The Gristle

Pete’s compleat feat

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

PETE’S COMPLEAT FEAT: Pete Kremen continues to surprise and electrify Whatcom County politics. Two weeks after Kremen declared he would not seek another term as county executive, he announced he would instead run for Whatcom County Council’s District 1 against Tony Larson.

“The job will be much less stressful than heading county administration,” Kremen admitted, “but I still have a desire to continue my public service.”

In the late hours of filing week, a number of talented and qualified candidates arrayed against incumbents, with nearly every county position drawing a challenger and a primary opening for the executive. That the executive’s race skews so conservative speaks more about the limits of what it takes to get elected in Whatcom County in 2011 than of the diverse opinions held by its citizens and voters. Casting aside political confines, Pete’s was an inspired decision.

In his annual State of the County address to council last week, the executive laid out a litany of achievements—improvements in health and social services despite tight budgets and a challenging economy, breakthroughs in negotiations with Lummi Nation, and environmental stewardship in the form of cost-effective land acquisitions. A term on County Council might allow Kremen to help tie off a number of items he championed in county administration.

With skills honed both in county office and in the state Legislature, Kremen could add balance to the council’s discussion of land use and perhaps bring Whatcom County more fully into compliance with the goals of the Growth Management Act. His voice would certainly be an important one on Lake Whatcom, as the council crafts the more protective development standards insisted on by the state Dept. of Ecology and promised by the administration. He would help complete important policy work that has languished in the crafting of workable transfer of development rights (TDRs) and purchase of development rights (PDRs) to preserve and protect county resource lands. And Kremen would enthusiastically support the reconveyance of thousands of acres in the Lake Whatcom watershed to spare them from risk of landslide, a transfer he believes in passionately and one that will require a great deal of legislative follow-up to ensure it is both protective and a good value for county taxpayers.

Frankly, Kremen’s candidacy offers a credible and swift end to the career of the council’s most disappointing member, that of Tony Larson.

As we predicted based on his campaign performance, Terrible Tony has been absentee and indifferent to his duties on County Council.

Larson ran on a platform of job creation. Eight months in office, and he has proposed nothing of the sort. Worse, Larson actively fought against the one council action this year that could arguably create jobs in the near term—the assignment of county economic development funds to a program to build affordable housing, a proposal that would help jumpstart a stalled construction industry while moving working families into home ownership. Beyond left and right, the program was supported by both Building Industry Association general contractors and the progressive caucus. Even after all of his specific objections were addressed in revised legislation, Larson still rejected it out of his rigid tea partyist ideology that government can do nothing to help people—so it shouldn’t even try.

In that case, why promise job creation? Why hold public office at all?

Larson’s hostility to government actively threatens jobs in Whatcom County, where one working resident in ten is employed in the public sector.

In employment for the private sector, Larson’s “jobs über alles” focus tipped his hand early on in his unequivocal support of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point. Larson actually broke protocol and probably the law when he docketed a council resolution declaring early support of the coal terminal. Rather, County Council must serve as an impartial, quasi-judicial panel to review the merits of the proposal as it comes forward. Wiser minds struck Larson’s rash resolution from council’s agenda.

“I have to admit,” Kremen said, “I have been very disappointed with Tony. I was encouraged that he came from the business sector. But he doesn’t do his homework and he doesn’t think issues through. His mind is made up, and that is never a good thing when addressing issues as complex as the ones the county routinely faces.”

Responding to public enquiry, the executive last week laid out the broad range of concerns that should inform the council and administration as they scope the environmental impact statement that will guide the permitting process for this project. Those concerns include easing damages to wetlands, air quality, and near-shore habitat; preserving tribal fishing rights; addressing the impacts of increased rail traffic and cargo vessel traffic in Admiralty Inlet; as well as consideration of the harm such a project might do to potentially dozens of multi-million dollar waterfront redevelopment projects throughout the Puget Sound area. Each of these challenges must be given consideration equal to that of job creation. By articulating these concerns, Kremen demonstrates he understands these concerns and would consider them as council deliberates on these issues next year.

When you stack up what the council will be working on over the next 18-to-24 months, Pete Kremen is uncannily one of the best people to assign that task.

While critics express disappointment that Pete’s actions often didn’t match his words in the executive’s chair, words are much more important when it comes to actual policymaking. He deferred, many believe overmuch, to that legislative process. But the council is much more of an effective bully pulpit than the braking action, the adversarial role, the executive’s office must occasionally apply to council hardheadedness. Wise words play an important role; and Whatcom County Council is well served by continuing to hear them.

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