By Ryan Wynne
Jean Melious and Tony Larson are squaring off to see who will take the Whatcom County Council seat formerly held by Bob Kelly, and while the primary election results were significantly in Melious’ favor, the general election may not be so disproportionate, as fellow primary candidate Theresa Sygitowicz’s votes are up for grabs.
Sygitowicz nabbed nearly 17 percent of the primary votes, Larson had almost 35 percent of votes, and Melious nearly 49 percent. And if Sygitowicz’s voters are like her, they will likely vote for Larson; she declared her support for him in a letter to the editor in the Aug. 25 edition of the Ferndale Record.
Larson and Melious may not be ideological twins, but they do have a few things in common. Asked the top issue facing the county, neither hesitated to say, “the economy and jobs.”
“Just saying, ‘Oh I’m going to create jobs’ is not a policy; that’s a slogan,” Melious said.
The County Council is not in charge of the economy itself, she said, but its decisions do affect the economy.
For instance, one of the council’s most important functions is making sure drinking water, such as that from Lake Whatcom, is clean. Allowing it to deteriorate means huge bills for those consuming it, she said, and that’s a deterrent for business and residents.
County Council also decides where growth should occur. Growth creates jobs and makes the economy stronger, so, Melious said, the council needs to make sure it happens in a way that does not impose a lot of costs on people and businesses. Developing all over the place is expensive because it costs more for police, fire protection and roads, she said.
“The bills for that are high; the bills for that are going to get higher and they’re going to be paid by taxpayers,” Melious said. “That’s going to be a deterrent for businesses coming here and staying here. We need to make sure we grow in ways that we can afford.”
Agricultural jobs and revenue are also very important in Whatcom County, she said, and the County Council needs to decide whether it will continue its commitment to the agricultural industry and maintain the land base so residents can continue farming.
Larson proposed that the council help improve the economy and create jobs by, among other things, ensuring projects don’t get stuck in the system as a result of government bureaucracy.
“Do we want to support and encourage job creation?” Larson said. “When a company is interested in expanding, it should not take them 18 months.”
Economic development also means attracting new employers, he said.
“In order to do that, there needs to be a paradigm shift,” Larson said. “We need to be prepared to roll out the red carpet.”
He said the council could encourage businesses’ success by focusing on regulations that are getting in their way, by providing tax incentives, serviced land, and workforce training and by supporting business accelerators.
While Melious and Larson don’t agree on everything, they both have voters’ safety in mind. Both listed public safety as one of the essential roles of government.
Bio: Melious has chaired the county planning commission for two years and taught land-use law at WWU for 14 years. She is a land-use and environmental law attorney with a law degree from Harvard University and master’s in planning from The University of Edinburgh.
Notable endorsements: Whatcom County Democrats, National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington, Washington Conservation Voters, Northwest Washington Central Labor Council
Bio: Larson graduated from WWU with a degree in economics and finance. He is the former owner of the Bellingham Bells and the current owner of the magazine Northwest Business Monthly.
Notable endorsements: Washington State Farm Bureau, Whatcom County Deputy Sheriff’s Guild, Whatcom Association of Realtors, Whatcom 7 Firefighters
Tony Larson agreed to take part in a video interview, but canceled twice due to scheduling conflicts.