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.

FCC Advent
Past Columns
Paradigms in Collision

November 28, 2018

Leftover Turkey

November 21, 2018

The Divisions Between Us

November 14, 2018

The Map is the Territory

November 7, 2018

Climate Kids

October 31, 2018

What The Market Won’t Bear

October 24, 2018

As Above, So Below

October 17, 2018

As Below, So Above

October 10, 2018

A Civil Disagreement

October 3, 2018

Zombie Pipeline

September 26, 2018

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

Events
Today
The Giving Tree

10:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Cook It and Book It

3:30pm|Lynden Library

Bellingham Mysterians

4:00pm|Village Books

Women's Snowshoeing Basics

6:00pm|REI

All-Paces Run

6:00pm|Fairhaven Runners

Bellingham Reads

6:30pm|Bellingham Public Library

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Books on Tap

7:00pm|North Fork Brewery

Comedy Open Mic

7:30pm|Shakedown

Amahl and the Night Visitors

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Village Books
Tomorrow
The Giving Tree

10:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Amahl and the Night Visitors

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Coat Drive

9:00am|Community Food Co-op

Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Lynden Front Streeters

2:00pm|Village Books

Hiking and Beer

5:00pm|Growlers Keep

The LIghts of Christmas

5:00pm|Warm Beach Camp

Histories & Mysteries Book Club

6:30pm|Everson Library

Creekside Open Mic

6:30pm|South Whatcom Library

Carols and Old Songs with Evan Ingalls

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

The Mark Taylor Quartet

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Intro to Improv

7:00pm|Improv Playworks

Stomp VoicePlay
Thursday
The Giving Tree

10:00am|Village Books

Coat Drive

9:00am|Community Food Co-op

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

The LIghts of Christmas

5:00pm|Warm Beach Camp

Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Valley Crafters Holiday Bazaar

10:00am|Deming Presbyterian Church

Winter Wear Drive

10:00am|Community Food Co-op

Literacy Council Seeks Volunteers

10:00am

English Country Dancing

1:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Poetry Writing Group

5:30pm|Village Books

Jazz Jam

5:30pm|Illuminati Brewing

White Elephant Incognito Dinner

6:00pm|Ciao Thyme

Ballet Bellingham presents The Nutcracker

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Journey's Christmas

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

A Christmas Carol

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Noel Noir

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

The Naughty List, A Holiday Cabaret

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

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