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Who's next?

State Rep. Chris Strow, R-Freeland, was the first to publicly announce his desire to be appointed to the vacant seat on the Board of Island County Commissioners, but Island County Auditor Suzanne Sinclair wasn’t far behind.

Clinton resident Reece Rose has also thrown her hat into the ring of consideration. She ran against Shelton in 2004, but lost to him in the primary.

With Republican Mike Shelton’s resignation taking effect Sept. 1, the Island County Republican Party is responsible for bringing the names of three candidates before the two remaining commissioners, Republican Mac McDowell and Democrat John Dean. They will pick Shelton’s replacement from among those three names. If they can’t agree, the choice will made by Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, who will have the same three Republican names to select from.

Shelton’s brief letter of resignation released Monday caught many people by surprise, including Strow. “I got a call this morning,” he said mid-morning. Shelton knew he was interested in the position because Strow had inquired several months ago if Shelton planned to run again next fall. Strow said he had no idea Shelton was considering resigning so he could take another job.

“I’ve always been interested and would enjoy doing it,” Strow said of the job of Island County commissioner. “On the county level it’s closer to serving the people directly.”

Working in Coupeville rather than Olympia would also fit in nicely with Strow’s family life. He and his wife Mary are the parents of a new baby girl, their first child. Abigail Strow was born June 26. “It meets my needs, I can come home at night,” he said.

Strow is halfway through his second two-year term in the state House of Representatives. He worked for a number of years in Washington, D.C., as an aide to the late Congressman Jack Metcalf.

Sinclair is in her 10th year as Island County Auditor, having been elected four times. In 2004 she kept her job as auditor while winning the Republican nod to run against U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Arlington, in what turned out to be a losing campaign.

Sinclair said Monday afternoon that she would like to take over Shelton’s position. “Yes, I’m interested,” she said. “I think Island County residents are looking for a level of professionalism in county government that I would continue to develop. I will submit a letter of interest when appropriate.”

Rose, a real estate agent and president of the South Whidbey Republican Women’s Club, has already submitted her letter of interest in the job. She and her husband, Rufus Rose, organize the popular Old Goats Club, a conservative and Libertarian discussion group that brings in guest speakers from across the political spectrum.

If she’s chosen, Rose hopes to return more fiscal responsibility to county government, which was her campaign theme in 2004. She has a background in business management and regularly attends county meetings.

“The ever-inceasing tax burden is excessive,” she said.

In order to replace Shelton, a candidate has to live within Island County Commissioner District 1, which covers South and Central Whidbey Island.

The process of appointing a commissioner is not new to Island County. The last time it happened was in 1987 with the death of Commissioner Gary Bostrom, who like Shelton was a Republican representing District 1.

The county Republican party at that time submitted the names of Dick Caldwell, Rufus Rose and John Hannahs to the two Republican commissioners, Gordon Koetje of Oak Harbor and Dwain Colby of Camano Island. They couldn’t agree, so Gov. Booth Gardner, a Democrat, made the choice in early 1988. He selected Dick Caldwell.

“Everybody on the island was lobbying one way or another,” Caldwell said Monday, recalling the process. Gardner interviewed all three candidates and, without explanation, appointed Caldwell. “The reality is nobody knows why,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell went on to win election in 1987 to fill out the rest of Bostrom’s term, and in 1988 he beat Democrat Todd Peterson for the full four-year term. But his political career ended in 1992 when he tried and failed to unseat State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen.

As a political observer, Caldwell expects “quite a number” of Republicans to seek the appointment now that Shelton is leaving.

“Mike’s been in there so long and there’s so many people who’ve been waiting for an opening,” Caldwell said. But he doubts the governor will be deciding this time. “I don’t think it’ll happen,” he said. “I think John (Dean) and Mac (McDowell) will agree on somebody.”

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