Posted by: sweeneyblog | May 9, 2015

The Political Junkie Gives Up the Habit, Closes Blog

Hello Loyal Readers,

It is with a heavy heart that I must close this blog. After five years and over five hundred posts, I  . . .

Sweeney's Portraits

Farewell for now


Yes, I’ve accepted a position with the City of Ferndale as their Communications Officer (provided the council approves my contract), filling part of the hole left by Sam Taylor’s departure. I will be handling their website, social media and public relations and it would be inappropriate for me to keep running a highly political blog like this, so I am shutting it down.

AH! This explains why you posted that nice interview about Jon Mutchler. Whatever happened to that?

I interviewed Jon Mutchler a few weeks back because of his work on the Charter Review, and he was the one who reminded me that Sam Taylor was leaving. I reached out to Gary Jensen, and interviewed for the job.

I posted the interview but the timing looked TERRIBLE so I pulled it down. For those of you who thought I was too generous to him, my interviews tend to be rather gracious profiles, no matter the subject (see Bill Knutzen, Kathy Kershner, Ken Bell, Kelli Linville).

So no more blogging? What about posting that article about oil trains/the new jail/Agenda 21? 

I’m afraid I’m done for now, however I really recommend you check out Northwest Citizen (click here) for the best insider dirt, Politics Whatcom (click here) or Bellingham Politics and Economics (click here) for the nerdy technical stuff, the Whatcom Watch and the Cascadia Weekly for formal news articles and of course, some of the new local public affairs media emerging like “Hour of the Wolf” hosted by Stephanie Kountorous (click here or click here).

So what are you going to do with all your free time?

My wife and I are finally developing a radio serial called, “Bellingham Terror” set in 1935 Whatcom County that will eventually air on KMRE 102.3 FM. We are also looking to start a family, which I’m told can be a bit time-consuming. Finally, my wife’s photography business, Sweeney’s Portraits, continues to expand.

What about all this material you have on your blog?

The site will stay up, so you may peruse the archives at your leisure. I stand by the work I’ve done and I want it to be accessible for anyone who wants to see what has happened in months past.

So that’s it?

Not quite. I want to thank all my devoted readers and donors who have supported me over the years. Your enthusiasm and financial support has allowed me to produce this site and I am forever indebted to you.

Thank you to my guest writers (Tim, Elise, Jeff, and others) who helped fill these digital pages. I would like to thank John Servais, for his mentorship and Deb Gabers for her editor’s pen. Deb is perhaps the most invisible part of this blog, but she heals my chunky awkward sentences and makes me sound coherent.

Finally, I’ve been watching and commenting on Whatcom County politics for half a decade, a mere blip compared to most of my readers. That said, here is my two cents:

Politics is serious business. The decisions made, especially at the local level, directly impact the lives of those around you, however that does not mean that people should take themselves so seriously.

My hope is that everyone who read and participated in this blog will remember to chuckle once and a while because there is nothing stranger, or funnier, than real life.

Especially when it comes to small town politics.

-Riley (and Bryna) Sweeney

Riley and Bryna, signing off

Riley and Bryna, signing off

Posted by: sweeneyblog | May 8, 2015

Friday Odds and Ends: The Rocks to Docks

Hello Loyal Readers,

It is time, once again, for your weekly dose of Friday local news, the Odds and Ends.

The Ski to Sea race has become a defining event for Whatcom County, yet even this buoyant outdoor celebration could not outrun (or outski or outkayak) the effects of Climate Change. With low snow levels on Mt. Baker, they have had to cancel the skiing portion of the race. Hence, I move that the race be renamed, “The Rocks to Docks.”

Snark aside, it was revealed that the final leg of the race has drawn some controversy too. Check out John Servais’ run down at Northwest Citizen here for the inside scoop on how the private company that runs the Ski to Sea has butted heads with the city parks department.

Todd Donovan and  a burger.

Todd Donovan and a burger.

With Pete Kremen’s retirement from the County Council (viva la mustache!), three candidates have leaped into the fray. For the progressives, WWU Professor and Charter Review Commissioner Todd Donovan is running. Donovan has been deeply involved in a number of campaigns and initiatives over the years and as an ardent coal critic, may be able to tap into the same groundswell that propelled Barry Buchanan and Rud Browne into their seats.

Facing him is Theresa Sygitowicz and Bruce Ayers.  Sygitowicz may be best known as the candidate that Tony Larson and Jean Melious squeezed out in their primary back in 2010, but I like to remember her for her comments that trees cause landslides so we should tear them all out to prevent erosion.

