Editorial: Mac can still lobby

Former long-time Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell became a would-be ambassador without portfolio after his narrow election loss. He wanted to continue lobbying the Pentagon and Congress in favor of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, but couldn’t find a suitable sponsor.

The new set of county commissioners did the logical thing and appointed one of their own to the task. Then the city of Oak Harbor turned down suggestions from McDowell’s supporters that he represent the city, also in favor of using their its own officials. McDowell, at least temporarily, was left out in the cold.

But it doesn’t have to stay that way. A delegation from Whidbey Island will be heading to Washington, D.C. this spring for their annual lobbying trip. The school district needs to make its need for federal Impact Aid known, and city and county officials need to remind the Pentagon and Congress that we are home to a vital part of national defense system, that being Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. We learned a lesson in 1992 that we can’t take things for granted. That’s when NAS Whidbey ended up on the base closure list, and only a herculean effort by a united community saved the base.

Since then, lobbying has been an annual necessity. We have to keep the importance of NAS Whidbey fresh in the minds of decision-makers, and let them know that they’ll have another fight on their hands if they again try to close our base.

For many years, Mac McDowell has been an effective part of this lobbying effort. As a former Navy pilot he’s readily accepted in the military community, enjoys high credibility, and has cultivated numerous important contacts. Just because he’s no longer an elected official doesn’t mean he can’t be part of Whidbey Island’s lobbying team.

The future of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station certainly appears safe. New patrol aircraft and electronic warfare planes have been assigned to Whidbey, which is busy preparing for their arrival. But nothing is certain in warfare or politics, and what looks secure today could be threatened tomorrow. The new planes could be sent to other bases to save money. It would be a devastating blow to Island County’s economy.

With Democrats now firmly in control of Congress as well as the White House, it’s unlikely that military spending will increase like it did under the Bush Administration. Clinton cut back, and Obama might do the same, if not now then in the future to address the massive deficits and increased social spending. It’s more important than ever that Whidbey have a strong lobbying team to communicate with the Pentagon and Congress.

Our team would be stronger with Mac McDowell as a member. Our community is full of creative people. It shouldn’t be hard to find a way to send him along, assuming he’s still willing to go.

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