance of GMA. They created phantom profits for those property owners. When the council upzone was challenged and overturned, these property owners continued to hold their original rights. They simply were not entitled to speculative profits created through the council’s lawlessness.

Washington is the easiest state in the country to get a vested right, and Whatcom County is probably the easiest place in Washington to get a vested right. You only have to submit an application—it doesn’t even have to be approved. It’s only slightly more restrictive than sketching your plan on a cocktail napkin and then screaming you have rights to millions.

This is what candidates Kershner, Knutzen, Luke, and Elenbaas say they are protecting.

Most outstanding land claims have been settled, landowner requests accommodated. The county is pretty close to compliance. There are a few claims held by land speculators in the north county and on the Guide Meridian that probably cannot be satisfactorily accommodated. These candidates promise they’ll rip up agreements and start the cycle of grievances all over again.

You don’t have to look far to find fraud in this election. Fraud is the central thread running through it.

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