The Gristle

All Thumbs on the Scale

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

ALL THUMBS ON THE SCALE: It’s early days and the official filing date is still weeks away, but this year’s local election season is shaping up to be robust, complex, fractious—and potentially earth-shaking.

As a teaser of the shaking, the normally quiet Whatcom Conservation District board of supervisors election ended in an upset after sustainability advocate and fish biologist Alan Chapman in current counts defeated the well-funded and well-organized electioneering of the incumbent board chair and fire-breathing property rights advocate Larry Helm by a little more than 30 votes. The five-member board of supervisors oversees the district, which is chartered to develop and implement programs that protect and conserve soil, water, farmland, rangeland, woodland, wildlife, energy and other natural resources in Whatcom County. The election, managed internally by WCD staff, holds a low profile, with many ballots submitted to the WCD office on the day of election. This year, thousands of ballots were received. The outcome speaks to the organization and resolve of progressives who sought to refocus the district’s activities toward practical issues of sustainability and low-impact farming. It also teases—as special elections have across the country—a powerful surge of tidal energy and interest in outcomes, a Blue Wave, that could sweep elections in November.

As for the robust, complex and fractious, Whatcom Democrats at their general meeting this month struggled to come to terms with how they will handle the super-abundance of challenges and challengers that are already lining up to face off in an August primary. Do they endorse? Do they not endorse?

The problem is particular and peculiar to Democrats. Republicans, much more autocratic and top-down in their party organization, rarely field more than one challenger in a local election. The nature of the state’s Top Two primary system rewards them, as the left splits its organizational energy among an array of candidates while conservative voters coalesce, guaranteeing them a slot in the general election.

The problem is well framed and illustrated in the left-leaning 40th Legislative District.

Representative Kris Lytton will not seek reelection, having successfully championed the effort to fully fund public education, the signature issue on which she originally campaigned. Her open seat has already drawn two Democratic challengers from Bellingham—Whatcom County Council chair and business owner Rud Browne, and clean energy policy analyst and activist Alex Ramel. More Democrats may seek the seat from outside Bellingham. Meanwhile, it is quite likely only one Republican will run. And even in a district as liberal as the 40th, odds are the Republican will squeak through in the Top Two.

Similarly, in the 42nd District, Tim Ballew II, the former chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council (the governing body of Lummi Nation) who is holding an interim seat on Whatcom County Council, will soon announce that he will challenge incumbent Republican Senator Doug Ericksen. Ballew must first square off against Pinky Vargas, the Bellingham City Council representative who announced her interest in the position earlier this spring. Both are fine candidates, but even more certainly they will bruise one another in an August primary while Ericksen glides through to the general election in November.

In a ferment of “robust interest” in running, the problem and question for Democrats is, Do they endorse in primaries? Do they not endorse in primaries?

In an age of ubiquitous social media, party endorsements are perhaps not so critical in elections as they once were. But endorsements do serve to “pick favorites,” to weight which candidates best represent the party and its goals, and to channel and direct campaign energy and fundraising to candidates best suited to move on in the general election. Endorsements are a tool a party has to crown their own, and rally around their own.

Yet for many young Democrats, who think the party should be fiercely challenged from the left, “picking favorites” is exactly the concern: A mechanism that keeps the old guard from yielding ground to the reformers.

It’s no secret the interplay between the “outsiders” and the “insiders,” the reformers and what they seek to reform, is as old as the modern Democratic Party. But the concern of young Dems is a legitimate one: No thumb on the scales.

After some chaotic process and messy direct democracy that angered some in attendance, local Dems ended up on the issue pretty much as they’ve been for the past several years: No endorsement unless you can convince a supermajority present at an endorsement meeting to make that selection: A thumb may be placed on the scale, but only if the thumb was oversized in the first place.

The platform adopted by Whatcom Democrats at their March 24 County Convention is a heady and energizing one, cap-stoned by unanimous support for universal healthcare in Washington, as well as broad economic and election reform.

That Big Blue Wave is certainly possible. But Democrats are going to have to fight hard for it, and they can’t be sloppy. They have to match the right candidate to the right race, the candidate best suited to inspire large numbers of voters in the general election.

Which leads to the second piece of the Democrats’ dilemma.

With so many excellent candidates ready to knock one another about in an August brawl, meanwhile some positions have drawn no challengers at all.

