The Gristle

A Creeping Paralysis

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A CREEPING PARALYSIS: Senator Doug Ericksen followed Governor Jay Inslee on to the stage at Western Washington University last week. Inslee met with students on Wednesday to discuss climate change and the need for individuals and local and state leaders to take action. Ericksen followed on Thursday, in a town hall sponsored by Students for Life and Young Americans for Liberty.

The senior Republican of the 42nd Legislative District undercut everything the governor earlier had to say about climate change and the duty of citizens to call for action from their elected leaders. Ericksen was the consummate representative of Cherry Point petroleum interests and—admittedly—the hundreds of people they employ and the hundreds of millions of dollars they supply to the Whatcom County tax base. He was characteristically glib and oleaginous, characterizing climate action as “radical” “extremism,” dismissing the challenges that face an emergent generation.

He is the face of Whatcom County politics.

He cannot be defeated. He cannot be primaried out of office in some future runoff by a more energetic, more effective challenger; and he cannot be eliminated in a general election by someone with a markedly different worldview. He can hold the office as long as he wants—a lifetime appointment to the office.

It doesn’t sound very democratic. But unless something changes it is very likely the future of Whatcom County politics.

Locally and nationally, the two parties have gotten very comfortable with locking in place for themselves safe political districts.

In 1992, there were 103 members of the U.S. House of Representatives elected from what might be called swing districts, those in which the margin in the presidential race was within five percentage points of the national result. By 2016, only 35 such Congressional districts remained.

At the state level, successive redistricting has peeled progressive voters out of the 42nd District and cast their votes south. In the last two election cycles, Republicans have averaged about 55 percent of the vote in the 42nd, the new floor in what was once a highly competitive swing district.

Some of this is the inevitable tide of demographics and population growth, and of the desire to create communities of aligned interest. And while it is hard to make the inevitable better, it is certainly easy to make the inevitable make much worse.

At the most local level, voters shot themselves in 2015 with district-only voting, virtually eliminating the possibility of robust political discourse in the majority of future county elections and locking in place the sorts of paralysis observed at the state and national levels.

Importantly, the outlines of the newly created five districts aren’t the problem. The inability of voters to have influence on any representative outside of their own district is the problem.

We may perhaps glimpse the effects on County Council races in the coming election, but its effects will not be severe. The severity lies in out-years.

Progressive representation for Bellingham districts is secure in this election. Rud Browne’s challenger in South Bellingham was stillborn. In North Bellingham, you probably couldn’t slide a piece of paper between how Amy Glasser or Todd Donovan will vote on issues scheduled to come in front of them on the Council.

The Foothills District 3 is fascinating—politically diverse and swing-y. Based on primary results, the district leans conservative. Which probably signals a coming shift on Whatcom County Council.

The At-Large District is old school, the way elections used to get done, with every voter in the county given a say on outcome.

All local races are “off year” in terms of the energizing effects of presidential politics and turnout, which means they do naturally skew conservative. This year, the lightning rod effect of the Trump administration may change levels of turnout in local elections.

Barry Buchanan has been an able and dependable vote on County Council for the work they’re currently engaged in. His challenger, a charismatic representative of the building industry, Mary Kay Robinson, would certainly erode but not entirely eliminate the plurality of Council support for that work. In other words, Buchanan’s loss would hurt; but Robinson’s presence alone will not change the makeup of county government.

That change happens in out-years.

It happens when Carl Weimer, the architect of so much Council work on land-use, water issues and fossil fuel export imperatives, reaches the end of his term and retires at the end of 2017. And it happens when Ken Mann, another able and dependable vote on Council in pursuit of that work, also retires. It happens if Donovan, perhaps defeated by Glasser in this election, declines to then run or is primaried out in his district in 2019. Then, therefore, we’re looking at a dramatically changed County Council—one that has lost momentum on issues of land-use, of water, of fossil fuel exports. And with district-only voting in place, we’re looking at that changed Council for a long, long time.

We’re looking at a paralyzed Council in out-years, with insufficient numbers to move decisively in any direction.

Voters in this election hold the power to accelerate or delay the paralysis of Council, by keeping its members in place and working toward goals (that will take more than two years to enact) or by eroding their forward momentum.

Council is changing. It will change. And when it does change, it will be a more conservative Council. And it will be very difficult to alter its makeup because most voters won’t be able to touch the majority of its members.

In the future, they’ll all be Ericksens.

