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Sehlin won't run again in 2004

Beyond the presidential contest, this year may be a hot one for Island County politics. The seats belonging to two county commissioners, two state representatives, a state senator and a U.S. congressman are up for election this November.

It’s that time of the year already where elected officials and their potential challengers are making decisions about whether to run.

Rep. Barry Sehlin, R-Oak Harbor, may be the only one in the group who decided not to run again. “It’s time for me to do something else,” he said, “to focus on my family.”

Sehlin has held the office for 12 years, starting in 1992 with a one-term break in the middle.

Sehlin said he already knows of one candidate vying for his open seat. He said Chris Strow, a Clinton resident and son of Island County District Judge Peter Strow, plans to run. Strow was a senior aide to former Congressman Jack Metcalf.

“He’s a really good candidate, “ Sehlin said. “I’m confident he will do very well.”

Strow, who’s known Sehlin since he was 14 years old, said his years in Washington D.C. have given him the necessary experience to hold office. “This is an area of public service where I can make a difference,” he said, “and help Whidbey Island.”

Strow plans to focus on transportation, security issues and tort reform. He said the state is “on the verge of a medical crisis” because unchecked malpractice suits are causing malpractice rates to skyrocket.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, a Democrat, said he is definitely planning to run for his third term, though he’s not making his formal announcement until April. Larsen said he wants to continue his work on many important issues, including fighting possible closure of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, improving veterans’ health care and safeguarding Impact Aid for schools like Oak Harbor school district.

“There is a lot of work to do in the district,” he said. “My focus is always on the district. I was born and raised there and I feel an obligation to the area. It’s a privilege to sit in this seat.”

Larsen may be an important target for Republicans this year. Suzanne Sinclair, the Island County auditor and a Republican, announced last August that she plans to run against Larsen.

“I feel I can better represent the views of the people of the second congressional district,” she said. “My views are probably more in alignment with the constituents.”

Sinclair said health care will be one of the focuses of her campaign. She supports the senior drug benefit, for example, but she said more work needs to be done on the law. She wants to see better protection for those who have retiree benefits from private companies, some incentive for lower drug prices and a needs- based system “instead of another entitlement program,” she said.

“I look forward to dealing with health care,” she said. “They are really complex issues.”

Larsen said he’s heard about other potential rivals, but he doesn’t know of anyone else who’s made an announcement.

State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano, also plans to run, though she said she hasn’t had time to make a formal announcement either. “Right now I’m focusing on my job here,” she said from the Senate floor Friday, “but I definitely plan to run again. I’ve got too much to do.”

Haugen has spent the last 22 years in state politics, with 10 years in the House and 12 years in the Senate.

Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, said she plans to run for her second term. “I think I am able to bring a perspective to the State Legislature that is valuable to the district,” she said.

Bailey points out that she is already the ranking minority member on the health care committee. “For a person in their first term to be selected to do that is very unusual,” she said.

Bailey said she is also very interested in transportation issues and has worked closely with the ferry system while on the transportation committee. In addition, she is on the Veteran and Military Officers’ Joint Select Committee.

As for county politics, Island County commissioners Mac McDowell and Mike Shelton, both Republicans, said they will announce their intentions at the Lincoln Day dinner, an annual and national Republican event, on Feb. 28. It’s being held at the Elks Club in Oak Harbor this year.

Yet both men did offer some pretty clear hints about their plans. “I’ve enjoyed my time in office and I believe I have something more to offer,” McDowell said.

Shelton said he’s “leaning towards running” but will hold off on anything official until the dinner.

Both Shelton and McDowell were first elected to the office 12 years ago. They have both also been pretty popular candidates, but Shelton may already have an intra-party rival. He said he heard that South Whidbey resident Reece Rose, wife of former Comp Plan Committee member Rufus Rose, plans to run as a Republican.

She could not be reached for comment.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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