Bruce Ayers, the likely conservative nominee, has been involved with local politics for decades, most recently as Sheriff Bill Elfo’s campaign chair. It was in this role that he provided the original “citizen oversight” for the jail before the public woke up to find an 844 bed jail being proposed and shut that down.

Both Ayers and Donovan are policy-minded people, and I look forward to how the campaign will unfold.

Next week is Filing Week, where all the candidates used to have to turn in their paperwork to run for office. With the implementation of online filing, it is no longer necessary for me to hold a vigil at the County Courthouse on Friday afternoon, although it was fun (check out my liveblog here).

From council on down to sewer district, there are tons of public offices seeking candidates. If this is something that interests you, please consider running. It is a life-changing experience, no matter the outcome.

That’s all for today, I should have some big news coming early next week so stay tuned.

Hello Loyal Readers,

Another week down as we lurch into May. I have some great articles in the queue (a profile of Jon Mutchler, an in-depth analysis of the oil safety bill that was passed) but I’m still assembling the last couple of pieces for them, so you will see them next week.

Sen. Andy Hill's budget (R-Bellevue) would require the state to sell 80 million joints to fund education.

Sen. Andy Hill’s budget (R-Bellevue) would require the state to sell 80 million joints to fund education.

The big news is that once again, the Legislature is going into special session. Just like years past, the main issues of contention are the transportation package, which would provide funding for hundreds of infrastructure jobs throughout the state, and education funding.

The Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, wants to pay for education by swiping all the marijuana funds, cutting social services and violating union contracts by freezing wage increases for state employees.

To highlight this point, progressive political action group FUSE se-up a mock “Baked Sale” at the capitol campus. The Democrats are proposing a capital gains tax on our state’s wealthiest to fund education.

Locally, the City of Ferndale is losing their city clerk. Former Bellingham Herald reporter, Sam Taylor, has accepted a job in California and will be dearly missed. He has done a great job getting information to the public about the City of Ferndale. I had hoped, when the County redid their website, they would take a few ideas from Ferndale.

Alabama St.

Alabama St.

In Bellingham, the city is crawling forward with the so-called Alabama Traffic ImprovementsThey sent a pamphlet with glossy pictures to all property owners along the affected stretch of Alabama in an attempt to sell the changes to the street. They followed up with a press release titled, “Alabama St. about to get a lot safer.”

Tucked in among the changes that the Roosevelt Neighborhood argued against (c-curbs blocking their left turns), is something people did ask for, namely a change in the speed limit. They will be reducing the speed limit from 35mph to 30mph which was one of the top requests during the public hearings on this issue. Bravo!

Finally, happy Beltane to all my Pagan readers out there. Hope everyone has fun and stays dry this weekend.

Posted by: sweeneyblog | April 17, 2015

Friday Odds and Ends: Taxes, Weed and TPP

Hello Loyal Readers, vertebra_fractureboy is it good to be back. Three weeks ago, I managed to fracture one of my vertebra (see right) and I’ve just now been healed up enough to catch up on all that I missed, so I’m sorry for the lack of posting.

Without further ado, let’s go to the triumphant return of the Friday Odds and Ends.

In Olympia, the clock is ticking down to the end of session and one of the main points of contention are the dueling transportation packages. You might remember this as the thing that Sen. Doug Ericksen and his Republican allies stonewalled last year that would have created hundreds of jobs in Whatcom County repairing our streets, roads and bridges. Currently, the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democrat-controlled House have each passed a version of the package and they are duking it out over how to merge them. Below is a little table, numbers courtesy of the Association of Washington Cities, that shows how much our area would receive in state transportation funds:

House Plan Senate Plan
Whatcom County $7,047,397 $4,784,304
Bellingham $4,034,380 $2,738,841
Blaine $238,800 $162,115
Everson $193,142 $131,119
Ferndale $634,364 $430,654
Nooksack $65,570 $44,514
Sumas $84,531 $57,386
Total $12,298,184.00 $8,348,933.00

In other legislative news, the state has finally begun to seriously regulate the medical marijuana business. Since medical marijuana was legalized in Washington, many of the dispensaries have operated in a sort of legal limbo, unable to file taxes for fear of federal involvement and with several loosely defined restrictions over “collective gardens” where the dispensaries would be the designated grower for a specific patient.



This year, the legislature changed that by folding medical marijuana under the auspices of the Liquor Control Board. They eliminated the collective gardens model. Patients will have to register into a designated database, will be issued a registration card that allows them to carry more marijuana than the current legal limit and provides more protections from arrest. They will be able to grow plants in their homes, and retail stores can become certified to sell medical-grade marijuana to card-holding patients. The governor is expected to sign the bill in the next week or so.

