Island County commissioner District 1 candidates face off in Clinton forum

Jeff Lauderdale put a little distance between himself, the tea party and even the Republican party in front of more than 100 citizens at the Clinton Progressive Hall Wednesday night. Probably the favorite of the Island County Republican Party to unseat incumbent Democrat Helen Price Johnson for the District 1 commissioner position, Lauderdale opened his remarks by saying, in effect, he’s his own man.

Jeff Lauderdale put a little distance between himself, the tea party and even the Republican party in front of more than 100 citizens at the Clinton Progressive Hall Wednesday night.

Probably the favorite of the Island County Republican Party to unseat incumbent Democrat Helen Price Johnson for the District 1 commissioner position, Lauderdale opened his remarks by saying, in effect, he’s his own man.

“I’m not an automaton for the Republican Party and I make my own decisions,” Lauderdale said. Democrats have tried to typecast him as a tea party type, but the mustachioed former Navy commander boasted of his leadership  and background.

“I headed the Trident building program of $23 billion,” he said of the Trident submarines, some of which carry nuclear missiles and are based at Bangor.

A mechanical engineer whose wife has roots on Whidbey Island dating back to 1968, Lauderdale suggested the county is making some decisions on insufficient evidence. He called for “a scientific explanation for our dollars, so we don’t solve problems that simply don’t exist.”

As a case in point, he picked on the county’s mandatory sewer system inspection programs. Generally, all gravity septic systems have to be inspected every three years, and alternative systems, often located along the shoreline, must be inspected every year. He said those alternative  systems are reliable.

“It makes no sense to me,” Lauderdale said. Later, referring to state lawmakers, he said, “I’d stand on their desks until they change the timing.”

Lauderdale also criticized the expensive sewer system once proposed for Freeland to protect Holmes Harbor that was closed to shellfish harvesting and swimming. The state is now considering reopening the waters, even without the sewer plant.

He wasn’t all negative, however, crediting Price Johnson for balancing the budget in difficult times. Lauderdale has been attending commissioner meetings regularly since he announced he would run early last year, first gaining public attention as an opponent of the way the  state-mandated septic system inspection program was implemented.

Price Johnson stood her ground, saying when she was elected in 2008 as the county’s first woman commissioner she “navigated some very rough waters” economically. She told her personal story of growing up on the island and running the old Jones Department Store in Langley, and then starting a construction business with her husband, raising kids and serving on the school board.

“Our quality of life was threatened,” she said, explaining what prompted her to seek the office. She made no apologies for mandatory septic inspections or the Clean Water Utility fee levied on land parcels. “The future of our islands is at stake in this election,” she told the mild, polite crowd of mostly older people. “We’re fragile environmentally and economically. I love this community and want it here for my children and grandchildren.” She also took the opportunity to refute charges she supported a $40 million sewer system for Freeland. A trip to Washington, D.C., she said, was simply to look for more federal dollars for whatever system may be chosen.

Another Republican, Wayne Morrison, runs a construction business on South Whidbey and emphasized making it easier for companies to operate here, and keeping more business local. As an example of his frustration with regulations, he said local gravel companies sometimes can’t bid on county gravel contracts because of how the state defines gravel. He also called for fewer regulations to promote more housing for low income people. “Lots of people going to the food bank for food also need low cost housing,” he said. “It’ll enable their existence, or they’ll move away and go to schools somewhere else.” Retaining students has been a problem for South Whidbey schools. Basically, economic growth was his platform and he pointed out he was just elected to another term as chairman of the Island County Economic Development Council board, which he said offers free help in starting and operating small businesses.

By the time independent Curt Gordon got to speak, he admitted he might sound “like an echo.” Like the others, he opposes higher taxes and fees and is in favor of attracting more tourists and businesses. “The public is not in favor of property tax increases,” he said. “We need an infrastructure that brings people here and keeps them coming back.”

Gordon has a long history of public service. As the present Port District president, he said progress is finally being made on improving the Langley Marina with a project costing roughly $2.4 million on track to begin soon. He’s pushing the city of Mukilteo to provide more parking for Whidbey Island commuters and visitors, and took credit for helping create several public spaces, including Double Bluff, when he served on the Conservation Futures Advisory Board.

“I’m not a party candidate,” Gordon told the crowd, adding he could bring balance to a divided board of commissioners.

The other independent at the front table was Ed Jenkins, who said he enjoyed success as a businessman in California. As such, he doesn’t need a county paycheck. He said part of his paycheck would be spent for “advertorials” in local papers to explain county issues to the people, while the bulk of it would be spent on off-island advertising to attract more visitors.

“You’re not voting for a BFF (Best Friend Forever),” Jenkins said. He sees the commissioner job as strictly business, and several times said, “I can’t believe I’m hearing this,” when other candidates called for new programs. “My blood’s boiling,” he said at one point. “There’s no grant fairy.”

 

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