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By: Zoe Deal   A candidate forum hosted on campus last Wednesday gave students the opportunity to talk with  candidates for the upcoming local election. The forum, held Oct. 25 and hosted by the Associated Students Representation and Engagement Programs, drew nearly 100 students and community members, who were able to listen to and pose questions to 16 of the 19 candidates.

Illustration by Shannon DeLurio
The Whatcom County jail tax, affordable housing, homelessness and port development were the primary issues brought up in the open mic questions and planned question-and-answer segment. Candidate information and answers to these issues are listed below.   Q: This year on the ballot is a proposed tax which, if passed, would fund the construction of a new jail with 440 beds, an increase from the current size of the Whatcom County jail. Candidates, what is your stance on the proposed jail tax?   Rud Browne County Council District 1 This current at-large member and native Australian chose Whatcom County to be his home 30 years ago. Browne is a Democrat who wants to add new family wage jobs, protect Lake Whatcom and continue to support youth homelessness programs. A: “If you go there, you don’t know if you’re going to come out. If there is a fire, we’d probably lose 150 people because there is no smoke evacuation system. I vote to put the issue on the ballot because we cannot change anything in the current facility.”   Philip J. Morgan County Council District 1 Known as “Clean Phil,” this candidate said he is running for “farmers, refineries and the ability to develop homes.” Morgan has resided in Bellingham since 1970, spending two years at Boeing before embarking on a long career in supervision at the Mobil Oil Refinery. A: “We need a jail. We can’t fix the existing facility. We need to incarcerate criminals that are doing things wrong against our society, but we need a separate facility for those people that are sick. So I voted yes, we still have a little money that’s been spent frivolously, but we need a jail.”   Amy Glasser County Council District 2 Glasser is dedicated to what she calls her personal fight to find alternatives to a new jail and aid the homelessness issue in Bellingham. With a background as a Bernie Sanders supporter and social worker, she stands for both the environment and the disadvantaged, according to her campaign website. A: “We just had a tax a few years ago that got passed, and I don’t see any big new jail. Is this where we want to put the last of our discretionary tax money for public safety for the next 30 years, to build this monstrosity in Ferndale? We need to reduce incarceration for the homeless and the poor.”  
Students pose questions to city and county council candidates. // Photo by Zoe Deal
Todd Donovan County Council District 2 Donovan, a political science professor at Western, is running to strengthen the local economy, find an alternative to the jail proposal and clean the waters of Lake Whatcom and other areas. Donovan is endorsed by Whatcom County Democrats and Planned Parenthood Northwest. A: “I don’t think it’s different enough from what voters rejected just two years ago. The size is too big, I don’t like the location and I think if we build it too big we’ll lose our incentive to keep people out of jail who have not been convicted. We need to spend money on diversion and incarceration-reduction.”   Tyler Byrd County Council District 3 Byrd, a Ferndale High School graduate, started two businesses after working at Trailhead Credit Union. The candidate, who is running Independent, said at the forum, “Politics sucks; it’s rotten, and it’s terrible and it’s all our fault.” According to his website, Byrd plans to bring budgeting experience, energy and passion to the county council. A: “I think every single person has to look at the facts. It’s going to take 51 percent of the vote to move this tax forward. You, as a community, have to give the answer to us.”   Rebecca Boonstra County Council District 3 A resident of Maple Falls, Boonstra is executive director of Mt. Baker Chamber of Commerce. She is passionate about preserving and increasing access to natural wonders of the local area and is endorsed by Washington Conservation Voters and Whatcom County Democrats. A: “I don’t think the jail is fine. I also know that humans are capable of doing horrible things to each other but, at the end of the day, we’re not there. The proposal is too similar to the one we voted on before. I think we need to take a good look and work on assessing people to figure out whether they need to be in jail or not.”   