Smoking Crow
Past Columns
A Last Ditch Effort

April 18, 2018

Much ADUs About Nothing

April 11, 2018

The Sin of Sinclair

April 4, 2018

All Thumbs on the Scale

March 28, 2018

The Boundaries Between Us

March 21, 2018

Dirty Deeds

March 7, 2018

Sunshine Storm

February 28, 2018

A Public Education

February 21, 2018

Power Play

February 14, 2018

Neutral Ground

February 7, 2018

The Nature of the Emergency

January 31, 2018

‘Fix’ fumbled, punted

January 24, 2018

New Energy

January 17, 2018

Save Our Salish Sea

January 10, 2018

Predictions of Protractions

January 3, 2018

Parsing the Puzzle

December 27, 2017

Camp Kelli

December 20, 2017

Gifts of the Three Magi

December 13, 2017

Utility

December 6, 2017

Events
Today
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Free Appliance Pick-up

10:00am|Whatcom County

Open House Garden Party

12:00pm|Bakerview Road

Hir

7:30pm|DUG Theater

Community Action Poverty Simulations

6:00pm|Cornwall Church

Opera Studio Performances

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center

9 to 5, the Musical

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am| Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Lynden Book Sale

10:00am|Lynden Library

Bellingham Beer Week

10:00am|Throughout Bellingham

Chanticleer Authors Conference

12:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Books and Bites

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Kimono Reception

1:00pm|Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum

Coffee Tasting

3:00pm|Camber Cafe

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Family Story Night

6:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Race to Alaska

6:30pm|Firehouse PAC

Always...Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

Skagit Jazz Night

7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Adrian Legg

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

North Cascades Concert Band

7:30pm|Bellingham, Arlington, Anacortes

Legends and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

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Tomorrow
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Free Appliance Pick-up

10:00am|Whatcom County

Hir

7:30pm|DUG Theater

9 to 5, the Musical

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Opera Studio Performances

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center

Lynden Book Sale

10:00am|Lynden Library

Bellingham Beer Week

10:00am|Throughout Bellingham

Chanticleer Authors Conference

12:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Always...Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

North Cascades Concert Band

7:30pm|Bellingham, Arlington, Anacortes

Legends and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

VFW Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Hall

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Plant Society Field Trip

8:30am|Veder Mountain

3 Cs Plant Sale

9:00am|3 Cs Farms

Earth Day Planting

9:00am|NSEA Nursery

Ferndale City Wide Cleanup

9:00am|Downtown Ferndale

Planting Day

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Fun with the Fuzz

9:00am|Bellingham Police Department

FutureFest

9:30am|Port Transit Shed Event Center

Bellingham Bay Bocce Tournament

9:30am|Bellingham Sportsplex

Earth Day Celebration

10:00am|Edgewater Park

Voting, the Heart of Democracy

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Ponds and Water Features

10:00am|Blaine Library

Community Art Museum Day

10:00am|Whatcom Museum

Arch of Healing Installation Ceremony

10:30am| Bellingham City Hall

Veggie Gardening 101

2:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Healthy Kids Day

2:00pm|Bellingham YMCA

Poetry Circle

3:00pm|Deming Library

Roller Betties Bout

5:00pm|Whatcom Community College

Winterhouse

6:00pm|Village Books

Speakeasy 21

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Rainbow Alliance Drag Show

7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Who will wear the crown?

7:00pm

Blackthorn Band

7:00pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

Nepal Trek Talk

7:30pm|Lummi Island Library

Songs from the Universe

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Brigid Collins Benefit Concert

8:00pm|Walton Theatre

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Sunday
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Free Appliance Pick-up

10:00am|Whatcom County

9 to 5, the Musical

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Opera Studio Performances

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center

Bellingham Beer Week

10:00am|Throughout Bellingham

Lynden Book Sale

10:00am|Lynden Library

Chanticleer Authors Conference

12:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

North Cascades Concert Band

7:30pm|Bellingham, Arlington, Anacortes

3 Cs Plant Sale

9:00am|3 Cs Farms

FutureFest

9:30am|Port Transit Shed Event Center

Dirty Dan Harris Festival

10:00am|Fairhaven Village Green

Earth Day Work Party

11:00am|Viva Farms

Pottery Demos

12:00pm|Good Earth Pottery

Choo Choo Soul

1:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Utopia Earth Day

1:00pm|Utopian Conservation Area

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Chuckanut Chili Cook-off

1:30pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Rambling Unicorn

3:00pm|Everson Library

Seeing Pink

4:00pm|Ciao Thyme Commons

Crowder

7:00pm|Performing Arts Center Mainstage

Pink Martini

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Take Me to Church

8:00pm|Rumors Cabaret

see our complete calendar »

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