Strow’s out, Smith wants in

The baby or the Legislature?

The choice between the two wasn’t hard for Chris Strow, who announced Thursday he is resigning from the Washington State Legislature.

The Republican State Representative from Freeland was first elected in 2004, but he won’t be in Olympia when the next session begins in January. Instead he’ll be at home with infant daughter Abigail and his wife Mary.

“Serving the people in the 10th District has been the greatest single honor in my life, but now is the time for me to focus on serving my wife and my daughter,” Strow said in his resignation announcement.

Strow’s decision to quit created a political void which may be filled by Norma Smith, 56, a Clinton resident and long-time Republican leader in Island County who has already expressed an interest in taking over Strow’s seat.

“I’m very interested in this position,” Smith said Thursday. She already has the endorsement of Strow and a strong urge to serve.

“I believe in the political process, this is a great opportunity to serve,” Smith said.

Smith’s only elective experience came as a nonpartisan member of the South Whidbey School Board. She has run unsuccessfully as a Republican twice, once for the State Senate against Mary Margaret Haugen, and once for U.S. Congress against Rep. Rick Larsen. For several years, she served as an aide to the late Congresssman Jack Metcalf. Both she and Strow were on Metcalf’s staff.

The ultimate decision on Strow’s successor rests with the Republican Party. The 10th District includes all of Island and parts of Skagit and Snohomish counties, so quite a few people will be involved.

Strow will be urging leaders to pick Smith. “I’m going to support Norma for this appointment,” he said.

Strow’s unease with his job in Olympia became known earlier this year when he applied for appointment to the Island County Board of Commissioners after Mike Shelton resigned. The Republican Party chose Phil Bakke instead.

Strow said he has “no hard feelings,” over that decision, and that he’s learned as a politician that “you have to turn the other cheek.” His decision to resign was “all about my wife and daughter.”

Besides being a legislator, Strow has been working as a communications consultant for the Snohomish County/Camano Association of Realtors. Friday it was announced that he has been named principal economic policy analyst at the Puget Sound Regional Council.

As a Republican working in the minority in Olympia, Strow said he “committed myself to bringing fiscally conservative, socially responsible leadership to Olympia. I hope that I will be judged favorably in this regard.”

As accomplishments, he cited his work to strengthen sex offender registration and electronic monitoring laws, reform of the municipal court probation systems, and efforts to better regulate the payday lending industry.

His last vote in the Legislature was in this month’s one-day special session, where he voted with the majority to implement the 1 percent property tax limitation thrown out by the state Supreme Court.

Strow, perhaps patterning himself after his mentor Jack Metcalf, had a maverick streak. He hired Oak Harbor Democrat Gina Bull as his legislative assistant and he worked with Democrats on some environmental issues.

Whomever the Republicans appoint will have a fight on their hands next November. Two Democrats, Coupeville resident Ann McDonald and Camano Island resident Patricia Terry, have already announced plans to run for Strow’s position.

Meanwhile, don’t count Chris Strow out in future elective politics in Island County. He might run again some day when Abigail is a little older.

“I’d never rule it out,” he said. “I love public service, it’s a driving passion in my life.”

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