Strongbusiness advocate appointed to Blaine planning commission

Published on Thu, Aug 4, 2005 by TaraNelson

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Strong business advocate appointed to Blaine planning commission

By Tara Nelson

The Blaine city council recently appointed Ken Oplinger, president of the Bellingham/Whatcom County Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to the city’s planning commission.

Oplinger, who moved to Blaine with his wife two years ago from Visalia, California, a city with a population of about 100,000, was also the president of the Visalia Chamber of Commerce and served on the city’s planning commission. While there, he also helped start a drinking group called Viva Visalia.

“We were all fairly new to (Visalia) and didn’t know anyone so we started this group,” he said. “It died off after about two or three years but it was lots of fun.”

He said he hopes to start a local chapter of a similar national drinking club in the Bellingham area as a way to meet people.

The 35-year-old political enthusiast earned his bachelor of arts degree in political science from Willamette University in Salem, Ore., as well as a second degree from the Institute for Organizational Management at UCLA, and is a self-proclaimed “lobbyist in real-life.” Oplinger said he thinks the biggest challenge facing the Blaine community is the substantial amount of growth.

“It’s important that Blaine plan for this new growth and this new future that we have before us,” he said. “We need to make sure that rather than continuing to take projects on piece-meal basis, we take a look at what we want this community to look like and as projects come up, we can use the plan to review projects.”

Since being named president, the chamber has taken positions on some of the most contentious county issues such as the proposed boat ban on Lake Whatcom, which they opposed. Oplinger also worked with the Association of Washington Business, the state’s largest lobby group that worked to eliminate state ergonomics regulations in the workplace.

Also, in May of 2004, he posted a comment on a political blog for Whatcom County, listing positions the chamber took on eight legislative state issues. In the post, he recommended slowing increases in the state minimum wage, for example, by linking those increases to state unemployment rates rather than the consumer price index, the standard method of measuring the changes in the price that consumers pay for goods and services. This, he said, would relieve some of the burden put on businesses during economic recessions and would only increase the minimum wage during times of economic growth.

Oplinger also advocated medical malpractice reform and capping the amount of money a patient can claim in a medical malpractice suit, which opponents say, could create a disincentive for doctors to take safety precautions. He also advocated reducing or eliminating worker’s compensation increases in an effort to save Washington state more money, thereby making it more competitive; eliminating state-mandated requirements for medical benefits, in an effort to make employee health care packages more affordable for smaller businesses; as well as pushing for diversion of tax payments for businesses also known as tax increment financing, a subsidy generally given to help redevelop areas that are deemed blighted or distressed as a result of property abandonment, building code violations, or aging of buildings, ostensibly to stimulate economic growth.

He is also helping to start a political action committee in Whatcom County to raise funds to endorse pro-business candidates for Whatcom County Council in the next election.

“We’ve decided there needs to be an effective voice to let the candidates know who are pro-business,” Oplinger said. “We basically want to be an effective voice of who has the business community at heart and who doesn’t. There are elected officials who feel that the business community shouldn’t have a voice in local politics. We think everyone should be at the table.”