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Stakes are high in this odd-year election

Whatcom County voters to decide jail measure, key offices

Election Supervisor Amy Grasher, left, and another election official dump a container full of ballots on the table.
Election Supervisor Amy Grasher, left, and another election official dump ballots Aug. 1 in the Whatcom County Auditor's Office. Ballots for the November general election will be mailed Oct. 18. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)
By Ralph Schwartz Staff Reporter

People talk about odd-year elections like they’re a bad thing. 

Some citizens might be looking ahead to 2024, when voters will choose a new governor for Washington state and, most likely, an old president for the United States.

But as folks much, much younger than Joe Biden or Donald Trump would say, don’t sleep on 2023. A lot is at stake in Whatcom County on the Nov. 7 ballots.

Voters countywide will decide on a new sales tax that would provide hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 30 years, not just for a new jail but for a range of behavioral health and housing services intended to keep people out of jail. 

Bellingham voters will consider Greenways 5, the fifth iteration of the levy used to acquire and maintain green spaces in the city. The levies have collected more than $100 million since they were first instituted in 1990.

Two initiatives also will appear on Bellingham ballots: a minimum wage hike and a measure requiring landlords to pay tenants’ moving costs if they raise rent by 8% or more.

Many key leadership positions in city and county governments, and school districts, are also on the line this November. 

Many of the local races are nonpartisan on paper, but not in practice. For instance, Whatcom Democrats support incumbent County Executive Satpal Sidhu and sheriff’s candidate Donnell “Tank” Tanksley, who is currently Blaine’s police chief. Republicans favor Dan Purdy for executive and Sheriff Bill Elfo’s would-be successor, Undersheriff Doug Chadwick.

Republicans are stuck on the sidelines in progressive Bellingham, where Kim Lund talks less about her political values and more about her leadership skills in her bid to oust Mayor Seth Fleetwood. Meanwhile, city council incumbents Dan Hammill and Hannah Stone face challenges from the left.

Two of the three county council races are district-only, which means roughly 80% of voters can only stand by and watch. 

The race in District 4, centered on Lynden, has strained loyalties in the county Republican Party, as Mark Stremler presents himself as a more conservative alternative to incumbent Kathy Kershner. Both have the Whatcom County Republican Party’s endorsement. 

District 5 in west Whatcom County is a little more purple, as it includes the cities of Blaine and Ferndale, as well as Lummi Island and Lummi Reservation. Conservative stalwart Ben Elenbaas, a farmer and refinery foreman, is challenged by Jackie Dexter, a farmer and aquaculturist whose mantra is sustainability.

Everyone in the county can vote in the open at-large race, which could tip the balance of power in a county council where progressives have a slim majority. If elected, Jon Scanlon would bring climate issues to the fore, while Hannah Ordos would make sure rural voices were heard on the council.

To orient voters as they approach their ballots, we asked the candidates about issues that matter most to readers, as determined through the Citizens Agenda process.

Can local leaders pressure PeaceHealth into providing more value to the community in its health care offerings? What would candidates do to prevent escalating homelessness and housing costs from spiraling out of control? How would they decrease the human impact on Lake Whatcom drinking-water quality in the face of increasing development pressures?

Our readers asked the questions, and we got the answers — straight from the candidates. Check out all of our election coverage, then cast those ballots by Nov. 7.

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