New Conservative Group Launched
by Jennifer Moon
Jennifer Moon is an independent researcher and writer living in Whatcom County. She holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Virginia.
The Social Alliance for a Vibrant Economy (SAVE) is a newcomer to the Whatcom County political scene. Founded in April 2014,1 the fledgling non-profit is just now getting organized, holding its first public events a few weeks ago on the topic of the rising cost of rental housing in Whatcom County. Two forums held in Ferndale and Bellingham explored the state of the current rental housing market and were presented as a venue for a broad discussion of the issue from multiple points of view.
SAVE fashions itself an organization that “encourages a safe, clean, healthy and economically vibrant community” by connecting “People to Jobs, Jobs to Business, Business to a Vibrant Economy.” These are “[t]he common threads which shape a vibrant future for our communities.”2 Its Facebook page sports the image of a road sign pointing the way to work, life, and balance.3
Who Could Argue With That?
But remember Save Whatcom and Whatcom First? Those were political action committees active in the 2013 election cycle, funded in part by coal interests, that advocated for the election of the conservative slate of candidates to the County Council and Port of Bellingham.4 Save Whatcom and Whatcom First were subsequently fined a combined total of $3,000 by the Public Disclosure Commission, with an additional $1,500 suspended, for campaign contribution violations related to late reporting and, in the case of Save Whatcom, failing to report electronically.5
Some Familiar Names
SAVE is brought to you by some of the same people involved in Save Whatcom and Whatcom First. Kris Halterman, host of the local KGMI conservative radio talk show “Saturday Morning Live,” and Lorraine Newman of the Whatcom Tea Party are associated with all three organizations. Both are founding SAVE board members, along with Dick Donahue, a Fairhaven financial advisor and KGMI radio show host; Mike Hudson, executive director of the AWB Institute (an affiliate of the Association of Washington Business); Dave Brumbaugh, former editor of The Lynden Tribune; and Ron Buchinski, executive director of Lighthouse Mission.
The SAVE founding board of directors also includes a couple of political newcomers. Jacob Deschenes and Samuel Sefzik have recently served as guest hosts on “Saturday Morning Live.” Todd Hausman is a public school teacher currently on leave from Bellingham’s Lowell Elementary School who was featured in an anti-teachers union ad last year.6
Board membership, however, is not limited to individuals living in Whatcom County.
Ed Kilduff, another SAVE founding director, is a hydrogeologist from the San Juan Islands. Kilduff is also active with the Common Sense Alliance, a San Juan Islands property rights group. He got his start in oil exploration on Alaska’s North Slope and is purported to be the anonymous blogger “ECK” behind “Trojan Heron,” a website garnering attention from various Whatcom County conservative groups, as well as a sister website, “Trojan Herring,” in Marin County, California that has advocated for the rights of a local oyster company to farm in a federally-protected wilderness area.7
But it’s the involvement of two other individuals in SAVE that is most notable.
Until very recently, SAVE Founding Board Member Glen Morgan served as the Grassroots director and Property Rights director at Freedom Foundation.8 Formerly known as the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, Morgan’s former employer is a “free-market,” state-level think tank allied with the State Policy Network and ALEC. (Former Freedom Foundation President Bob Williams is a member of ALEC’s Board of Scholars.)9 Freedom Foundation is the beneficiary of some of the most prominent funders of right-wing state-level think tanks in the nation, including the Bradley Foundation, the Roe Foundation, and the Jacquelin Hume Foundation.10 In April, Freedom Foundation made news as the organization behind the airplane that flew overhead teachers rallying for adequate school funding at the state capital with a banner that read “Put Kids First! No More Strikes!” An investigation of the incident has now been launched by the FAA due to possibly concealed tail numbers on the plane as it flew over the teachers rally.11
Besides Morgan, SAVE has another link to statewide politics in the person of Dan Brady. Brady, a Bellingham attorney, was identified as the “registered agent” when SAVE filed with the Washington State Secretary of State’s Office back in April 2014. When Save Whatcom and Whatcom First went before the Public Disclosure Commission in the campaign contributions reporting case, Brady was their attorney. He is also the registered agent for Northwest Jobs Alliance, the local organization that has been active in its support of the Gateway Pacific Terminal proposal.12
Brady, a relative newcomer to Bellingham, has a long history in Washington State Republican politics. He was a staffer for former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, an aide to former King County Councilmember Chris Vance, and former executive director of the Washington State Republican Party. He was also active in former Attorney General Rob McKenna’s campaign for Governor. He served as the Chief Operating Officer of Friends of Rob McKenna and has since worked as a political strategist. Most recently, he served as Treasurer of “Washington’s Future,” the political action committee that was behind now-U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse’s (R-WA 4th District) media attacks on Clint Didier during last year’s election.13 Brady also served as an officer of a non-profit formed in 2013 by McKenna and his former campaign manager, Randy Pepple, called Reform Alliance.14
Reform Alliance, which as of May 1 is now listed as “inactive” on the Secretary of State’s website, served as a kind of umbrella group for two other McKenna-Pepple initiatives: Smarter Government Washington and Shift Washington. Smarter Government Washington is Rob McKenna’s vehicle for advancing his public policy proposals, while Shift Washington plays the role of attack dog, critiquing Democratic policies and leaders, particularly Gov. Jay Inslee.15 Both organizations have been funded by Reform Alliance, and in 2013, both Brady and Pepple received compensation from Reform Alliance in the amounts of $10,000 and $55,500 respectively.16
In recent months, Randy Pepple has been the public face of Shift Washington and Reform Alliance in Whatcom County. During an interview on Kris Halterman’s radio show last year, and again during a recent appearance before the Northwest Business Club, Pepple touted a book called “The Blue Print: How the Democrats Won Colorado.” The book details how a Democratic alliance successfully campaigned to turn the Colorado state legislature from “red” to “blue” between 2004 and 2008. This, Pepple insists, serves as a model for Washington’s Republicans to run a “permanent campaign” to gain control of state government.17
Free Market Education Is the Goal
But back to our story about SAVE.
