"Wilcox, McDowell take on their critics"
July 3, 2008 · Updated 1:02 PM
"One of the hottest local political races, rhetoric-wise, is between incumbent Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell and challenger Lynne Wilcox.Democrat Wilcox has been campaigning intensely and passionately for a year to unseat McDowell, who has been commissioner for two terms. Meanwhile McDowell has been trying to rally the Republican faithful who have been loyal to his cause in the past. Both camps have generated plenty of mailers, ads and yard signs in an attempt to claim the majority of countywide voters on election day.Aside from the attacks they have leveled at each other during candidate forums and in print, their supporters have also fired a salvo or two across each contender's bow.Using letters to the editor, campaign ads and forum questions as sources, here are a few of the strongest claims and accusations made and the candidates responses: McDowell has been called pro development, ready to sacrifice the county's environment for his developer friends.McDowell: The facts don't support it. During my tenure I've only approved one large development. We've only increased regulations on development. We've never decreased regulations. McDowell said that as a civil engineer he has developed some property and has certainly made the acquaintance of developers and builders. But personally I have sold off everything except one piece of property with a single-family house on it.Wilcox has been called a traitor to her party because she switched from Republican to Democrat.Wilcox says it was the Republican Party that deserted her. When the Republicans accepted a plank restricting women's rights, they lost me emotionally. Then when they allowed the religious right to take over, they lost me physically. I haven't been to a Republican-sponsored event in four years. Religion and politics need to be kept separate.It's been said that McDowell has squandered tax dollars for special interests.McDowell: Spending tax dollars is not in my special interest. The facts are that when I came into office their was no budget reserve. Now there is a 10 percent reserve. We also got through Initiative 695 without laying anyone off. If I'm strongest on anything, it's money. The county is in the best financial shape in years.Wilcox, a realtor, claims to be a supporter of the environment and the Growth Management Act. How can that be?Wilcox: Many developers are realtors, but most realtors are not developers. Many realtors want to see Whidbey keep its charm. Wanting to see somebody own a home is not the same as going in and cutting down all the trees.McDowell has been accused of fighting the Growth Management Act until being forced to take action under the threat of economic sanctions.McDowell: From the day I took office we recognized that the GMA was an issue. We had already started down a path where the Planning Commission and the planning director would develop a Comprehensive Plan. McDowell said that after the state told the county that they had to show their work, he and his fellow commissioners undertook a county mapping project that took about two years. During that time, he said, they realized that the Planning Commission/planning director system was not going to work and began setting aside money to pay for an outside consultant. Meanwhile the process dragged on.Until we had another alternative, we weren't just going to stop it. Once the consultant got on board the comments were that we were going too fast.Wilcox has been accused of misrepresenting facts in her advertising, particularly in regard to the commissioners' use of rainy day dollars because they had spent about $1.2 million to an outside Comprehensive Plan consultant, and in regard to the crime in Island County.Wilcox: The money came from somewhere. It was a direct result of having a low general fund. Wilcox said that no matter whether it's called a rainy day fund or something else, the high cost of the consultant strained the budget and left the commissioners with no other choice but to dip into their reserve to cover for the economic fallout of Initiative 695. She also complained that the current way the county does its budgets is confusing and pushes the bounds of legality.I defy anyone to go down and look at the budget and make heads or tails of it.With regard to crime, Wilcox said she has only cited statistics from the Island County Sheriff's Annual Report for 1999/2000. She agrees with McDowell's claim that Island County has one of the lowest crime rate ratios in the state, but she insists that voters also need to look at the total number of crimes. Major crimes are up 43 percent. The trend troubles me.McDowell's advertising has also come under criticism. One ad claimed he had the support of Oak Harbor's mayor and the entire city council. Some questioned that statement, particularly in regard to councilman Paul Brewer who was on vacation at the time the ad came out.McDowell: I have it in writing. If you want Paul Brewer's or Danny Paggao's signatures, I have them. Paul Brewer is putting up signs for me.Wilcox has been labeled a negative campaigner who has attacked McDowell's integrity. Since she campaigns on her mediating skills, such aggressive techniques seem out of place.Wilcox: It's very hard to hide a bad record. All I've done is present my opponent's record. I'm not attacking the man. I'm attacking his record. Mediation doesn't mean always painting a rosy picture, she said. Being a mediator is identifying problems and trying to find a solution. It is not just making nice.It's been said that under McDowell's leadership, county employee morale has reached a low point. McDowell: The idea that county morale is bad has only been brought up by my opponents (Wilcox and Republican primary challenger Marv Koorn). The county department heads have not brought us bad morale problems, just pay issues. Though Wilcox is running for the District 2 (Greater Oak Harbor) commissioner seat, it's said her support is from South Whidbey.Wilcox: If you run the numbers on campaign contributors, you'll see I have a good mix of support from throughout the county. "