News

Left of Larsen

Liberal district receives a 
Green challenge

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Here’s a bold prediction for the 2018 elections: Democrat Rick Larsen of Everett will keep his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

This may elicit a collective groan from progressives in the 2nd Congressional District, who have maligned Larsen for catering to corporations and the military. They point to his campaign donors: In this latest cycle, three-fourths of his contributions have come from major corporate and union political action committees. The list includes Amazon, Weyerhaeuser, Boeing, several airlines and their pilots, and even SSA Marine, would-be developers of the Cherry Point coal terminal.

One flashpoint for progressives was Larsen’s support of the Trans Pacific Partnership. They criticized the international trade agreement for being developed in secret, and for shortchanging workers’ rights and the environment. President Trump defused this issue by withdrawing the United States from the TPP shortly after taking office.

If there’s a bright spot in the 2nd District for progressives, it may lie with Green Party candidate Stonewall Jackson “Stoney” Bird. Given the various outcasts and also-rans who are in the race with Larsen and Bird, the resident of Bellingham’s York neighborhood may have the inside track to survive the primary and go head-to-head with Larsen in November.

Larsen, 52, has had a virtual lock on his district ever since it was redrawn following the 2010 census. That year, during a Republican takeover of the House spurred by the rise of the tea party, Larsen had to sweat a close win over longtime political rival John Koster. The Republican Party machine went all in to support Koster after he garnered more votes than Larsen in the August primary. Koster’s campaign raised more than $1,000,000—still only half of Larsen’s take. Buoyed by late returns counted in the days after the election, Larsen ended up defeating Koster by 2 percentage points.

The 2nd District was altered significantly after 2010, in a redistricting process that openly aspired to protect both parties’ incumbents. Prior to redistricting, Larsen represented all of Whatcom and Skagit counties, and almost all of Snohomish County (in addition to San Juan and Island counties, and a small corner of King County). Now, Larsen’s district includes only the western, more urban fringes of Snohomish and Skagit counties, and the southwest corner of Whatcom County, terminating at Bellingham. (San Juan and Island counties remain in the 2nd District.) Larsen no longer needs to woo voters in places like Lynden, Concrete, and Monroe, and the result has been an uninterrupted string of no-contest elections in the 2nd District. After 2010, Larsen has never gotten less than 60 percent of the vote.

During this decade, the Republican challenger who survived the primary to face Larsen each even-yeared November has gotten less and less help from his party and its cadre of campaign donors. After Koster’s $1,121,000 in contributions in 2010, Dan Matthews in 2012 received $285,000. Then came B.J. Guillot, 2014, with $9,000. Finally, Marc Hennemann, in 2016, reported zero campaign contributions.

The good news for Republicans heading into 2018 is that it can’t get any worse. Except maybe it can.

Nobody who filed to run against Larsen last week identified unequivocally with the Republican Party. The closest thing the GOP has to a candidate in the 2nd District is Uncle Mover, aka Mike the Mover (yes, that’s his legal name), who said on his filing form that he preferred “Moderate GOP Party,” which means whatever Mr. Mover wants it to mean. In our state’s top-two primary, which operates outside of party control, candidates can state no party preference, or run as a Whig, or make up their own party. It’s a safe bet Uncle Mover will not be getting any phone calls from the Republican National Committee.

Besides Bird and Mover, here are the other challengers in Washington’s 2nd District:

Collin Carlson (D). The only Democrat other than Larsen in the race, Carlson faces an uphill battle. The 26-year-old pleaded guilty last fall to attempted theft after obtaining car insurance after a crash, then claiming the collision on his new policy.

Gary Franco (Independent). The Lopez Island farmer sued San Juan County in 2009 for requiring a $50-a-day permit for street vendors. He has run for San Juan County Commissioner as a Republican.

Brian Luke (Libertarian). Luke’s stances are Libertarian bread-and-butter: reduce the national debt, stop making war, end the federal prohibition on marijuana.

Like some of Larsen’s other challengers, Bird has run for public office but has never won an election. He got 31 percent of the vote in a Mount Vernon City Council race in 2005. He also missed the cut in the 2014 election for Whatcom County Charter Review Commission. Nineteen candidates ran for five seats from the old District 1. Bird finished 15th.

On the plus side, Bird was secretary of People for Skagit Transit, which ran a successful campaign in 2008 for a sales tax increase intended to avoid service cuts in the face of rising fuel prices. As a citizen speaking to the Whatcom Charter Review Commission in 2015, Bird drew support from both conservatives and progressives for his proposal to change elections in Whatcom County to a proportional-representation system, in which voters would rank all candidates on the ballot, rather than voting for just one. His proposal fell one commission vote short of getting on the November 2015 ballot for Whatcom voters to consider.

