Common Threads Northwest spoke with Kathy Kershner, who is running for Whatcom County Council District 4.
CTNW: Why are you running for election to this position, and why do you believe that you are qualified to run for this position?
Kathy Kershner: I believe our rural and small-town communities have not had a voice on the county council for far too long. Small towns like Lynden, Sumas, Everson and Nooksack are often overlooked by the county council. I was elected to serve on the council in 2009 and was subsequently elected by my fellow council members to chair the council from 2012-2014. I know what the job entails and how the council works. I’ll be able to hit the ground running on day one to help find solutions to the many critical issues our county is facing. I am a retired naval officer. I served 22 years in the United States Navy. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Hawaii, I worked my way to be a part owner of a multi-million-dollar social service agency supporting people with developmental disabilities to live independently in their communities. I administered 19 contracts in Whatcom, Skagit, Island, Snohomish and King Counties, supervised over 90 employees and supported over 800 clients. I have run my own small business since 2003 evaluating programs that support people with disabilities in our communities.
CTNW: What do you believe is the county's biggest financial challenge, and how should it be addressed?
Kathy: Our infrastructure and the improvements needed. We need a new jail. We have several county buildings that are old and have served their purpose. We keep putting good money into fixing and updating them when I think we would be better off financially in the long run if we put our money into building something for the future.
CTNW: How best can Whatcom County build our tax base?
Kathy: Our tax base typically has grown as people have moved here and purchased homes. If we want to preserve our tax base, we should stop trying to shut down the industries at Cherry Point. The industries at Cherry Point and all the support services are a huge contributor to our tax base, and instead of working to harm those industries that pay for a large chunk of our government services, we should be working to encourage them. In addition, there is industrial land at Cherry Point that could be developed, and we should have a permitting process that allows and encourages new and existing businesses to come and stay in Whatcom County. We need to be more business friendly.
CTNW: I know you mentioned Cherry Point. What about farming?
Kathy: Of course, we need to support our farmers. We need to listen to what they are saying about the challenges they are experiencing. And to do that, we need to have farmers on the Agricultural Advisory Board. I recently took a tour to the raspberry fields and found out some of the significant challenges the growers face. They are working with tight margins, weather can make or break them, huge investments are made into the equipment to harvest and process the berries and they deal with pest management. Our dairy farmers have been under assault by a fake 1EPA advertising campaign that led people to believe, incorrectly, that dairy farms were polluting the rivers and streams. This false campaign has caused several dairies to go out of business or sell because they did not want to deal with the hassle of over-reaching government interference anymore.
CTNW: What do you believe the county is spending too much time and money on, and inverse, what have they not spent enough time and money on?
Kathy: I think the county council wasted $150,000 of taxpayer money when they hired an activist Seattle firm to come up with comprehensive plan amendments that would make it impossible for our Cherry Point industry to survive in Whatcom County. We are in an economic boom thanks to President Trump’s economy and governments all over the country are seeing their coffers fill as a result of that. I think our county should be planning for the eventual rainy day when the economic cycle shifts as it eventually will. In the meantime, we should be taking advantage of low interest rates to secure a bond to build a new Community Justice Facility. We need a new jail and sheriff’s department and we need a place where services can be delivered to those in the justice system who need counseling and substance abuse treatment.
CTNW: How do you believe the county is doing with the balance of infrastructure improvements and controlling borrowing costs to achieve that?
Kathy: We should be taking advantage of the booming economy and low interest rates to borrow to replace aging infrastructure and make improvements. I will support a County Executive who comes with a well-thought-out plan to do this.
CTNW: Homelessness is an issue in the city of Bellingham, but it's also pushing out into the rural county area. How best can the county help to address homelessness and poverty?
Kathy: Homelessness and poverty are multi-level complexities. I don’t think there is a "one size fits all" solution to these problems, but there are things our county can do to help. When the urban growth areas around Bellingham were reduced in 2009, the city lost the ability to add 4500 homes to their inventory. And over the last decade, Bellingham has failed to address their share of the housing need experienced in Whatcom County. I believe it is critical that we plan for the people we know will come here, not stick our heads in the sand for a decade and then be surprised when there is not enough affordable housing for everyone who lives in Whatcom County. As a representative for District 4, I'm running to protect the small-town character of towns like Lynden, Sumas, Everson, and Nooksack so that they don't become sprawling bedroom communities to Bellingham.
