A South Whidbey native who manages Ebey’s National Historical Reserve and has a law degree entered the race this week for the Island County commissioner representing South and Central Whidbey Island.
Maria Shimada, a Democrat, is the third person to announce her candidacy for the District 1 seat. Commissioner Melanie Bacon, also Democrat, said she plans to run for reelection in 2024. Wanda Grone, the former county treasurer and a Republican, announced earlier this year that she plans to compete for the seat.
Shimada, however, has a secret weapon. Former Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson has her back and enthusiastically endorsed her campaign. Price Johnson held the seat until she ran for state senate.
“Marie is the leader we need to help usher in our future,” Price Johnson said. “She understands how special our community is, and she has a vision to move all of us forward. Marie will focus on economic development and supporting our small businesses while also investing in more housing that working families can afford.”
Shimada explained that Price Johnson is a longtime family friend and a neighbor when she was growing up in Clinton. Shimada said she was introduced to politics while working on Price Johnson’s state senate campaign three years ago. She considers the former commissioner to be a mentor.
While Price Johnson ultimately lost in the very close race, it showed Shimada a different way to serve the community. She recalls sitting around a kitchen table and asking Price Johnson if she’d make a good commissioner someday.
“She said, ‘You’d be good at it right now,’” Shimada said.
Shimada emphasized that her decision to run isn’t an attack on Bacon. She said she’s just really enthusiastic about serving her community and wants the chance to be part of the decision-making.
Shimada’s family moved to Whidbey during her childhood, permanently residing at the end of a historic road in Clinton. She attended South Whidbey Elementary School, Langley Middle School and South Whidbey High School. She was awarded a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington and holds a law degree from the University of San Diego School of Law.
Yet Shimada said she ultimately sought a life outside the traditional legal industry. She worked her way up to an executive director role in the nonprofit sector but ultimately decided to return to live on Whidbey Island permanently.
She was hired as the manager of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, the nation’s first and one-of-its-kind reserve dedicated to preserving history. In that role, she said, she has worked with a range of people in the community, including government officials, farmers, business owners and citizens.
Shimada also serves on the boards of the Economic Development Council of Island County, the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area and the Agricultural Resources Committee of Island County. She volunteers with Embrace Whidbey & Camano Islands, which encourages regenerative tourism.
Shimada said she grew up in a family rooted in service. Both of her grandfathers served in the South Pacific during World War II. Her mother spent a career in health care while her father is a volunteer firefighter/EMT on South Whidbey.
“We learned from a young age to care for others and your community,” Shimada said. “I am running for Island County commissioner because I believe local government is a powerful force for good in people’s lives and we need to build a future with thriving local businesses, housing people can afford and a strong climate resiliency plan.”
Today, Shimada lives with her partner Cody Haynes in Freeland.
“In between work and serving our community, you’ll find Marie enjoying farm adventures with her dogs and horses,” her campaign announcement said.