In the wake of forty-seven Republican senators interfering in peace negotiations with Iran, the Republican-controlled Senate reached a deal to cede power to President Obama to negotiate trade agreements with less oversight, a process dubbed “Fast Track.” This is seen as a key step toward approving the Trans Pacific Partnership (known as TPP), a trade deal that has become a flashpoint for economic justice advocates locally.

One of the key objections to TPP is that it would allow foreign companies to seek financial compensation from the United States government for complying with American laws – a provision that sets off warning bells in the labor and environmental community. There is a rally at Pioneer Park in Ferndale this Saturday at 1 p.m. in opposition to TPP hosted by the Washington Labor and Fair Trade Advocates.

That’s all folks! Stay tuned for more legislative coverage this weekend!

Posted by: sweeneyblog | April 14, 2015

Liveblogging the Whatcom Council Jail Hearing

Over 150 members of the public showed up on a sunny Tuesday to share their thoughts on the new jail with the county council.


Barbara Brenner (Whatcom's Kiwi) waves while the council gathers

Forgive the formatting, this blog is via smartphone.

Essential Background: The county has purchased the land for the jail and come to a bit of a consensus on the size (551 beds).

Now the discussion revolves around two issues – whether there will be any sort of diversion programs or mental health services included in this project and how will we pay for it all.

Council chair Carl Weimer frames the discussion, “We all agree there needs to be a new jail . . . what we are looking for are ideas on reducing the growth of our jail population.”

He also noted that the vote to fund this jail could be this August or November or even later.

Sheriff Elfo spoke raising the fear factor of a “calamitous event such as a fire.” He urged the council to approve the jail, “with all possible speed.”

Elfo then goes through a litany of our current efforts to reduce the jail population including giving warnings for misdemeanors and pleading for funding from the state for mental heath programs.

Two speakers in and their comments can be summarized as, “Don’t slow down the jail, build it now!” Still no discussion of diversion programs, but this speaker have already blamed, taxes, Bellingham and the Whatcom Charter.

Greg Winter, head of the county health department called for a full review of our treatment programs so we can improve those efforts, “On a parallel track or accelerated path with the jail.”

Joy Gifilen spoke saying that she spoke to “two millionaire types” who have been, “run out of town by the Sheriff and the executive”. She complained that the Sheriff got too much time while the public is limited to three minutes. Her comments drew cheers from the audience, which got a gentle rebuke from Weimer.

Finally a speaker shares his personal story of a family friend who struggles with mental health. The speaker highlights the number of private companies making money off the incarceration system. “Please tell me how building an even bigger jail and putting our community even deeper in debt will solve these problems!”

A grizzled corrections officer speaks to the challenges of our growing population and the dangerous state of the current jail.

Kay Sardo, of the Right Size Jail coalition asks that part of the funding package offered for the vote go to diversion programs.

Catherine Chambers, a local social worker and one of my favorite people, points out that social services work best when they are not in a jail setting such as teen court.

Abe Jacobson points out that we will be growing in population as “waves of environmental refuges come in from the south west seeking temperate climates.”

Tyler Ryan says that Elfo and Louws have spent “a lot of time” on this and “we should trust our elected officials to make the decisions we’ve elected them to make.”

Phone is fading so I will add more info once I get home.

Was able to charge it up enough for Kris Halterman, organizer for the pro-coal PAC SAVEWhatcom. She argues that the size is right but it could be bigger. “You are going to have a hard time convincing people that you will actually build it this time.” She then went on to compare reparations to slavery.

Last week, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, visited Olympia to meet with Gov. Jay Inslee for a trade meeting. In accordance with international protocol, the state flew the Chinese flag next to the US and State flags to honor the visiting dignitary.

This drew a small crowd of Tea Party activists who protested this act. This action appear be sparked by conservative activist Anthony Bosworth, a pro-gun activist and former Sheriff candidate from Yakima, who was was outraged that the Capitol would fly a “communist flag”. Bosworth took to facebook to rally opposition to this flag.

The Flag of Communist China flying over the capital of Washington State in a place of honor.
Governor Inslee is honored to be meeting with Ambassador CUI Tiankai of Communist China this morning.
We now know where the loyalties of our liberal, communist loving Governor are. The people of Washington State has asked the governor to address our list of grievances and yet we have heard nothing from him. 
But yet he takes time and Washington taxpayers money to show honor to one of the United States of America’s enemies a communist ambassador and he is honored to do so.

A mighty crowd

A mighty crowd

Activists gathered on Saturday morning to protest the flag, you can see their mighty crowd in the picture to the right. After a little bit, a state trooper arrived to remove the flag to the cheers of the gathered tea partiers.