Last September, SAVE was officially launched with an event at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal hosted by the Whatcom Tea Party. Board Member Glen Morgan of Freedom Foundation served as the master of ceremonies. The guest speaker at the launch was Ken Clark, a conservative talk show host from Colorado. The theme of his address was none other than The Blue Print.18
On his way to Bellingham, Clark was interviewed, along with Glen Morgan, Ed Kilduff, and Todd Hausman, by Kris Halterman on “Saturday Morning Live.” The conversation focused on why organizations like SAVE are needed, as Halterman put it, “in Whatcom County, Washington State, and across the nation.” The gist of it was that Washingtonians need a “basic understanding of economics” so that they will oppose such things as Gov. Inslee’s carbon emissions proposals. The purpose of SAVE would be to “educate” people so that they will be more likely to support free market economics. “At the Freedom Foundation,” Morgan chimed in, “we really encourage people to start groups like this on a local basis….”19
So What to Make of SAVE?
Since the coal interests came to town over the Gateway Pacific Terminal proposal, Whatcom County has been on the front burner of statewide politics. The formation of new political groups is not unusual. What is unusual is a home-grown organization in Whatcom County that has such strong ties to the state and, through the association with Freedom Foundation, the national conservative political infrastructure. If a “permanent campaign” on behalf of conservative causes is the goal, perhaps built, as Glen Morgan suggested, upon a network of local groups, SAVE may be part of the strategy.
So far, SAVE has been less than transparent. An earlier version of the group’s website listed the names of the SAVE board members. In the current version, there is no listing of board members. As reported in The Bellingham Herald, the goal of SAVE is “to educate the public on financial literacy and sustainability.” Kris Halterman intimated to Western Washington University’s Western Front that “SAVE focuses on helping the average citizens to have an economic financial literacy.” Yet, in addition to the conversation on “Saturday Morning Live” last September, a fundraising appeal states that “SAVE was formed because of our belief in free market-economic [sic] policies….” 20
A request for comment was sent to SAVE inquiring as to the economic issues SAVE hopes to address in the future, what kind of economic education is lacking in Whatcom County and the intent behind linking SAVE’s launch event last September to a discussion of a book detailing how a state legislature was flipped. In response, Mike Hudson, a SAVE board member, wrote, quoting from the organization’s 501(c)(3) application, that “SAVE will provide educational workshops, resources and materials based on sound capitalist economic principles that people can apply to their daily lives….”
SAVE further works to help “…people understand HOW the economy works and WHY the personal decisions that they make for themselves and their families and the decisions that elected officials and government bureaucrats make on their behalf, affect their lives both positively and negatively.” He added, “We want to provide the background and understanding of the ‘everyday economics’ to make that informed decision [about how policy proposals will affect them].”
Regarding the question about any relationship between the launch of SAVE and discussion of The Blueprint, Kris Halterman wrote that Ken Clark attended “to talk about his experience in Colorado with the ability of social groups to be a benefit to our communities, small and large.” 21
It’s notable that SAVE speaks of the “common threads which shape a vibrant future for our communities,” as SAVE appears to have a relationship with yet another new organization, Common Threads Northwest. Not to be confused with Common Threads Farm, Common Threads Northwest filed its formation papers with the Secretary of State’s Office in March 2015. Again, the registered agent of Common Threads Northwest is Dan Brady. SAVE and Common Threads share a board member in Dick Donahue. Other members of the board of directors of Common Threads include Chet Dow, member of the Whatcom County Charter Review Commission, and Larry Helm, a Whatcom Conservation District Supervisor. 22
Common Threads, a self-described “public interest organization” that “seeks to help Whatcom County achieve economic vitality, environmental quality, individual rights, an informed citizenry and prudent use of public resources,” has taken as its first initiative a critique of the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan update. In a press release issued May 15, Common Threads Northwest takes issue with “serious deficiencies” in the draft EIS including “disregarding the need to address deficiencies in existing housing stock as well as new, and needs for several kinds of housing.” Common Threads Northwest further claims that “little attention [was] paid to the importance of the Cherry Point Industrial Area.”23
One might be forgiven for seeing something other than coincidence in two organizations that share board members and an attorney both addressing the issue of housing as their opening salvo. The Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan update and the associated politics of managing growth appear to be the first items on the agenda for SAVE and Common Threads Northwest.
