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Rep. Strow drops bid for commissioner

Public will get chance to meet final candidates

State Rep. Chris Strow said he is pulling his hat out of the ring in the race to replace Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton.

“After a great deal of consideration, I believe that I can do more to serve the people of Island County and the 10th District as a whole in Olympia, rather than in Coupeville,” Strow said.

Strow’s decision came as a surprise for many. Strow was the first to volunteer to replace Shelton when the longtime commissioner announced his pending resignation in July. Shelton will step down to take a job in Olympia Sept. 1.

Strow was enthusiastic about serving the county at first, saying it was linked to the arrival of his baby daughter earlier this year and the possibility of working closer to home.

Dropping out was a tough decision, Strow said Monday.

“I love public service, but I think I can be more effective in Olympia,” he said.

“The Republican Party is left with three credible candidates to fill the seat Mike Shelton is vacating and I am confident that John Dean and Mac McDowell will make a good choice,” he said.

Strow also said he doesn’t plan on running for the commissioner’s job in 2008, but said he would run again for the state House of Representatives.

“I plan to run a vigorous campaign in 2008 for my seat in the Legislature and will be filing the paperwork in the coming days to indicate I am running,” Strow said.

Island County Planning Director Phil Bakke, former candidate for commissioner Reece Rose and Island County Auditor Suzanne Sinclair are still in the running for the position.

The Republican party was scheduled to narrow down the list of four candidates to three on Thursday.

Island County commissioners will pick Shelton’s replacement from the trio as early as Sept. 5.

Though the list has been trimmed down to three candidates without the GOP committee vote, the public will still have two more chances to meet the Sinclair, Rose and Bakke.

The Island County Republican Party will host a public reception tonight from 6 to 7:30 p.m at party headquarters, located at 390 NE Midway Blvd. A103 in Oak Harbor.

A week later, at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, the remaining county commissioners will host a public meeting where Dean and McDowell will interview the three candidates in the commissioners’ hearing room in Coupeville.

The candidates went through a process that stretched for more than a month and included interviews with party leaders.

Precinct committee officers wanted to know about the political and professional activities of the candidates and asked what they would pursue if they were appointed, the candidates said.

“I thought it went well. I have good relationships with most active people in the party,” Sinclair said.

“It was a fairly organized process,” she said. “We made sure everybody who had a question could ask it.”

Bakke said party leaders made sure they got their questions answered and got to know the candidates.

“There were frank questions and frank answers,” he said.

The differences between the candidates are mostly reflected in their experience.

Bakke, as the director of the county planning department, and Sinclair, as the auditor have been county government insiders for years due to their jobs, while Rose has has held numerous leadership position within the party and also ran for a commissioner’s seat in 2004.

Interviewers wanted to know what the applicants viewed as hot topics in the county.

“My strength was my experience with current county issues. There is no shortage of land-use issues,” Bakke said. “And if I want to or not, I have found myself in the middle of these issues as the planning director.”

Sinclair said she didn’t focus on land-use issues as much as other candidates.

“My big weakness is that I have focused on auditor issues, not land use,” Sinclair said. “It’s a plus and a minus. I am would bring a fresh perspective and I learn quickly,” she said.

“I have experience within the county and working with state government. I have a combination of traits,” Sinclair added.

Rose did not return phone calls for comment before The Record’s press time.

The replacement process has not been immune from Strow’s decision to return to Olympia this fall also helped eliminate a controversy about a potential conflict of interest among those Republican party members who would have gotten to vote for the top three candidates.

Sinclair and Rufus Rose, Reece Rose’s husband, are precinct committee officers and would have been able to vote on selecting the top three candidates. Also, Reece Rose would have been able to vote as the president of South Whidbey Republican Women.

If either Bakke or Sinclair are appointed, the commissioners also would have to start thinking about replacements for these jobs.

If Sinclair is appointed, a process similar to the one used to replace Shelton will be initiated. As the auditor, Sinclair holds an elected office.

If Bakke is appointed, assistant planning director Jeff Tate will take over and the commissioners will eventually appoint a new director.

Commissioners Dean and McDowell could pick a replacement as early as Sept. 5, following the commissioners’ interviews with the candidates. The commissioners have 60 days to defer a deadlock decision to the governor.

While there won’t be any time for the public to query the candidates at the meeting, questions can be send in advance to the commissioners at bicc@co.island.wa.us or PO Box 5000, Coupeville, WA 98239.

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