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Voters give mixed message on Bellingham coal port plan

Early returns show a big backer of the plan losing in the county executive's race. But Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike, a vocal opponent, trails narrowly in his re-election bid against former state Rep. Kelli Linville.

This fall's election campaigns in Bellingham have found candidates talking about a proposed coal port.

This fall's election campaigns in Bellingham have found candidates talking about a proposed coal port. Floyd McKay

Whatcom County voters appeared to deliver a mixed message Tuesday in the controversy over construction of a giant export terminal at Cherry Point north of Bellingham.

The port, which would be built mainly to export coal to Asia, had been most hotly contested in Bellingham’s mayoralty race, with Mayor Dan Pike making adamant opposition to coal exports a centerpiece of his campaign against former Rep. Kelli Linville. Linville led in early results Tuesday night, 7,219 votes to 6,831 for the mayor, a margin of 368 votes. In the primary, Pike led Linville by only 28 votes.

But in the race for Whatcom County executive, export-terminal foes feel they gained with the apparent victory of Jack Louws, a former Lynden mayor, over Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale. Ericksen was trailing Louws, 19,239 to 16,675 with 65 percent of the votes counted.

Although Louws expressed no opinion on the Gateway Pacific Terminal, Ericksen was an outspoken proponent of the project. Whatcom County, along with the Washington State Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will review terminal applications when they are filed in the next few months. Terminal critics feared Ericksen would pressure county officials to take a pro-terminal position.

Louws is a Republican, but his victory Tuesday owes much to Ericksen’s reputation as a partisan Republican spokesman in the Legislature. Two Democrats finished behind Ericksen and Louws in the primary, and both threw support to Louws.

Linville, a Bellingham native and longtime legislator, relied on her familiar name and reputation for working with various parties. Pike came across as more aggressive, particularly in the heated coal-export debate, where he accused Linville of waffling on the issue. Linville eventually firmed up what critics said was an equivocal position and said she strongly opposes coal exports.

Export-terminal opponents hoped to defeat two conservatives on the Whatcom County Council. Councilmember Tony Larson was losing to Pete Kremen, the outgoing county executive, but Sam Crawford was leading challenger Christina Maginnis by about 500 votes.

If early returns hold, export-terminal opponents will lose a staunch spokesman in Pike but gain leverage at the important county council. But about 20,000 ballots are still uncounted, enough for Pike and perhaps Maginnis to prevail; results showed that 38,237 were counted Tuesday.

Floyd J. McKay, professor of journalism emeritus at Western Washington University, was a print and broadcast journalist in Oregon for three decades. Recipient of a DuPont-Columbia Broadcast Award for documentaries, and a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, he is also a historian and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. He resides in Bellingham and can be reached at floydmckay@comcast.net.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Nov 8, 11:36 p.m. Inappropriate

From my perspective, I see a similar message from the two likely winners: good government. Both Kelli and Jack propose that our local governments follow the rule of law in dealing with this project. I see that as a good thing. While Ericksen put forward vocal support and Pike put forward vocal opposition, neither seemed to lay out an effective path to achieve their goals.

But Floyd, the terms you use to describe Kelli's position don't seem accurate. It's been well documented, including by John Stark in the Bellingham Herald, that Kelli was consistent in her opposition of exporting coal. Kelli's lengthy opposition to coal has been misrepresented throughout this campaign simply because she ALSO stated that there will be a process. As an environmentalist, I've always been thankful that we have legal processes to follow.

Here's the link to the Bellingham Herald article: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2011/07/24/2111417/bellingham-mayoral-candidates.html#ixzz1cihkVL9C

Lisa

Posted Wed, Nov 9, 8:14 a.m. Inappropriate

My read on this is subtly but importantly different. I would put forth that messages were not mixed but rather clear, because not a single candidate who expressed public support for the coal terminal is currently leading their opponent who didn't. That would be the truer test of public sentiment particularly as the two races in question were Whatcom County-wide rather than simply Bellingham. This seems a clear message to candidates moving forward...

bobferris

Posted Wed, Nov 9, 9:13 a.m. Inappropriate

Linville's victory in the race for mayor probably has more to do with her political strength overall than with perceived differences with Pike over the coal port issue. The city, after all, is not a reviewing agency for the coal port application. The meaningful outcome for coal port politics is Louws' win over Ericksen.

woofer

Posted Wed, Nov 9, 9:34 a.m. Inappropriate

There is no mixed message here at all from the Labor perspective. Both of these candidates hold vastly different perspectives, but both are viewed as unfriendly; Ericksen opposes labor unions and Pike is widely viewed as opposing jobs.

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