In Bellingham political circles, Bird may be most well known for his lead role in Coal Free Bellingham’s 2012 citizen initiative to ban the transport of coal through the city. The initiative, which received enough signatures to qualify for the city ballot, also would have established a Community Bill of Rights that would have elevated the rights of nature over those of corporations. The Bellingham City Council anticipated legal challenges if the initiative were to pass, and they got a judge to issue an injunction blocking the measure from the November 2012 ballot.

All these defeats, yet Bird, 73, is entering what historically has been a multi-million-dollar campaign without flinching—and without anything approaching a million dollars.

Bird paid the $1,740 filing fee on Fri., May 18, but other than that, he said, “I don’t see a lot of expenses.”

“You don’t have to spend a lot of money on campaigns these days because of social media. It’s all free,” he said.

Bird said his campaign, from Bellingham to Brier, also will rely on support from the various cells of the Green Party in the district. He has already been active in Everett, doorbelling and appearing at a farmers market.

Bird said this latest political foray was prompted by his friend Scott Thompson. The fellow member of the Green Party of Whatcom County asked him to challenge Larsen. Bird and Thompson have worked together on an investigation into the collapse of the twin towers and 7 World Trade Center during 9/11.

“What is crystal clear is that the three towers at the World Trade Center were not brought down by airplanes or fires,” Bird said. He pointed out that journalists on live TV at the time even said the collapses looked like “controlled demolition” but then never brought up the idea again.

Suggest to Bird that this idea is easily dismissed as a conspiracy theory, and he’ll tell you the CIA coined “conspiracy theory” as a pejorative after the Warren Report came out, to discredit alternative theories about John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Mainstream media is complicit in the coverup.

Progressives who still have a weakness for the “imperialistic deceptions of the corporate media” (to borrow a phrase from Thompson’s Green Party bio) can get behind Bird’s policy line. It’s lifted straight from the Progressive Change Institute’s Poll of Likely 2016 Voters. (https://act.boldprogressives.org/survey/pci_bigideas_poll_results/) The poll showed that voters overwhelmingly supported ideas like universal preschool, giving students the same low-interest rates enjoyed by banks, a robust public health care program, and an end to gerrymandering.

For Bird, a redistricting process that openly admits to protecting incumbents qualifies as gerrymandering.

“What underlies this list (the Progressive Change Institute poll) is gerrymandering,” Bird said. “If Congress weren’t as comprehensively gerrymandered as it is, all of this would pass, and we’d get out of all the wars we’re waging.”

I baited Bird with an easy opportunity to bash our sitting president. If you win, I said, and Trump calls you into a one-on-one meeting, what will you say to him?

Bird didn’t waver. “I’d show him this,” Bird said, pointing to the Progressive Change Institute list. “Some of this requires a lot of funding, and the things we’re spewing money out for is wars. We have 800 military bases outside the borders of the United States. The nearest competitor in that sphere is Russia, which has two, both in Syria.”

Bird has the credentials to go toe-to-toe with the president on policy issues.

Although he goes by Stoney, Bird is eschewing the moniker for this campaign, to avoid any associations with smoking pot. He’s using his full, given name: Stonewall Jackson Bird. The original Stonewall Jackson was a Confederate general who never lost a battle during the Civil War. Bird isn’t named after him; rather, his name comes from a World War II general who himself was named after the Confederate general. Bird’s father served under the World War II-era Stonewall Jackson, who died in Texas during a training operation. Bird’s father accompanied the general’s coffin on a train to his final resting place, in New York state. Then he went off to Europe, sending a cable to his pregnant wife: “If it’s a boy, call him Stonewall.”

Bird’s first life was spent as an in-house attorney for Mobil Oil and Harris Corporation, a defense contractor that, among other things, made miniaturized tracking systems for missiles. Bird was based in England, working on deals for Harris in Europe in the late 1980s.

“Then my midlife crisis struck,” Bird said.

He moved in 1990 to the Skagit Valley, where his wife at the time had family. He lived off his savings, figuring he would take six months off and return to the corporate world. He never did.

Bird passed Washington’s bar exam and took what for him were small legal jobs, including work for a Bellingham biodiesel startup. He moved from Skagit County to Bellingham in 2011 to participate in Coal Free Bellingham.

Will Bird’s latest political adventure be just as fruitless as Bellingham’s Community Bill of Rights? As quixotic as his campaign for Congress may be, Bird is intent on getting his message out to voters, maybe even all the way into November. It’s fair to say his message will appeal to some of them:

“I want to be able to say that the people we elect should actually stand up for the people who elected them.”

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