The Gristle

One Rule to Ring Them All
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ONE RULE TO RING THEM ALL: Filing Week for public office ended last week, and two themes seem emergent. First, a subtle yet important fault line appears to have cracked within movement conservatives. Second, the very documents that undergird local government draw more spirited attention than government offices themselves. The first point feeds into the second in important ways.

Perhaps more symptom than cause, the fissures within movement conservatives oozed a small amount of blood last month with the decision of perennial idiot Rep. Jason Overstreet (R-Blaine) to attack the inartful comments of Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard and demand Shepard’s resignation over his (frequent and repeated) commitment to diversify the college. While Overstreet’s stunt perhaps opened right-wing checkbooks nationwide and exposed local political races to slavering scrutiny, the scrutiny was uniformly negative and harmful to the university.

Our guess is Overstreet closed as many checkbooks locally as he may have opened nationally.

You see, there still is a variety of influential Republican who puts on a nice suit, attends business luncheons, donates time to clubs and charities, and generally considers himself or herself a business and community leader. Frequently, they fondly call WWU their alma mater and are bursting proud their children attend there. They understand the university’s function as a powerful engine for the local economy and community. And these are the sorts of people who might ordinarily be counted on to write a generous check for a local candidate.

These sorts of people are embodied by Ralph Munro, the accomplished and charismatic former secretary of state, broadly considered the dean emeritus of local Republicans. Munro penned a stern letter last month, publicly (and pointedly) condemning Overstreet, paddling his fanny like a headmaster.

Political parties still matter; and they help organize and direct the desires and passions of their members. So it is perhaps no surprise that the consummate party organizer and enabler, Luanne Van Werven—chair of Whatcom Republicans—stepped in to replace Overstreet as he melted down into goo. She is especially gifted to smooth irritations and get campaign funds flowing.

Yet there are also flavors within the local conservative movement, tea party conservatives, who cheered Overstreet’s idiocy. And there are flavors for whom markets are the primary motivator, who have little interest in the controls of “value” conservatives and express a libertarian view. Thus we have, in this election, no fewer than three conservatives running to replace Overstreet, expressing this spectrum.

It’s a conundrum seen nationally made manifest at the local level: The sorts of furor and ferment, the vying to demonstrate who is most wrathfully pure and toweringly inflexible, that energize movement conservatives in primaries do not often thrill moderate centrists when general elections roll around.

It’s a conundrum also seen in the most active race this season, for a seat on the Whatcom County Charter Review Commission.

The county’s home rule charter mandates periodic review every ten years. Candidates are elected, then review and recommend updates, which are passed along to County Council for possible action. Sometimes, the council’s action is to put proposed changes to voters in the form of a resolution that can potentially change the very structure of county government.

Broadly, changes proposed to the county charter are of two types: Changes to a procedure or construction intended to address some thorny particular or perceived deficiency in this organic public document. Or, changes to its construction that fundamentally favors or advantages a particular ideology. The first is like housekeeping fidgeting with the place settings at a banquet. The second is more like yanking the whole tablecloth out from under the banquet, with varying degrees of interest in whether the china remains in place or goes flying.

Passion to serve on the Charter Review Commission is keen, historically drawing four or five times as many candidates as there are positions available on the commission. This year is no exception, with fully 48 candidates applying for 15 positions, five positions for each of the county’s three voting districts.

Many candidates are hard to place along the standard left-right political divide, and it might be more useful to scatter them into varying quadrants of interest.

One axis might be to assign whether a particular candidate would agree that there are interests—social, economic, community—that compete in a meaningful way with private property rights. For nearly half the candidates, the answer is clearly, honestly no—whatever merits, nothing can or must compete with private property rights. A second axis might probe the depths of that absolute commitment, descending even into paranoid conspiracy fantasy—what we might call the Agenda 21 Factor. Clearly, some candidates grouped along the first axis do not belong on the second. But several do. Consider this axis the crazy fault line across which conservative thoughts diverge.

The enduring shibboleth for the Right is always the desire to shave down the voting power of progressive Bellingham into tranches small enough that allow the Right to permanently rule. Historically, these efforts have been both subtle (“district-only voting”) and gross (“county secession”), but they each ignore the reality that progressive Bellingham pays the county’s bills, both through property tax and a jaw-dropping percentage of sales tax.

Home rule charter review is a powder keg that gets lit every ten years, usually producing smoke and fizzle, a few sparks. But it can do much more, explosively more.


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Past Columns

September 9, 2014

PDA DOA: Bellingham City Council returned from their August recess to a market analysis for economic development downtown of sufficient gloom to probably doom the Bellingham Public Development Authority.

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September 2, 2014

RAILROADED!: Bellingham and Whatcom County got a bitter taste of the future last month when track work along the BNSF main line temporarily closed the city’s most popular park. Boulevard… more »

August 26, 2014

NEW DIRECTIONS: Bellingham City Council President Cathy Lehman will resign her elected office at the end of this year, perhaps triggering upheaval in one of the city’s most engaged and… more »

August 19, 2014

ON THE SPECTRUM: In a convoluted and disappointing process, Bellingham City Council last week overrode the objections of vocal critics and amended the Sunnyland neighborhood plan to include a variety… more »

August 12, 2014

INLAND EMPIRE: In a low-stakes, low turnout primary broadly avoided by progressive voters, Democrats struggled in upper northwest Washington—a fascinating augury into election results in November.

According to the Whatcom… more »

August 5, 2014

WORKING FORESTS: Every political scrap produces winners and losers; and it is a measure of the quality of winners that they leave aside the mandates, the agendas, the vendettas and… more »

July 29, 2014

WHEN FRINGE GOES MAINSTREAM: Ballots continue to flow in the August Top Two primary, a queer beast with an unusual pedigree that need not necessarily produce a candidate each from… more »

July 22, 2014

DICKERING DOCKS: As Cherry Point races to become the energy export mecca of the Pacific Northwest, efforts are simultaneously underway that could cripple Whatcom’s ability to economically benefit from that… more »

July 15, 2014

‘WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE:’ If doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, what does hearing the same thing repeatedly and thinking it means… more »

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