CTNW: And with regards to the poverty issue, how do you foresee that the county may have any role in helping to alleviate—you know, as you said, you have homelessness but then you also have affordability issues. Is there a way that the county can help to address that?
Kathy: The county can and should be pro-business and should work to support development of jobs that pay family wages.
CTNW: Could you see a connection between housing availability, housing affordability, business growth, and jobs?
Kathy: Absolutely! When our economy is great, businesses are more willing to take risks, more people are hired, more money is flowing through the community and into people’s pockets. But to have a great economy continue, business must be able to hire good people and they need a place to live. When there is no available housing, businesses look elsewhere. They are not going to invest in our community if there is no place for their employees to live.
CTNW: How do you believe that the county can contribute to strengthening communities and neighborhoods? Does it have a place in that, a role?
Kathy: By ensuring we live in safe communities. One of the responsibilities of the county is to provide law enforcement. We have a robust Sheriff’s office with dedicated deputies. I fully support our local law enforcement efforts.
CTNW: The City of Bellingham will consider a recommendation by the Climate Action Committee to create an ordinance that the city would have all new housing and buildings fossil free. And they are currently, through the Climate Action Committee, considering that same mandate to buyers of existing buildings and homes, to be retrofit to power from fossil fuels at the time they are sold. So, what does that mean to you? How realistic is their timeline for accomplishing that? And what do you believe that's going to cost the residents here?
Kathy: I think this is over-reaching and completely unrealistic. I would never support a policy like this as a county council member. There has been zero research as to the effects of a policy like this, both positive and negative. I believe it will drive up the cost of housing in Bellingham and push more people into the county and small towns or onto the streets.
CTNW: What do you see as the county's role to create more opportunities for young adults? And by young adults, I mean high school graduates, those kids coming out of our technical colleges, Whatcom Community [College], and Western.
Kathy: Working in a brewery or coffee shop is a great first job for a young adult but we need more family-wage jobs and affordable housing options so that our young people can afford to live here. My son and his young family are the perfect example. Both he and his wife are working full time jobs, but between housing costs, medical insurance costs, and daycare, they cannot make ends meet. He is lucky because he has family to help, but many don’t. I really don’t know how some are making it work.
CTNW: What do you believe is the county's biggest economic development opportunity, untapped economic development opportunity?
Kathy: The Port property in Bellingham and the industrial zoned property at Cherry Point. The Lummi Nation has some untapped economic development opportunity off Slater Road. To get a little philosophical, I believe our biggest untapped development opportunity are our children and those who come after us. They will be the innovators of the 21st century, they will bring solutions our generation never thought of, they will need jobs and a place to live, they will inherit the long-term consequences of the decisions we make today.
CTNW: So, what basic services need improvement, and in that I would like to include water. We've all followed the water issue with the rural area, and know that even though the time has passed by, do you see the county as having a role in or an opportunity to help facilitate a positive outcome for the rural private well owners in regards to water; and just water overall for farming, industry, rural life?
Kathy: I think we need a comprehensive code-scrub. We have conflicting, obscure, confusing regulations that are left up to the interpretation of the person standing at the counter at Planning and Development. No one is served by regulations that are confusing and not clear. All in all, I think the county staff do their jobs very well. To answer the water question - There is a definite agenda to meter all rural wells and I believe that is why the Department of Ecology is involved.
CTNW: Do you think there's an opportunity that a new council, that you could foresee that—getting re-engaged in that project?
Kathy: Yes, the problem we have now is the council is so one-sided in its decision making. Having more balance on the council will lead to more discussion, new ideas and compromises being made rather than a one-size fits all approach. As always, 4 votes rule and 5 votes are a veto-proof super majority (which we have now) but having two or three more voices on the council who don’t vote in lock step with the current majority will benefit the entire county.
CTNW: What do you believe that the county can do or is doing for improving environment and parks?
