The Gristle

As Above, So Below

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

AS ABOVE, SO BELOW: Election ballots are in the mail—so declare press releases from election officials around the state, including the Whatcom County Auditor’s Office—in what’s being touted as the most important midterm election in a generation. And while every election is important in its own particular way, certainly this election is a critical referendum in numerous and powerful ways.

Something is broken in our representative democracy when Democrats must win nearly everywhere nationally by 8-point majorities to have any hope of clawing back the lower U.S. House of Representatives. The U.S. Senate is virtually out of reach, according to recent electoral models. And the political left and center of this country may very soon have to seriously grapple with the reality that they’re everywhere in the majority and winning elections, but nowhere in power and losing more power with every cycle.

For Washington, the situation is less immediately dire; and we’ve noted before a deepening divide as the Western states are moving their own direction, and having their own conversations distinct from the rest of the country about evolving demographics, economics, public policy and direct democracy.

Voters across the country are about to decide whether to adopt a number of ambitious policies in perhaps the biggest test of progressive ideas before the American public this November. Three states are considering Medicaid expansion. Four are considering marijuana legalization. Voting rights expansions, anti-gerrymandering measures and restrictions on campaign spending are on the ballot in 12 states.

Washington has led the way in all of those efforts, and races ahead even further with other ambitious initiatives.

The state could be the first in the nation to enact a carbon tax. If it passes, Initiative 1631 will impose a fee of $15 per ton of carbon emitted by the state’s largest polluters. The revenue, an estimated $1 billion per year, would be spent establishing clean-energy projects and helping low-income communities affected by climate change.

Recent polling suggests support for I-1631.

Even greater public support is indicated for Washington’s gun control measure, Initiative 1639.

“Aspects of I-1639, such as enhanced background checks and raising the purchase age for semi-automatic firearms from 18 to 21, are components that would set Washington state apart from most states,” the Seattle Times noted in its reporting. “The measure would also require firearms training before a semi-automatic rifle can be purchased; a 10-day waiting period after the purchase of a semi-automatic rifle, and add a class C felony to the books for gun owners whose firearm is accessed by a person prohibited from having a firearm. The class C felony would be the most severe in the nation for a violation of storage laws.”

The greatest margin of public support appears directed at Initiative 940, which would change the legal procedure for prosecuting police officers who kill civilians.

Under Washington’s current law, prosecutors must establish that an officer acted with “evil intent”—a standard almost impossible to prove, leaving the state with some of the worst laws on police accountability in the country. Initiative 940 would raise the bar for police accountability, allowing prosecution of officers who employ deadly force without a reasonable expectation that their lives are in danger. The initiative would require an independent investigation whenever a police officer kills or seriously harms a civilian and mandate de-escalation and mental health crisis training for all officers.

Its passage seems likely, and in any event the state Legislature has already adopted laws that embrace the goals of I-940.

Of course, the race for Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney has itself become a referendum on justice reform and reamins continued commentary on the county’s failure to address rates of incarceration in a deteriorated jail facility.

The possibility of a generational shift in the prosecutors office has electrified local politics, and has had the unintended consequence of drawing attention from other races and issues down ballot.

Among these is the race for the unexpired remainder of Whatcom County Council’s At-Large position. The position was vacated by Todd Donovan when he shifted seats as a result of redistricting, and is held by former Lummi Nation Chairman Tim Ballew II in a temporary appointment.

In a quiet campaign, mild Bellingham progressive Carol Frazey squares off against firebreather Mike Peetoom in what could represent a fundamental shift in the balance of the Council. Certainly the election of Peetoom would further polarize and perhaps paralyze County Council next year.

Council’s continued work is critical as they draft public policy and land-use requirements in response to climate change and fossil fuel export projects.

While Washington is having its own dialogue about federal imperatives, federalism is still at work on the state.

This week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the agency will reopen the environmental review of a proposed Longview coal-export terminal that already has been rejected by the state departments of Ecology and Natural Resources. Developers want the Trump administration to keep alive the Millennium Bulk Terminals project, which would offer a new outlet to export up to 48 million tons of western coal to Asian markets.

The administration is also considering using West Coast military installations or other federal properties to smash open the way for more U.S. fossil fuel exports to Asia in the name of national security, despite opposition from coastal states. The proposal generated a quick backlash as it seeks an end-run around West Coast permitting processes that have rejected private-sector efforts to build new coal ports in their states, a challenge to our own sovereignty.

Thus does the national impact the state and local, although we’re vitally at work to craft our own path. Vote like it is important, because it is.

Past Columns
E Pluribus Unum

May 15, 2019

The Millworks

May 8, 2019

State of the County

May 1, 2019

A Change in Climate

April 24, 2019

The Raucous Caucus

April 17, 2019


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

Upper Skagit Library Photo Contest


Ski to Sea Book Sale

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

Parkinson's Dance Class

11:00am|Ballet Bellingham

Meet a Truck

1:00pm|Bellingham City Hall

English Country Dancing

1:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

SeaFeast Kickoff

5:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Spring Fling with Skagit Women in Business

5:30pm|Grand Willow Inn

Hidden Forest Foray

6:00pm|Sehome Arboretum

Off-Leash Books

6:00pm|Mount Vernon City Library

Spring Soups for the Body and Soul

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Life Between the Pages Dinner Book Club

6:30pm|Evolve Chocolate + Cafe

Birds of the West


Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Birds of the West

7:00pm|Village Books

Play Readings with Dragon Tales Productions

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

House Concert with Wandering Seas


Good, Bad, Ugly

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Trove Web
Upper Skagit Library Photo Contest


Ski to Sea Book Sale

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

Play Readings with Dragon Tales Productions

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Wild Things

9:30am|Cornwall Park

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Peace Vigil

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Fourth Friday Art Walk

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Seaside BBQ

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Salmon Dinner Sail

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Matilda the Musical

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

The Hobbit

7:00pm|Judson Auditorium

Bellingham Community Chamber Orchestra

7:00pm| Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

Improvised Musicals, LOL

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Kids Guide 2019 Trove Web
Upper Skagit Library Photo Contest


Ski to Sea Book Sale

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

Play Readings with Dragon Tales Productions

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Matilda the Musical

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

The Hobbit

7:00pm|Judson Auditorium

Improvised Musicals, LOL

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #154

Mount Vernon Farmers Market2333

9:00am|Riverwalk Park

Concrete Saturday Market

9:00am|Concrete Community Center

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Lummi Island Artists' Studio Tour

10:00am|Lummi Island

Birch Bay Book Sale

10:00am|Birch Bay Beach Park

Birch Bay Kite Festival

10:00am|Birch Bay Beach Park

Designing a Four-Season Hummingbird Garden

11:00am|Christianson's Nursery

Whatcom Memorial Day Parade

12:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Poetry Night with Sara Sutton

7:00pm|Walton Theatre

see our complete calendar »

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