October 13, 2021
Election 2021: Parties aim to influence Port elections; candidates embrace nonpartisanship
Ralph Schwartz

Squalicum Harbor is one of several properties managed by the Port of Bellingham, which plays a lead role in driving sustainable economic development in Whatcom County. Two of three commissioner positions are up for election in November. A look at campaign contributions on the Public Disclosure Commission website demonstrates party support for the nonpartisan offices. (Salish Current photo)

October 13, 2021
Election 2021: Parties aim to influence Port elections; candidates embrace nonpartisanship
Ralph Schwartz

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Port of Bellingham commission seats are nonpartisan, but that doesn’t mean the parties aren’t trying to sway the outcomes of this year’s elections. The Whatcom Republicans have endorsed incumbent Ken Bell and challenger John Huntley. The county Democrats want you to vote for incumbent Michael Shepard and Kelly Krieger, who is challenging Bell.

The local parties aren’t just handing out recommendations, either. They have money in the game.

As of Oct. 13, Whatcom Republicans donated $1,000 to Huntley’s campaign. Krieger has received $2,790.51 from Democratic Party organizations: $1,990.51 in in-kind contributions from the Washington State Democrats, and $800 from the 42nd Legislative District Dems. Shepard, likewise, has received in-kind contributions totaling $1,990.51 from the state Democratic Party. (Contribution data on the Public Disclosure Commission website reflects what has been reported by the candidate’s campaign and is updated hourly.)

Despite endorsements and financial contributions from both parties for various candidates at election time, Bell maintains that the commissioners remain mostly immune to politics when conducting business — the commission is nonpartisan not only on the ballot, he said, but also in the boardroom. “We are clearly philosophically different,” Bell said, “but we’re not militant.”

Bell said he wasn’t accepting contributions from the Republican Party, although he did sit down for an interview to gain the party’s endorsement. “If you’re too heavily vested in the party, you’re going to do what’s best for the party because you want to get elected,” he said.

Bell also noted that if he is elected, he won’t seek a third term four years from now.

Shepard, the other incumbent, agreed with Bell about the commission’s temperament. Board members come from different backgrounds, Shepard said, but they collaborate well.

“I think myself and my colleagues try to disregard the politics that seems to get in the way of government progress in a lot of other levels of government, certainly at the national level, so we can … figure out how we can do the work for the people of Whatcom County,” Shepard said.

Krieger, Bell’s opponent, is aligned with the Democrats but says she enjoys talking to voters of all political persuasions and finding points of commonality. “I do love that this race is nonpartisan because, honestly, 99% of the things that I talk about, they’re encompassing values we all hold,” Krieger said. “The value of a clean and a safe environment is precious. We all hold this community we live in as precious. We all want job growth.”

Huntley, who is challenging Shepard, said he was endorsed by the Republicans but would have accepted a Democratic endorsement, too, if that party would have offered. “I want to work on both sides of the aisle to get to what we really need to get to,” Huntley said. “That’s higher wages, get the economy in gear and utilize what we have here in Whatcom County.”

As of Oct. 13, top contributors as reported by candidates on the PDC website included:

Ken Bell: Total contributions $52,919.36

  1. Associated General Contractors of Washington / Build PAC and IAFF Local 106, each at $2,000
  2. Whatcom County Affordable Housing Council, $1,500
  3. FWD Development LLC, Wickkiser International Companies Inc., Birch Equipment Co., Inc., Skeers Construction Inc., Ferndale Station LLC, Seaview Boatyard North Inc., Roosendall-Honcoop Construction Inc., Phillips 66, Barlean’s Organic Oils, KT Sleep Escape LLC and 19 individuals, each at $1,000.

Michael Shepard: Total contributions $45,491.51

  1. Rochelle Nguyen, IAFF Local 106 and Alyson McGregor, each at $2,000
  2. Washington State Democrats, in-kind $1,990.51
  3. Gary Baxter, $1,500
  4. Nooksack Indian Tribe and four individuals, each at $1,000

Kelly Krieger: Total contributions $44,463.74

  1. Washington State Democrats, in-kind $1,990.51
  2. Washington Teamsters Legislative League, $1,500
  3. Martinus Nickerson, $1,250
  4. International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, Kelly Krieger and two individuals, each at $1,000

John Huntley: Total contributions $29,224.00

  1. Kathy Jansen, John Huntley and Associated General Contractors of Washington / Build PAC, each at $2,000
  2. Kevin DeVries, $1,500
  3. Whatcom County Republican Party, Birch Equipment Company, Barlean’s Organic Oils, Phillips 66, Mills Electric Co., Whatcom County Affordable Housing Council and four individuals, each at $1,000

— Reported by Ralph Schwartz

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