Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Seth Fleetwood Body Language and Voter’s Most Pressing Issues

This cartoon came to mind after watching a half hour of the Fleetwood – Ericksen debate sponsored by the Bellingham City Club. For all the audience cheers he had, Seth Fleetwood still had a hard time speaking eye to eye to the crowd. Maybe this is a lawyer’s way of keeping concentration on the stand. Or maybe it is body language that foretells more than the words being said.

Click on cartoon to enlarge.

These last two weeks, our home has been INUNDATED with professional survey takers, an average of one survey per day. What are these people fishing for? 

The Colorado Blueprint method in September works this way:

1) Survey every voter (needs lots of money) to have bulletproof intel for messaging.
2) Identify their most pressing issues / frustrations.
3) Re-cast the progressive candidate as the best person to solve these issues, even when there is no way that progressive candidate will buck the party whip to fulfil his campaign promises in the legislature.
4) Parade the recast, dolled up candidate. Promise the moon on those most pressing issues.
5) Overpower voter hesitations and the opponent’s rebuttals with gush of well crafted news reports,  commercials and mailers. Dramatize the progressive candidate’s bona fides (needs lots of money).

This morning I saw a Fleetwood commercial. What do swing voters in North Bellingham?? care about?

1) The coal trains. (Be sure to link to Ericksen’s lobbyist lunch schedule)
2) Low wages for women. (Single moms? Entry level female workers? Can we get them out to vote?)
3) Partisan gridlock. (Cast Fleetwood as a peacemaker. Pre-emptively bury the 2009 “yellow sign down zoning” war he helped bring on while on Whatcom County Council. Lisa McShane knows all about that.)

It is all in the Comcast ad running today, Monday, September 29. And, of course, Seth Fleetwood has the answers, and will work for “you”. Colorado Blueprint smokescreen. High priced, targeted messaging. It worked in Colorado. Will it work on low information voters in North Bellingham? Good chance.

It worked last year in Whatcom County. Vote NO COAL TRAINS. Only thing, those million dollar promises were unattainable. Train traffic grows on, only with OIL TRAINS.  And, now, Vancouver Canada has approved a coal terminal. So much for the Steyer funded promises delivered per last year’s Colorado Blueprint.

Sooner or later, even Tom Steyer’s millions won’t buy credibility to drive votes using the Colorado Blueprint. But, until then, we must endure giddy, well paid millennials wooing us with the latest Colorado Blueprint survey.

Also from the Colorado Blueprint—501c4’s—lots of them. Just because Tom Steyer says his money will go to target other key senate races farther south, does that mean the Fleetwood race has been back burnered by the progressive gurus? Don’t count on it. Keep watching. The money moves here and there and everywhere, through the “collazione” of progressive 501c4’s. It is pure genius. What a Colorado Blueprint meal! It is not over til the “fat lady sings”. Or til the Scott Walkers of the world outflank the Colorado Blueprint. Think about that!


Monday, September 15, 2014

Muddy Waters

Tuesday evening at Whatcom County Council, a hearing on the formation of four new Watershed Improvement Districts will take place. A formality, this hearing precedes an upcoming vote by farmer—owners of open spaces qualified properties on whether to initiate WIDs over themselves, and join Bellingham, Whatcom County, the tribes, and the PUD as a tax assessing authority at the table of water negotiations.

In the local world of water rights, quality and quantity, this is a big development. Water is a big deal, and the prospect of farmers successfully organizing into a cohesive group is—well, shocking, kind of like a large brontosauros, waking up and looking long at your stilt house. Maybe the farmers will change the water game. Maybe not.

Having made a serious effort to understand the water issues, and participating as a small Whatcom County hobby farmer, I see several factors.

Funding is a central issue in determining water rules.

Money pays salaries and determines balances of power. City water managers, contract water managers, expert hydro-geological engineers, soil conservation regulators, tribal water system managers and lawyers, state and federal water oversight and grant agencies, NGO socio-environmentalist lobbies generally can count on funding with generous amounts of not water, but money.

There are some things funding can’t buy, such as children who work the soil for love of farming, foregoing the relative ease of urban living. Many big farmers in Whatcom County advise their children to not take on the increasingly onerous burden of perpetuating the family farm. Out of state and country corporations and individuals continue to buy up prime Whatcom County farmland.

