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.

Cash Spell
Past Columns
Napkin Plan

November 15, 2017

Less Wave Than Slosh

November 8, 2017

Statistics of Shame

November 1, 2017

Cashing Out, Cashing In

October 25, 2017

Fire and Water

October 11, 2017


September 27, 2017

Ounce of Prevention

September 20, 2017

Dwelling On It

September 13, 2017

Keeping the Dream Alive

September 6, 2017

A Bridge Too Far?

August 23, 2017

The Missing Middle

August 16, 2017

The Last, Best Solution

August 9, 2017

Fire and Water III

August 2, 2017

Fire and Water II

July 26, 2017

Fire and Water

July 19, 2017

Some Assembly Required

July 12, 2017

Good, Bad, Ugly

July 5, 2017

Zero Hour

June 28, 2017


June 21, 2017

An Existential Triangle

June 14, 2017

Home for the Holidays

5:00pm|Ferndale Events Center

The 39 Steps

7:00pm|Sehome High School Little Theatre

Little Women

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

Peter and the Star Catcher

7:00pm|Squalicum High School

Romeo, You Idiot!

7:30pm|Heiner Theater


7:30pm|Mount Baker High School

Craft Bazaar

9:00am|American Legion Post #43

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Hot Cider & Cool Art

10:00am|Morgan Block Studios

Used Book Sale

10:00am|Everson Library

Red Barn Handpicked Holiday Market

12:00pm|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Holiday Gifts from the Kitchen

3:00pm|Lynden Library, Ferndale Library

It's Where the Sidewalk Ends

6:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

New Music, New Dance

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

The Big Short One-Act Festival

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Bellingham Repertory Dance's Emerge

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Backyard Brawl

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

VFW Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Hall

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Pancake Feed

8:00am|VFW Post 1585

Holiday Bazaar

9:00am|Hillcrest Chapel

Christmas in the Woods

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Acme Elementary School

Turkey Trot

9:00am|Squalicum Creek Park

Climate Reality

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

South Fork Winterfest

10:00am|Van Zandt Community Hall

Fall Gardening

10:00am|Lynden Library

Cheese Fest

10:00am|Everybody's Store

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Rexville Grange Holiday Art Show

10:00am|Rexville Grange

Holiday Farmers Market

10:00am|Port of Anacortes Transit Shed Event Center

Lynden Book Club

10:30am|Everson Library

Salmon Sighting

12:00pm|Haynie Creek

Conquering Writer's Block

2:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Fishboy Holiday Show

2:00pm|FishBoy Gallery

NaNoWriMo and Indie Publishing

3:00pm|Everson Library

Skagit Wine & Beer Festival


Homeless Summit and Cold Weather Giveaway

3:00pm|Maritime Heritage Park

i.e. artists talk

3:30pm|i.e. gallery

Small Works Opening

4:00pm|Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park

Smith & Vallee Artist Talk

4:00pm| Smith & Vallee Gallery

WA 129 Poetry Reading

6:00pm|Maple Hall

Giving from the Heart

7:00pm|Depot Art Center

A Light in the Darkness

7:00pm|Church of the Assumption

Welcome Home Celebration

7:00pm|Village Books

Ruach Consort

7:00pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Eagles Hall

Michael Kaeshammer

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Legends of the Blues V

7:30pm|Byrnes Performing Arts Center

Bellingham Farmer’s Market
Peter and the Star Catcher

7:00pm|Squalicum High School


7:30pm|Mount Baker High School

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Bellingham Repertory Dance's Emerge

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Rexville Grange Holiday Art Show

10:00am|Rexville Grange

Cheese Fest

10:00am|Everybody's Store

Holiday Farmers Market

10:00am|Port of Anacortes Transit Shed Event Center

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Getting in on the act


Sound of Music Singalong

1:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

A Musical Thanksgiving

2:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Harmony from Discord with Whatcom Symphony Orchestra

3:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

The 25th Hour

4:00pm|Village Books

Southside Community Meal

5:00pm|Our Saviour's Lutheran Church

Way North Comedy Showcase

7:00pm|Farmstrong Brewing Co.

Rutie Dornfeld, John Miller

7:00pm|YWCA Ballroom

Village Books Bellingham Farmer’s Market
Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Wander + Camber Beer Dinner

6:30pm|Camber Cafe

Rocks & Gems

7:00pm|Bloedel Donovan Community Building


9:30pm|Green Frog

see our complete calendar »

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