Barry Buchanan County Council At-Large Buchanan is running for re-election to continue his work in water quality, criminal justice reforms and building a sustainable economy. The 4th generation Whatcom resident is current County Council Chair and is affiliated with the Whatcom Democrats. A: “I voted against putting it on the ballot. There are so many things we haven’t considered as far as keeping people out of jail. Some rough ideas we could do are expand book and release procedures, coordinate care for behavioral health, establish a sobering center and create a pretrial release process. Fifty-nine percent of people in jail on a given day haven’t been convicted, they are just awaiting trial. These are a lot of things we could do to bring the size of the jail and price of the jail down.”   Mary Kay Robinson County Council At-Large This candidate has over 20 years of experience in bank management and real estate in Whatcom County. She wants to make housing more affordable, preserve and increase living-wage jobs and protect the community’s quality of life. A: “It’s a complicated issue that’s been going on for years. There are liability issues with the current building that have to be replaced; we have to do something at some point, but we have to decide what’s that going to look like. I believe we need a replacement.”   Q: Former Georgia Pacific site located at Bellingham Bay is a hazardous toxic zone, with heavy industrial use having left contamination in the soil and groundwater across the papermill property. How do you propose to clean up or mitigate the effects of the pollution, and what should be done with the area after this has occurred?   Michael Shepard Commissioner District 1 Shepard came to Bellingham in 1997 to go to Western and has never left. He works as professor of environmental studies and anthropology online and by mail to incarcerated students throughout the California prison system. In this position, Shepard wants to develop a family-friendly waterfront, create living wage jobs, and increase renewable energy use. This candidate is endorsed by Whatcom Democrats and Washington Conservation Voters. A: “Today, we have a wonderful opportunity to develop 230 acres of waterfront property in an urban center. The site has been a toxic cleanup for years; there are still toxics to clean up. My priorities are making sure we have public access and that the port is also thinking on a broader scale about environmental sustainability, not just in terms of cleanup but also how we affect change on a broader level.”   Dan Robbins Commissioner District 1 If re-elected, Robbins will continue working to maximize port property and bring business experience to the position. He has never missed a Port Commission meeting and has spoken personally with every citizen who sought to contact him, according to his campaign website. The lifelong Bellingham resident graduated from Western with a degree in industrial technology. A: “Hazardous toxic site. Not true. We’ll spend over 100 million dollars cleaning that site up; we’ve spent about 80 already. I signed the largest environmental cleanup in the history of Bellingham. The shipping terminal is now working. There is a small site that still isn’t cleaned up, and we will get to that as the money is available. It is far from a toxic site today.”   Ken Bell Commissioner District 2 Bell has worked in ports around the world, including some in Antarctica and the North Pole. He’s running for port commissioner because “it’s what I know,” he said at the forum. A: “I can say with certainty that I’m the only guy on the stage that’s actually cleaned up contaminated sites. My company does that, I understand what cleanup is. It means working with people who know what they’re doing and what our standards are. That’s a job I’ve done and a job I look forward to doing in the future.” (6 - 8:00)   Barry Wenger Commissioner District 2 Wenger graduated from Western’s Huxley College of Environmental Studies with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Planning. He worked with the Western campus, local governments and nonprofits and wants to bring his experience from various ports to Bellingham. A: “I wouldn’t take my kids down there to play, that’s for sure. I was a lead for the Department of Ecology for 26 years on the cleanup sites, many of them on Puget Sound. We are at a critical crossroads, and we’ve had no vision in the past of how this should go. I want to bring in 21st century jobs, so when you get out of school, you can actually make a living here in Bellingham.”     Q: With the vacancy rate at Bellingham at essentially zero percent and with rising rental prices, if you are elected, how will you mitigate this problems, hold landlords accountable and protect Western students and low income residents?   Pinky Vargas Council Ward 4 Vargas is a current Bellingham City Council member running unopposed for re-election. She works as Energy Efficiency Outreach Manager at Puget Sound Energy. Vargas stands for immigrant, LGBTQ and women’s rights and finding solutions for homelessness and incarceration. A: “Housing is critical. We have to find other resources for housing and affordable housing, which means we have to change some things in regards to our zoning and the way that we do things here in Bellingham. We are a big city, we need to start acting like a big city. I am open to anything, because everyone deserves to have a home.”   