Toughing it out, the average Whatcom County Farmer does not have the luxury of a staff of water experts to secure ditch cleaning permits, negotiate water rights, argue with Fish and Wildlife Agency activists, and lobby other recalcitrant government agencies, often staffed by planners who seem more concerned about their career peer legacies than walking a mile in the farmers’ shoes.

Then, there are native tribal customs. If you have opportunity to work in planning sessions with them, tribal leaders can be approachable. However, there is a huge ring of appointed bureaucrats, activist judges, government and non-government agency activists who hedge in the tribes, making finding local solutions a big headache.

If the farmers are not at the table, they will be on the menu. But do Whatcom farmers want to organize and represent themselves at the table of water negotiations?

After attending a significant number of farmer meetings, my observation is that farmers are highly independent, expect their virtues will protect them from activists, and thus are really not interested in collective funding or organizing, unless it is within their own crop sector. Farmers have traditionally kept their heads down and tried to fly under the radar. Most farmers choose partnerships with marketing boards, co-ops and corporations who will buy their product in one annual agreement, freeing them to roam their fields and have coffee with their friends. The people who grow our food generally avoid us.

Muddying this further are well meaning conservative small acreage holders. Not farmers themselves, they push back at the aggression of socio-environmental activists in NGO lobbies and local county agencies. Having the same adversaries, however, does not guarantee them understanding of, or standing with their big farmer neighbors.

Some of the Whatcom small acreage people have revived the state mandated WRIA 1 Water Planning Unit that was sidelined by the “Joint Water Board” about five years ago.

The Lummi and Nooksack Tribes formally abandoned the Planning Unit almost from the beginning. Contentious and dragged out legal and water engineering studies destroyed momentum and farmer interest in the Planning Unit, giving a cadre of well placed civic water officials the freedom to move water policy along socio-environmental activist lines.

Unofficially, the tribes and the civic officials have made a host of decisions behind closed doors. However, as conservative acreage holders began observing the public meetings of related county and city agencies, these plans were uncovered and challenged, and a movement to resurrect the oversight of the Planning Unit took place. Farmers looked at this with skepticism and open hostility.

Key civic officials scoffed at and sought to sabotage the Planning Unit revival. And, the Planning Unit advocates have duly noted the disinterest of the farmers in water rights issues for small acreage holders. On the other hand, big farm advocacy groups have supported the County appeal against the recent Futurewise lawsuit over “exempt” residential wells.

So, to sum up—on one side is a host of well funded (by the taxpayer, in various ways) non food growing “guardians” of water and land, and on the other side is a ragtag, conflicted band of farmers and small acreage conservatives.

Enter Watershed Improvement Districts. Central in water conflict resolution elsewhere in Washington State, Watershed Improvement Districts in Whatcom County have the legal potential to absorb irrigation and diking/drainage districts. Assessing a tax, WIDs will have more or less money to secure grants, and coordinate and carry out projects with other peer agencies with legal standing, whether county, state, or federal, whether volunteer or salaried.

Farmers have duly noted the sluggish agency staffers who soak up irrigation and diking/draining funds, and county administrators who transfer these funds to other contentious projects outside the initial scope of the tax assessments. Hence, there is a plan to create a joint WID board, representing the two existing and four proposed WIDs, and not with county staffing or administrative service.

What does it mean to improve a watershed? WIDs have a broader scope of endeavor than irrigation or diking districts. Assuming watershed responsibilities can be a headache, but has been looked on with significant favor by state legislators, who have provided very large financial grants to WID projects in other counties. The key is working out a watershed improvement plan acceptable to WID members and other entities such as tribes and cities.

This early October ballot will allow farmland holders in Whatcom County, whose land is in the “Open Spaces” reduced tax program to decide to organize as WIDs. In other words, the WIDs are being organized in a way that gives farmers control of their agenda.

A temporary committee of farmers, framers of the watershed “boundaries” have modified the initial boundary lines to increase the chances of the 2/3 approval needed to establish the WIDs. And, votes are based on acreage, specifically, 2 votes for every 5 acres enrolled in the boundaries. This “gerrymandering” has been contentious, not only with “yes vote” farmers who have been excluded, but also with “no vote” farmers who have been excluded.