Both lower House seats in the 42nd District have no challengers at this point. And even more alarmingly, the seat on County Council currently held by Ballew has drawn no interest among progressives at this point.

It’s early days. But in their enthusiasm to run to the left of one another, Dems should not forget that the right is still fully functional and largely in control of local politics and elections. Sloppy can take the sloshy out of the Blue Wave.

Past Columns
Too Little, Too Late

September 19, 2018

Open Secret Disclosed

September 12, 2018

Consent of the Governed

September 5, 2018

Let the People Decide

August 29, 2018

3-in-1 Oil

August 22, 2018

A Deeper Dive

August 15, 2018

Blue Wave Stalls Offshore

August 8, 2018

Mountains of Our Efforts

August 1, 2018

Vote

July 25, 2018

Trust Is Reciprocal

July 18, 2018

Pressure in the Bottle

July 11, 2018

Sharing the Pain

July 4, 2018

A Supreme Shifting

June 27, 2018

The Costs of Failure

June 6, 2018

Thumb on the Scales

May 30, 2018

Bungle in the Jungle?

May 23, 2018

Heating Up

May 16, 2018

Home Run

May 9, 2018

Events
Today
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Vendovi Tours

10:00am|Vendovi Island

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bringing Memoir Alive

5:00pm|Village Books

Art Uncorked!

5:00pm|Windows on the Bay

Jazz Jam

5:30pm|Illuminati Brewing

Pub Run

6:00pm|BBay Running

Healthy Meal Planning

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Cruisin' the Fossils Coastline with Ray Troll

7:00pm|Village Books

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Zambia Travelogue

7:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

La Cage Aux Folles

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Sh*tty Ted Talks

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Wind in the Willows

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Trove Web
Tomorrow
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Vendovi Tours

10:00am|Vendovi Island

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

La Cage Aux Folles

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

The Wind in the Willows

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Fall Garage Sale

9:00am|Skagit Valley Fairgrounds

Coffee Tasting

3:00pm|Camber Cafe

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Museum Advocates Tag Sale

5:00pm|Syre Education Center

Family Story Night

6:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Commercial Street Night Market

6:00pm|Commercial Street

International Day of Peace Community Dinner

6:00pm|Majestic

Farm Tunes

6:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Banned Books Week Kickoff

6:30pm

John Whelan, Hayley Richardson

7:00pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

African Children's Choir

7:00pm|Leopold Crystal Ballroom

Anna's Home

7:00pm|Village Books

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Courthouse Comedy

8:00pm|Territorial Whatcom County Courthouse

Internetland

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Trove Web Village Books
Saturday
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Vendovi Tours

10:00am|Vendovi Island

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

The Wind in the Willows

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

La Cage Aux Folles

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Fall Garage Sale

9:00am|Skagit Valley Fairgrounds

Museum Advocates Tag Sale

5:00pm|Syre Education Center

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Internetland

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

American Legion Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #154

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Queens of Dirt Mountain Bike Race

9:00am| Lake Padden Park

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverwalk Park

Twin Sisters Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner, North Fork Library

Skagit Valley Giant Pumpkin Festival

9:00am|Christianson's Nursery

Community Cider Press

10:00am|Chuckanut Center

Kitchen Cutlery Class

10:00am|Blaine Library

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

From Weapons to Art

10:00am| Gentry House

Lynden Farmers Market

10:00am|Centennial Park

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am| Depot Market Square

Museum Day Live!

10:00am|Whatcom Museum, Lynden Pioneer Museum, Skagit County Historical Museum, and Bellingham Railway Museum

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Fall Into the Holidays

10:00am|Birch Bay Activity Center

Sundial and Mural Celebration

12:00pm|Ciao Thyme

Fall Bunting Workshop

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Lynden Cemetery Tour

1:00pm|Lynden Cemetery

Trial Vineyard Open House

1:00pm|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

The Politics of Conservation

2:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Artist Talk with Allen Moe

4:00pm|i.e. gallery

Kulshan CLT Community Party

5:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Fall Demo Derby

6:30pm|NW Washington Fairgrounds

Lake Memoir

7:00pm|Village Books

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Songs of the Salish Sea

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Official Blues Brothers Revue

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Stories of the Salish Sea

7:30pm| Lummi Island Library

Catching up with Elwood and Jake

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