Michael Lilliquist Council Ward 6 As the candidate up for re-election, Lilliquist wants to continue to conserve Whatcom County, promote commerce and tourism and revitalize Bellingham’s waterfront. A: “In regards to holding landlords accountable, I was one of the people who for years was fighting for the Landlord Registration Act. After many years it finally came through, I’m very proud of that work to hold landlords accountable for basic health and safety requirements.”     Q: Last year, the WWU Blue Group were asked what they felt should be included in the Sanctuary City Ordinance. The ordinance that city council ended up passing was quite different from what the Blue Group had requested and many undocumented community members have expressed disappointment in it for not being strong enough. What is your response, and how are you committed with working with the Blue Group and undocumented neighbors?   Roxanne Murphy Council At-Large Murphy is looking to be re-elected. She is the Youth Department director for the Nooksack Indian Tribe and works to protect families and businesses, improve quality of life and keep drinking water clean. The candidate has cited Western’s Diversity March and the 2016 Womxn’s March as the ways she provides a voice in Bellingham. A: “You can count on me to be a human being, a tribal member, a woman and a general individual who will always support the pathway to citizenship for all our immigrant community. I know the Blue Group didn’t get everything they wanted out of the work that we did, but I’m very proud of the four pages of protections we have as a part of our police work that protect our immigrant community and people of color.”   Eric Bostrom Council At-Large Bostrom is an alumnus of Western fighting for fair and balanced representation, as well as affordable homes. The Bellingham preacher says he has a tangible solution for the homeless problem in Bellingham. A: “I am living in a country where people who aren’t here legally have more rights than I have. I think we should figure out a way to make everybody legal so we won’t have to have sanctuary cities. I’m not in favor of sanctuary cities, I think we should cooperate with the country that we’re living in.”   Debra Lev Municipal Court Judge Lev did not appear at the forum. She is running unopposed.   Gene Knutson Council Ward 2 Knutson did not appear at the forum. He is running unopposed.   Quenby Peterson Council Ward 6 Peterson did not appear at the forum. The Western alumnus is on the Bellingham Board of Directors.   The candidates for the director position in Bellingham School District 501 were not present at the meeting.   MEASURES:   Whatcom Proposition 2017-6: A new jail tax According to the Whatcom County Voter’s Guide, this proposition would authorize a sales and use tax of 0.002 to be put towards the construction of a new jail, incarceration prevention programs and mental and behavioral facilities and programs. Estimated repayment for these public services is December 31, 2048, at which point half of the tax (0.001) will expire. Argument for: The current facility does not have the means to care for individuals with mental illness and withdrawal symptoms and is structurally unsound. The county must take action to comply with today’s standards and laws. (ideas from Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo) Argument against: The proposed jail is too expensive and large. In addition, this proposition would use 100 percent of the public safety tax capacity for the next 30 years. Money would be better spent on programs to reduce incarceration and pre-trial systems to keep non-violent offenders out of jail.   Advisory Vote No. 16 Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1597: Protections of regional fish tax The Legislature passed this tax to increase environmental protections of regional fish and wildlife by increasing commercial fishing license fees. It will cost less than 1 million in the first 10 years and will be used for government spending, said the Whatcom County Voter’s Guide.   Advisory Vote No. 17 Engrossed House Bill 2163: Business tax for public schools The legislature passed the business and occupation tax, costing 565 million in the first 10 years. This package will increase revenue for public schools.   Advisory Vote No. 18 Engrossed House Bill 2242: Property tax for public schools Property taxes were increased by the legislature to fund schools. This will cost $12.95 billion in the next 10 years, according to the Whatcom County Voter’s Guide.   Ballots are due Nov. 7. A drop box is located on campus outside the Viking Union.  

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