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Party chair: We must hold all leaders — including Democrats — accountable

Andrew Reding: Our challenge now is to deliver long-postponed reform

Cascadia Daily News, May 1, 2024


Last week CDN Executive Editor Ron Judd (CDN, April 25, 2024) described me as “savvy, irascible left-wing agitator Andrew Reding, whose preferred pot-stirring implement is more shovel than spoon,” conjuring up images of a Whatcom Kshama Sawant. [Editor’s note: Sawant is a Seattle activist].


While I appreciate that effort to give me a bit of “street cred” with the left, I’ve never actually led a demonstration or sit-in. And as a freethinker and nonconformist, I’ve always been allergic to any form of collectivism.


It’s certainly true I teamed up with recently elected Bellingham City Council member At-Large Jace Cotton and Community First Whatcom in going directly to the voters to bypass an all-Democratic city council that was less than enthusiastic about adopting a $2 increase in the local minimum wage, the first $1 of which kicks in May 1. That extra $4,000 a year will keep numerous ‘Hampsters from going unhoused. If that’s left-wing agitation, with overwhelming public support, count me in! 


But then again, what are we to make of my collaboration with former Republican County Council member Kathy Kershner in successfully placing a proposed county charter amendment on this November’s ballot with bipartisan county council support? The amendment would expand the conflict-of-interest section to bar anyone from holding a county elected office and any other elected office at the same time.


As a policy wonk, I favor persuasion through carefully researched and sourced resolutions and commentaries. That these sometimes conflict with positions taken by elected Democrats reflects our grassroots approach. We let our roughly 900 dues-paying members determine our endorsements and chart our policy course. 


When a Democrat-dominated Whatcom Transportation Authority Board ordered diesel buses after committing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we exposed it through CDN, and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen secured funds to shift the order to electric buses. 

When a Democratic mayor proposed a supposed “climate” tax that would shovel $4.5 million a year to a private monopoly (Puget Sound Energy) rather than carry out a real mode shift from gas to electricity, we went public through CDN and met with council members to block it.


Granted, I’m no fan of “subdued excitement.” Neither is the local tourism board. For one thing, it’s an oxymoron. And not a good look for our community, especially when it extends to sluggish responses to challenges from housing to climate change to rooting out sexual harassment. Our volunteer “activists” are ditching the “subdued” part. Excitement is vibrant, not sedate. 


It is this vibrancy that has enabled raising the funds and recruiting the talented teams that have flipped all three seats in the 42nd Legislative District, the county executive, the sheriff’s office, the PUD, and the Conservation District. We’ve gone from purple to blue, and from all-white to white, Brown and Black. 


Our challenge now is to deliver. That means holding all our leaders — including Democrats — accountable. Sexual harassment cannot be tolerated, period.


Likewise, our local leaders cannot declare climate, housing and homelessness “crises” without delivering long-postponed reform. “Missing middle” housing and mixed-use is the key to reducing homelessness, to making transit viable, to creating walkable neighborhoods, to reducing carbon footprint. It’s been in Bellingham’s Comprehensive Plan for a quarter century, but held back by fear of NIMBYism. 


Our Democratic 40th and 42nd district state legislators have joined with Republicans in overcoming their own NIMBYs and gradually applying statewide mandates to overcome local resistance. 


Bellingham’s new mayor and at-large council member are likewise committed to bold housing reform. But others on the all-Democrat council continue to waffle, to acquiesce to yearslong “process” during an emergency, to raise the specter of “unintended consequences,” to embrace a city attorney who gives them cover for sluggishness rather than suggest legal ways to move more nimbly.


Whatcom Democrats supports missing middle housing, repealing mandatory parking minimums that add $20,000 to $80,000 to the cost of every unit, and replacing our current zoning with form-based codes that ensure neighborhoods people love while enabling builders to build. I’ve been having conversations with thoughtful Republicans, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, the government affairs director of the Association of Realtors, and others to forge a wider coalition for bold and timely housing reform.


It’s going to take a sturdy shovel to move this thick, sticky molasses.


Andrew Reding is in his sixth year as chair of Whatcom County Democrats; he served for 20 years as an appointed human rights and country conditions expert in the departments of Justice and Homeland Security.

 


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