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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

November 5, 2013 at 7:11 AM

Candidates backed by coal opponents leading in Whatcom County

Update  9:57 p.m.

Whatcom County voters appeared to send a message against coal trains in Tuesday’s election.

All four county-council candidates who are believed to oppose a controversial proposed coal-export facility there were leading in  competitive council races ­— including two challengers who looked to be on their way to toppling incumbents.

Challengers Barry Buchanan and Rud Browne took 55 percent and 54 percent of the first votes, respectively. Two incumbents thought to oppose the proposal, Carl Weimer and Ken Mann, were at 57 percent and 56 percent over their opponents .

The council is currently seen as slightly favorable to the facility, so flipping the two seats could make a difference if the proposal comes up in the future.

The initial returns included more than 41,000 votes.

The election was widely seen as a referendum on the proposal — even though none of the candidates disclosed positions on it, citing the quasi-judicial duties of the council.

Proposal supporters and opponents gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to the elections.

Environmentalists gave  to the quartet that won, while coal companies sought to help four others — incumbents Kathy Kershner and Bill Knutzen and challengers Ben Elenbaas and Michelle Luke.

Update 8:30 p.m.

Whatcom County voters appeared to be sending a message against coal trains in early election returns.

All four county council candidates who are thought to oppose a controversial coal terminal were leading in early returns.

The two incumbents in that quartet, Carl Weimer and Ken Mann, were at 57 percent and 56 percent, respectively. The two challengers, Barry Buchanan and Rud Browne, were at 55 percent and 54 percent.

Original post:

Whatcom County voters today will decide four County Council seats, in an election widely seen as a referendum on a proposed coal-export facility at Cherry Point, which would be the largest terminal facility of its kind on the West Coast.

The proposal is believed to be favored by four, and maybe five, of the seven members of the nonpartisan council. So environmentalists are trying to flip one or two seats, and the coal companies are trying to stop them.

Four incumbents are up for re-election; two are believed to support the proposal, and two are believed to oppose it.

The word “believed” is necessary because of one more quirk in this unusual election: In largely rural Whatcom County, council members have quasi-judicial duties and are supposed to remain impartial about matters that might come before them in the future.

Nonetheless, supporters and opponents of the proposal each dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the election.

Two political groups financed mostly by environmentalists spent about half a million dollars on behalf of incumbents Ken Mann and Carl Weimer and challengers Rud Browne and Barry Buchanan — a quartet thought to oppose the proposal.

Coal and energy companies, meanwhile, sponsored a local group that raised nearly $200,000 to support incumbents Kathy Kershner and Bill Knutzen and challengers Ben Elenbaas and Michelle Luke — thought to be favorable to the idea.

0 Comments | More in 2014 elections | Topics: coal trains, Whatcom County

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