Lauderdale officially announces run for commissioner | UPDATE

Charging that Island County government needs a “course correction,” Robert “Jeff” Lauderdale officially announced Saturday that he will be running as a Republican candidate in the 2012 race to represent District 1 on the board of county commissioners.

A 60-year-old retiree who retired to Coupeville five years ago, Lauderdale has been a familiar sight at county commissioner meetings, where he has been a vocal critic of the county’s septic tank inspection program.

Those concerns have since translated into one of the main messages of his nascent campaign.

“My two big concerns are the methodology that we’re using to protect our environment,” Lauderdale said Monday.

“I believe that we’re not faithfully following best science and instead we’re still kind of experimenting with public dollars to just fund proposed solutions without really defining the problem before we move forward,” Lauderdale said.

“That usually leads you down the wrong road, unless you’re really lucky,” he added. “In this economy, we’re not going to be very lucky.”

Lauderdale said the county must determine the root causes of environmental problems, “then formulate real scientific solutions rather than shots in the dark.”

Lauderdale announced his candidacy at the Central Whidbey Republican Women’s annual summer barbecue at Smugglers Cove on Aug. 13. He said he has been thinking about running for the board of commissioners for roughly six months, and it’s his first attempt at elected office.

He said his announcement was well-received.

“It was very warm,” he said. “There are a lot of good conservatives on this island.”

The announcement was not unexpected.

Lauderdale registered as a candidate in the race with the state Public Disclosure Commission July 19. His campaign has raised $1,000 since early July; half of that amount coming from a personal loan Lauderdale made to his campaign for next year’s primary.

In his official announcement, Lauderdale pledged to be a vigilant vanguard on the spending of tax dollars.

“We have a remarkable environment to protect, roads to build and maintain, laws to enforce, public health to ensure and justice to render. At the same time however, we are at a point in history where we need to cut back the cost of government. Difficult local decisions are coming down the road and logic and science must be applied to all of the challenges.”

In a later interview, Lauderdale explained that he was not talking about the overall size of county government, but rather, how much is spent on its individual parts.

County leaders need to be more mindful of how and where money is spent, he said.

“It’s starting to grow back from the large cuts that were made from simply running out of money,” Lauderdale said.

“We really need to be more thoughtful about the way it grows. It has to grow in the right places. And the right size in the right places,” Lauderdale said.

As an example, the planning department is looking to add two new hires, though the county’s law-and-justice programs have borne the brunt of the majority of spending cuts in recent years. There has also been talk about hiring a high-level administrator for the county, “which is bound to be expensive,” he said.

“I think we need to be very cautious there and very thoughtful before we commit to that pathway,” he said.

Lauderdale is the first candidate to announce a run for a county seat in the 2012 Election. The incumbent in the District 1 race, Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, has not declared if she will seek a second term.

Price Johnson, a Democrat, is a former South Whidbey School Board member and the first woman elected to the board of commissioners in Island County.

The three-member board of commissioners currently has two Democrats — Price Johnson and Angie Homola — and one Republican, Kelly Emerson of Camano Island.

Lauderdale said he was optimistic that he could help swing the board of commissioners back to Republican control, something the party lost in the 2008 election.

“All elections are a tough road. I expect that for me, as pretty much a newcomer to politics, it (regaining GOP control) will be difficult.

“I’ve got a lot to learn and I’ve got a tough opponent, but I believe it’s doable,” he said.

Lauderdale has a long and distinguished Navy career. He served as mission commander for the Airborne Emergency National Command Post from 1993 to 1996 after a tour as executive officer aboard the submarine USS Von Steuben.

Prior to that assignment, Lauderdale was head of the Trident Submarine

Section for the Chief of Naval Operations, Undersea Warfare Division in Washington, D.C. from 1989 through 1991.

During his Navy career, Lauderdale also served on the USS Will Rogers, the last of the Polaris ballistic-missile submarines, before becoming a Navy ROTC instructor at Vanderbilt University in the early 1980s.

After leaving the military, he was a computer networking consultant until 2006 for the M3 Technology Group in Charlotte, N.C.

He’s also had a short stint as a contractor, when he built his home on 10 acres south of Coupeville after moving to the island in 2006.

Lauderdale has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Idaho.

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