Alan Rhodes

Election Elucidations

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Every contest on Whatcom County’s Nov. 5 ballot is important, of course, but I want to focus on three of special concern.

Barker vs. Fleetwood, Bellingham Mayor

On the basis of breadth and depth of experience alone, Seth Fleetwood should be elected mayor of Bellingham. He has served two terms on both city and county council and has been a powerful advocate for progressive causes for decades. He was cofounder of the Bellingham Growth Forums and of the Housing Affordability Task Force. He helped organize the Kulshan Community Land Trust and was an early organizer of the Greenways program.

There just isn’t room here to cover his long list of service to the community.

In addition to his exceptional resume, Fleetwood possesses an essential leadership quality: the ability to engage respectfully with people of diverse opinions and find common ground.

I’m not convinced that April Barker shares this quality. On the issue of zoning for affordable housing, for example, she has introduced a note of class warfare into the discussion, including an attack on neighborhood association boards, accusing them of advocating “exclusion” and “privilege,” the language of divisiveness.

At the City Club mayoral forum, when asked about her biggest political mistake, Barker replied, “I’ve gone too far out in front. I have moved too fast. I have forgotten to look back and make sure everybody is moving along.”

This was a telling statement.

It says, in effect, “I know what is best for everybody, but I need to be more patient while waiting for the less enlightened to catch up.” It is the attitude of an ideologue. Ideologues do not make good leaders.

This brought to mind the comment of a friend who had recently attended separate events for both Barker and Fleetwood. He said, “April lectured, Seth listened.”

Sidhu vs. Larson, County Executive

This one is a no-brainer. The exceptionally qualified Satpal Sidhu has experience as a business owner, business executive, exporter, project manager, college dean, as well as experience on the county council. Sidhu holds degrees in business, physics, math and engineering. He is, moreover, a man of calm wisdom and the highest personal integrity. 

I cannot comfortably apply the words “integrity” and “wisdom” to Tony Larson.

Let’s start with integrity. Larson served a single year on Whatcom County Council following a 2010 special election. Voters turned him out one year later. During that short tenure on the council, Larson was secretly working for Clear Ballot Choices, a right-wing PAC that was pushing for a coal terminal at Cherry Point and a redistricting ploy that would have nullified Bellingham’s voice in future county council elections. Larson got caught at this clandestine chicanery and was fined by the Public Disclosure Commission for his ethical transgression.

We want a County Executive who is there to serve the people, not special interests.

And now to wisdom. At a City Club forum, when candidates were asked about ways to reduce gun violence, Larson answered that he carried a concealed weapon, and echoed the NRA soundbite, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

This is a simplistic and discredited theory. That Larson would accept a Wild West fantasy as a reasonable response to gun violence casts grave doubts on his reasoning abilities.

Kershner vs. Estes, County Council District 4

Back in 2017 Kathy Kershner did something so despicable that it should exclude her from consideration in any election she ever enters. Having lost a County Council race to Satpal Sidhu, Kershner launched an attack on the Indian-born Sidhu, publicly questioning his U.S. citizenship and demanding he produce documentation to prove it. It is noteworthy that Kershner did not make a similar request of Council member Rud Browne, who was born in Australia.

This demagoguery was an ugly reflection of the racism and xenophobia that have been infecting the country at the national level. Introducing it into Whatcom County politics was unconscionable.  Kershner should be unacceptable to liberals and conservatives alike.

Fortunately there is a solid alternative in candidate Brian Estes who will bring a lifetime of relevant service to the job, including time as a senior analyst in the U.S. Government Accountability Office. He has spent a career saving taxpayers money and finding innovative solutions to problems. He will apply these talents to such issues as farming, water rights, criminal justice reform and affordable housing. And, unlike Kershner, he will bring a moderate, balanced and humane perspective to the Council.

Alan Rhodes can be reached at

Past Columns
Covidiots Unmasked

July 8, 2020

A Letter to Howard

June 24, 2020

Plague Days

April 15, 2020

Harmony from Discord

March 4, 2020

Mr. Cranky Plans His Year

January 8, 2020

Year-End Housecleaning

December 25, 2019

The Lilliputian Gazette

November 20, 2019

Buying Sedro-Woolley

September 4, 2019

Rescued by Rachmaninoff

July 17, 2019

Hurrahs and Harangues

May 8, 2019

Ranting and Raving

March 6, 2019

Bellingham 2050

February 13, 2019

Looking Backward

January 2, 2019

Joy to the World

December 19, 2018