- by Jim McKinney
Successful business leaders protect their business interests and their employees. One effective way to protect them is to participate in our local democracy. Many business owners have little time to delve into local politics – they are busy – or they lack sufficient information to stay on top of issues. However, local policies can make or break small and large businesses.
Taking the time to be informed, and educating your team on important policies may help identify market opportunities. Actively participating will influence local leaders to avoid bad policies. Understanding changes in regulations, zoning and growth plans are essential for leaders to make informed decisions on new hiring or expansion. Sharing the impact of local policies with employees will help those employees vote in their best interests.
The most impactful political races this November are the County Council and the Port Commission. They will drive the future economic development. Every business leader and hard-working citizen should take the time to participate if they are concerned about their future.
Here are a few things to consider before the Whatcom County general elections:
In 2015, County voters approved changes to how the County Council is elected. Voters approved expanding electoral districts from three to five. They also approved district only voting in the five new districts.
Until this November, all County Council seats were selected in county-wide voting. This gave Bellingham a significant influence in the elections with nearly half the county population. Seven council seats remain overall. Two at-large council seats will still be decided in county-wide votes.
The first district-only voting begins this November. Voters will choose three of four seats on the ballot to represent their concerns: District 1 (South Bellingham,) 2 (North Bellingham,) 3 (Eastern/Foothills). Each district represents about 43,000 people.
The fourth at-large seat represents the entire county, about 216,000 people. Districts 4 (Northeast/Farm,) 5 (Cherry Point/Coast) and the other at-large seat are up for election in November 2019.
These races will directly affect County business growth:
District 1, South Bellingham. The candidates:
- Rudd Browne, incumbent council member.
- Phil Morgan, a retired electrical engineer.
District 2, North Bellingham. The candidates:
- Todd Donovan, incumbent council member.
- Amy Glasser, a social worker, activist.
District 3, Foothills. The Candidates:
- Rebecca Boonstra, Executive Director of the Mount Baker CoC.
- Tyler Byrd, a successful tech business owner.
At-Large, County-wide. The Candidates:
- Barry Buchanan, incumbent council member.
- Mary Kay Robinson, a Relator and former Banker.
Technically, the council seats are non-partisan. However, each incumbent (Browne, Donovan, Buchanan) and Boonstra have the Whatcom Democrats’ endorsement. Morgan has the Whatcom GOP endorsement. Byrd, Robinson and Glasser do not have main-stream political party endorsements at this time. They are running independent.
The Port of Bellingham Commission is the designated economic development agency for the County. The Port Commission has three seats representing the three pre-2015 districts. They are elected in county-wide voting. Two seats are up for election this November.
District 1. The Candidates:
- Michael Shepard, Instructor for Cultural and Environmental Sustainability.
- Dan Robbins, incumbent port commissioner.
District 2. The Candidates:
- Barry Wenger, Department of Ecology Environmental Planner.
- Ken Bell, Owner/President Best Recycling.
Participation in an off-year election is often low. But the winners of these races will dictate the economic future of the County. Businesses should understand what is at stake.
Understandably, many citizens are concerned about protecting the environment and sprawl. Due to these concerns, County officials have approved limited growth policies through restrictive zoning, regulation and moratoriums on key industries in response. Unfortunately, these policies may have unintended consequences on the quality of life and employment opportunities.
In the 2015 Whatcom County general election, about 61,000 people voted of 129,000 registered (47%). In the 2016 Federal election, about 114,000 out of 139,000 registered voted participated (82%). Low turnout ensures many voices and business concerns are not represented in policy.
Our national political dialogue is very divisive. Many people want to avoid politics. The most active and loudest voices are usually heard. They often drown out common sense. Unfortunately, many of those loud voices in Whatcom are against economic growth and our most important economic industries. It is essential to participate.
Local business leaders must be aware of local policies as much as they are aware of their markets – they are interrelated. Employees need to know what will protect their community, their jobs and their quality of life.
Businesses operate in an ever more complex and technical world. Competition is steep. If a business can’t grow, chances of survival are reduced.
Election Day is November 7th. The voter registration deadline is October 9th. Ballots will be mailed on October 18th. All ballots must be mailed or placed in a ballot drop box by November 7th