2. http://savenw.org viewed May 18, 2015.
3. https://www.facebook.com/savenw, viewed May 18, 2015.
5. http://www.pdc.wa.gov/home/enforcement/results/pdfs/2014/14005.Order.pdf; http://www.pdc.wa.gov/archive/commissionmeetings/minutesmaterials/pdfs/2013/Minutes.12.5.2013.pdf; http://www.pdc.wa.gov/archive/commissionmeetings/meetingshearings/pdfs/2014/14004.STIP.pdf; http://www.pdc.wa.gov/Home/enforcement/status/pdfs/2014/14004.CUI.pdf.
6. http://www.savenw.org viewed October 1, 2014; http://lowell.bellinghamschools.org/schooldirectory; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yb0tamX6KbE, viewed May 18, 2015; http://smllibertyroad.com/podcast.
7. http://www.commonsensealliance.net/2012-10-29-06-00-26/leadership viewed May 18, 2015; http://eastsound-habitat-matters.blogspot.com/2012/05/who-is-trojan-heron.html; http://protectourshorelinenews.blogspot.com/2013/07/comment-on-is-west-marin-like-san-juans.html; http://trojanheron.blogspot.com/ http://trojanherring2.blogspot.com/p/why-this-blog-in-order-to-prepare-for.html; https://vimeo.com/69394924, viewed May 18, 2015; http://whatcomworks.com viewed May 18, 2015; http://smllibertyroad.com/local-insight/washington-state/the-trojan-heron viewed May 18, 2015.
8. https://www.myfreedomfoundation.com/users/gmorgan, viewed May 18, 2015.
9. http://www.spn.org/directory/stid.52/organizations.asp viewed May 18, 2015; http://www.prwatch.org/news/2014/11/12666/alec-buoyed-election-results-lays-blueprint-2015; http://www.alec.org/about-alec/board-of-scholars viewed May 18, 2015.
10. http://www.bradleyfdn.org/Portals/0/pdfs/Report2009/2009AnnualReport.pdf; http://990s.foundationcenter.org/990pf_pdf_archive/237/237011541/237011541_201312_990PF.pdf?_ga=1.85628185.1013059541.1430254160; http://990s.foundationcenter.org/990pf_pdf_archive/946/946080099/946080099_201312_990PF.pdf?_ga=1.85628185.1013059541.1430254160.
11. http://www.myfreedomfoundation.com/blogs/liberty-live/teachers-union-receives-message-from-above viewed May 18, 2015; http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/education/faa-investigates-airplane-that-flew-over-teachers-rally.
12. http://www.sos.wa.gov/corps/search_detail.aspx?ubi=603394370; http://www.pdc.wa.gov/archive/commissionmeetings/minutesmaterials/pdfs/2013/Minutes.12.5.2013.pdf; http://www.sos.wa.gov/corps/search_detail.aspx?ubi=603446492.
13. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danbrady, viewed May 20, 2014; http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattlepolitics/2014/10/21/establishment-gops-tv-spot-clint-didier-is-a-kook.
15. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h99yuDgm8bw&feature=youtu.be, viewed May 17, 2015; http://www.sos.wa.gov/corps/search_detail.aspx?ubi=603312681; http://www.sos.wa.gov/corps/search_detail.aspx?ubi=603362409; http://shiftwa.org/ http://www.smartergovernmentwa.org.
17. http://smllibertyroad.com/saturday-morning-live-for-mar-15-2014 viewed May 18, 2015; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h99yuDgm8bw&feature=youtu.be, viewed May 18, 2015.
18. https://www.facebook.com/events/966997819984048/, viewed May 18, 2015.
19. http://kgmi.com/podcasts/saturday-morning-live-92014 viewed May 18, 2015.
20. http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2015/05/04/4276460/bellingham-group-to-host-rental.html; http://www.westernfrontonline.com/2015/05/08/panel-gives-tips-on-landlord-tenant-relationships/ http://www.jotform.us/form/41976880480163 viewed May 16, 2015.
21. Email correspondence with Mike Hudson, dated 5/19/15 and Kris Halterman, dated 5/20/15.
23. http://smllibertyroad.com/press-release-common-threads-northwest-submits-criticism-of-whatcom-countys-draft-environmental-impact-statement-on-future-growth-for-the-county viewed May 18, 2015.