My informal observation is that the volunteer boundary committee is pressed to the limit by lack of organizing staff and bare bones funding, just as the Planning Unit revivalists are struggle as County officials fund meeting facilitators handsomely, but provide relatively little staff or funds for Planning Unit members to carry out real life, non-meeting projects.

In other words, “gerrymandering” accusations seem to be largely fears that the WIDs will be a foe of legitimate Planning Unit processes, becoming a power center that overshadows the Planning Unit and further marginalizes rural non farm conservatives on the Planning Unit. Farmers and Planning Unit conservatives need patience and a servant’s mindset here. There is no perfect, eternally static balance of power or system of checks and balances. It is the open hand that undergirds community life. And, the consensus decision making process of the Planning Unit is onerous and notoriously slow.

What sets apart pretending and legitimate water curators here? 1) Children. 2) Growing food.

Thirty or fifty years from now, whose children will manage the water and land resources? Progressive partners have few children. Farmers’ children don’t stay on the farm. Many tribal children move off the reservation and out of the boats. Grey headed activists, environmental and conservative, rarely have their children and grandchildren engaged locally with them.

Perhaps, the greatest contribution towards good water policy will be farm sensitive youth living on food producing parcels, who can, in community and good faith, without endless overlays of urban officials, negotiate water use rules that provide balanced stewardship of natural resources.

Who provides food from the land and the water? It is the tribes and the farmers. Working the soil and the seas are the hard scrabble trusts that validate water policy expertise.

Maybe the WIDs and tribes can work together to sweep away the Seattle based, UN/federal agency funded NGO encrustments in Whatcom County, to model service based, not adversarial driven agreements. Again, the open hand gets things done. The closed hand destroys.

Maybe the big, local Whatcom farmers will pursue a model that allows global sales, yet also enables local urban and suburbanites and their children to again produce value added foods, to balance and preserve farming with businesses and cash flows, farms not so dependent on bank financing and government subsidies.


Collaring Public Employee Negotiators/PAC Managers OR Collaring Citizens in Blaine

Last week, two petitions were submitted to the City of Blaine, which, if there are no insurmountable regularities, will either be approved by Blaine City Council as written, or will be approved or rejected in a February 2015 ballot initiative put to the citizens of Blaine.

This is interesting. Novel. Amusing. Even threatening. City and County officials have been tasked with processing two petitions that cut to the core of their group identity and vocational remuneration.

The Bellingham Herald gave a news report Saturday on these petitions. “Blaine voters may consider measure to weaken city employees’ unions.” It was a basic article, basic news reporting. Or was it?

I see a number of questions that were not answered.
1) What union or unions serve Blaine city employees?
2) Are all Blaine city employees unionized?
3) Are collective bargaining agreements in Blaine negotiated behind closed doors, with terms buried to all but the most persistent researchers? Or are these agreements an open public process?
4) How do Blaine City union agreements compare to those, say of Lynden, or Ferndale, or Bellingham?
5) What percent of Blaine city employees approve their union’s political contributions?
6) How many citizens live in Blaine?
7) What percent of that number is 500 petitioners?
8) Do residents of Blaine (and Whatcom County) disapprove of levels of public sector service under unionization?
9) How hard was it, how many hours did it take to accumulate these signatures?
10) Has the public perception of unions changed from champions of the underdog to body guards of privilege and nepotistic politicking?
11) Should unions for public employees have more limitations than other unions?
12) Do all public sector unions nobly avoid collusion with elected legislators who ratify their contracts?
13) Who is Freedom Foundation?
14) Why would they have boilerplate initiative language for these petitions on their website?
15) What marks Freedom Foundation’s relationships with unions in Washington State?
16) What marks Freedom Foundation’s relationships with conservative activists in Whatcom County?

These questions were not addressed by the Bellingham Herald Reporter. In depth, balanced reporting takes time, which is money, something the Herald seems to be in short supply of these days.

I would make some additional observations.

1) The two largest employers in Whatcom County are Western Washington University and the Public School Boards. Public sector union engagement is a central issue in Whatcom County.
2) A ballot result in Blaine is also a referendum on the public sector unions serving these larger entities.
3) I know a number of public sector unionized employees who are happy to take their pay, yet highly critical of levels of service, political priorities and management collaring brought about by their union’s contract agreements.
4) This is not a little issue.
Who should be collared? Unions? or Public sector employees? or Citizens? We may see what Blaine voters think.