Kathy: One thing the county can do to protect and improve the environment is to recognize that our oil refineries produce energy under the strictest standards in the world and do so using the best available science to reduce pollution. Continuing the ill-advised war of fossil fuels in our county will ensure that our energy is produced oversees in countries that don’t care about pollution and sound environmental practices. Another more practical thing that can be done by all governments in the county would be to do a better job synchronizing the flow of traffic, so vehicles are not sitting idling at stop lights wasting fuel.
CTNW: Do you think that those S-curbs, do you think that that helped or hurt traffic?
Kathy: I think they hurt traffic, but they may help safety by reducing head on collisions.
CTNW: And bringing that back, that is part of an improvement to the environment, to have less cars sitting there idling?
Kathy: Yes, absolutely, because idling vehicles are just wasting gas.
CTNW: And then as far as parks: is there anything that the county can do improve the existing parks that we have, or do we need more parks?
Kathy: I think we have enough acreage dedicated to parks. The parks department works with a budget, and part of that is for maintaining and improving park infrastructure. We have some of the most beautiful parks in the country.
CTNW: Basically, you're saying that the level of service is good and you'd like to keep it there?
Kathy: I believe it is.
CTNW: So what style of leadership will you bring to the council, and what do you believe that it needs in terms of leadership?
Kathy: I will be a council member who truly listens to the people and I will seek out information, just like I did before. I also think it is important to make sure people understand what is going on in their government and I pledge to work hard to ensure people know what is happening. It is unfortunate that so many people have lost faith in the council. They see the council sitting there, with their minds made up, just going through the actions of pretending to listen to people and then voting to advance their pre-determined agenda. It’s sad and it’s wrong. That's not what our county council is supposed to be doing. I'd like to change that. I would like to change it back to a council for the people of Whatcom County.
CTNW: Governor Inslee recently declared the State of Washington a "sanctuary state." So what does that mean to you, in regard to our local compliance on this issue, and do you agree or disagree with it, that we are a sanctuary state?
Kathy: Sanctuary state for illegal immigrants?
Kathy: I disagree with sanctuary declarations by government officials. We have a constitution we need to follow. We have laws; we have immigration laws. And if they are not working, then we have a Congress in Washington D.C. that should be doing their job to change law so that it does work. Declaring sanctuary states or cities is not the answer to the problem. Declaring a sanctuary state is Governor Inslee's weak attempt to circumvent the law. We need immigrants to come to our country, but they must come through the proper channels, and they must come legally. I have sympathy and empathy for people who are leaving a bad situation and coming to the United States for a better opportunity, but there has to be a proper way to handle that, and I think our representatives in Washington D.C. have really let us down by not doing their job to fund and take care of the problem.
CTNW: Okay, this is your opportunity to share with us something that you wish we had asked you about.
Kathy: The county council’s job is to improve the quality of life for Whatcom County residents, not solve world problems. As a resident from the heart of District 4, I’ll champion level-headed policies that protect what’s important to our local families, farmers and businesses. I’m endorsed by the Whatcom County Republican Party because they know I’ll say NO to outside interests that want to make it more difficult for our farmers to compete, prevent local businesses from thriving, increase housing costs for local families, and harm family-wage jobs and limit our access to economic success. I’m endorsed by all six Whatcom County small town mayors because they know I will fight to preserve our small-town character, traditional values and rural lifestyle. I’m endorsed by the Deputy Sheriff’s Guild, Whatcom 7 Firefighters and former County Prosecutor, Dave McEachran, because they know I believe ensuring the safety of our local community should be the very first obligation of every elected leader. I’m endorsed by the Laborer’s union because they know I will never let outside special interests threaten their jobs. The Washington State Farm Bureau has endorsed me because they know I will stand up and be a real voice for farmers in District 4. I’m endorsed by County Executive, Jack Louws, County Councilmember, Tyler Byrd, and former Councilmember, Sam Crawford, because they have faith in my ability and know I have the experience to hit the ground running on day one to begin representing your interests on the Council.
You can find out more about Kathy Kershner and her campaign at votekershner.nationbuilder.com.