Why was the trooper removing the flag? The ambassador had left for his next engagement. But that didn’t stop this story from circulating like wildfire through the conservative media – showing up on Fox News, the Examiner and then finally breaking through to more mainstream sources like, Huffington Post and the Wonkette.

Locally, State Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane) arrived to deliver a speech praising the activists. You might remember Rep. Shea as that legislator that was just as crazy as Rep. Jason Overstreet. Shea said, “In the dawns early light of Holy Saturday as we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ these heroic patriots demanded that the Communist flag be taken down.”

I’m glad that this issue got resolved before it spilled out into the realm of international diplomacy. Our relationship with China is a complex and ever-changing negotiation and I would hate for Olympia to be a flashpoint for an international incident.

One last note, this wasn’t Bosworth’s first brush with controversy. He was arrested last month for carrying an assault rifle into a Federal Courthouse, and on his facebook page, you can find some charming videos of his kids field striping and reassembling various pistols.

Posted by: sweeneyblog | April 1, 2015

Sen. Kevin Ranker Proposes Marriage to the Puget Sound

Note: This was a satirical post for April Fool’s Day. 

Sen. Kevin Ranker, long-time environmental advocate, proclaimed his deep love and commitment to the Puget Sound at a fundraiser in Bow, WA yesterday. Ranker and the Puget Sound had been engaged in a long-term and committed relationship ever since a mutual friend, Washington Conservation Voters, introduced them to each other a few years ago.

The happy couple pictured together

The happy couple pictured together

Since then, Ranker has been courting the Sound by sending the expansive body of water a series of legislative proposals designed to keep it safe from harm and sheltered from pollution. Friends of the Puget Sound say that at first, it was flattered by all the attention. “I just didn’t know what to say,” said the Puget Sound, “I’m used to having my picture taken now and again but never so many kind words and actions on my behalf. I guess I was just flattered at first.”

Their relationship had been on the rocks recently after Republicans took over the State Senate and Ranker was forced to spend most of his time at work, away from the inlet of his dreams. However, they have managed to regain some balance in the recent months.

Ranker proposed marriage in front of over fifty guests at a fundraiser yesterday. Puget Sound would have accepted were it not for a recent law, drafted by Sen. Doug Ericksen, which outlawed water/human marriage. His efforts were met with resistance by the State House but Ericksen managed to keep his bill from being, “watered down”.

Ranker says that his love for the Puget Sound is undiminished by this recent setback. “I will always love, protect and support the Puget Sound, whatever our legal status.”

Posted by: sweeneyblog | April 1, 2015

5 Bellingham Art Pieces that Make No Sense

Note: This was a satirical post for April Fool’s Day. 

It is time to come clean, we have some weird public art in Bellingham. Any tourist will tell you they are completely baffled by some of the public sculptures that adorn our streets. Here’s FIVE examples of just how weird our public art is.


1. That spinny globe thing in front of the WTA Bus Station

Seriously, did we rob the Daily Planet in Metropolis of their building decoration? What the heck is going on with that thing? Maybe it was just a hood ornament on a very very large car. Either way, I think if it spins fast enough, you can send a very tiny Jodie Foster into outer space to meet her dad.


2. The giant man-eating Salmon Mural

There you are, peacefully just walking downtown then OH GOD, THAT GIANT SALMON IS GOING TO EAT ME! What the heck?!  Yes, we really do need a two story picture of a salmon downtown to scare little children who like to eat fish. WHO’S YOUR FAVORITE BAGEL SPREAD NOW?!

download (1)3. Dirty Dan Harris stole my wallet

All I’m saying is when I sat on the bench, I had my wallet but when I left, it was gone. If I find him at that Steakhouse eating on my dime, well, let’s just say I’ve got a smelting pot with his name on it.


4. Man Humping Bear Statue may actually cause injuries

Yes, everyone knows that WWU has a statue of a man with a bear on his lap with both of their heads thrown back in that ecstasy akin to downing the first sip of that delicious latte. What they don’t know is the Student Health center at WWU regularly treats patients who have fallen off this statue trying to take a selfie with the man and the bear at the same time. It doesn’t work, they are too far apart. Unless you have a selfie stick.

Bayou on Bay-001

5. Giant Glowing Something on Holly Street

Seriously, what the heck is it?! Is it a giant google maps pin made real? Is it a microphone (a nod to the SPARK Museum just down the street) or maybe it is some alien spike, sent to monitor all communications inside Bayou on the Bay (a well known meeting place for all extraterrestrial activity). Either way, the Mayor needs to put a task force on this right away.

Older Posts »