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.

Alan Doyle
Past Columns
The Raucous Caucus

April 17, 2019

Dragged

April 10, 2019

Edge City

April 3, 2019

Fixing the Fix

March 27, 2019

Halfway Houses

March 20, 2019

New Directions

March 13, 2019

Fire and Ice

March 6, 2019

The Big Short

February 27, 2019

Marina Lacuna

February 20, 2019

New Bites at the Apple

February 13, 2019

Coal Folds

February 6, 2019

Refocusing the Narrative

January 29, 2019

Old Town, Old Story

January 23, 2019

Ranker Unanchored

January 16, 2019

‘Alternative Methods’

January 9, 2019

Top Stories, 2018

January 2, 2019

Et Tu, #MeToo

December 26, 2018

Turn That Corner

December 19, 2018

Events
Today
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Unstable by Design

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Silent Sky

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Tulip Festival Street Fair

10:00am|Downtown Mount Vernon

Spring Book Sale

10:00am|Fire Station #1

Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Genre Legends, Hot Dogs

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Buffett Beach Bash

7:30pm|Anacortes Port Transit Shed

The Coronation of Poppea

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Mainstage

Tulip Pedal Bike Ride

7:30am|La Conner Elementary School

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

COB Earth Day Work Party

9:00am|Fairhaven Park

Fun with the Fuzz

9:00am|Bellingham Police Department

Bellingham Bay Bocce Tournament

9:30am|Bellingham Sportsplex

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Kiwanis Kids Egg Hunt

10:00am|Maiben Park

Cedar Dust Trail Ride and Party

10:00am|Boundary Bay Brewery

Plant Sale and Easter Events

10:00am|BelleWood Acres

Community Easter Egg Hunt

11:30am|Bellingham at Orchard

Obrigado Wines Tasting

2:00pm|Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants

Jesse Otero Art Talk

4:00pm|i.e. gallery

Splinter Ideas, Halibut on the Moon

4:00pm|Village Books

Artist Workshop

6:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Skagit Valley College Drag Show

7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Problem Child and Ten Miles Wide

8:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Blue collar comedy in Edison

8:00pm

Salsa Night

9:00pm|Cafe Rumba

Village Books
Tomorrow
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Tulip Festival Street Fair

10:00am|Downtown Mount Vernon

Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Plant Sale and Easter Events

10:00am|BelleWood Acres

Sedro-Woolley Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Egg Hunt and Easter Brunch

10:00am|Boundary Bay Brewery

Bellingham Handmade Market

11:00am|Goods Nursery and Produce

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Barkley Village Egg Hunts

11:00am|Barkley Village

Easter Brunch

11:00am|Ciao Thyme Commons

Nina Gerber and Chris Webster

2:00pm|Nancy's Farm

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Village Books
Monday
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Earth Day Sustainable Food Fair

11:00am|Viking Union 565

Plant Diagnostic Clinics

4:30pm|Bellingham Public Library

Before the Flood

5:30pm|Pickford Film Center

Women's Backpacking Round Table Discussion

5:30pm|REI

Swing Dancing Classes

6:00pm|Presence Studio

Healthy Desserts

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Student Poetry & Art Showcase

6:30pm|Burlington Public Library

Poetrynight

7:00pm|Alternative Library

Salish Sea Early Music Festival

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

Wild & Scenic Film Festival

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Guffawingham

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

see our complete calendar »

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Village Books Neil Berg Trove Web