McDowell will seek third term as commissioner
June 25, 2008 · Updated 12:01 PM
"With two opponents already lined up to challenge him for his District 2 seat, Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell doesn't seem worried.In the quiet-yet-firm measured tone he's become known for after two terms in office, McDowell says he's confident that his experience and record will play well with voters.I'm confident people will look at our backgrounds and our accomplishments ... and make their decision on what we stand for and where we want to go, he said Tuesday. Between my Navy career, a successful business and seven years as county commissioner, I hope people will look at that and the backgrounds of my opponents and they will see the easy answer.Though McDowell first announced his intention of seeking a third term back in February, he felt the need to say it again this week after fellow Republican Marvin Koorn announced Friday that he would challenge McDowell in the September primary.McDowell drew an early Democratic opponent last November when Oak Harbor realtor Lynne Wilcox entered the race. Wilcox and McDowell faced off before in a hotly-contested Republican primary in 1996. This time around, Wilcox has switched parties and has raised questions about McDowell's positions on growth planning.McDowell said he sees Wilcox as more of a Southend candidate since much of her early support has come from South Whidbey rather than the greater Oak Harbor area of District 2. He said he has strongly supported Oak Harbor as commissioner and will continue to do so.My opponents may not have the same loyalties to the city, he said.McDowell attended the Naval Academy and joined the Navy in 1964. He was sent to NAS Whidbey in 1972, got married and built his current home in 1976. He retired as a captain and entered the civil engineering field, ultimately starting his own office in Oak Harbor.In 1991 McDowell was appointed to a task force studying possible base closures for the Pentagon. It was his first taste of politics. A year later he won his first term as commissioner campaigning on a platform of tighter fiscal responsibility. It's a promise he thinks he's kept.I think the county is in better financial shape than it was when I started, he said.During his terms in office, the three commissioners put a cap on the amount of debt the county could run up and established a cash reserve for contingencies. Up until last year, the commissioners have kept county tax increases below the 6 percent annual increase allowed by law.We've done a lot for the community in my opinion, and stayed below the tax increases we could have had, McDowell said.But sometimes, McDowell's fiscal management has also come under fire. During budget talks last year, several county department heads including the Prosecutor and Sheriff complained that their budgets were inadequate and their staff too small to adequately serve the county.In February, the county's two top judges clamped down on contracts the commissioners had with outside planning and legal consultant Keith Dearborn. Superior Court judges Vickie Churchill and Alan Hancock objected to the more than $722,000 the commissioners paid Dearborn and his law firm for two years of work on the county's Comprehensive Plan. The cost of growth planning will likely be a key issue during the campaign, McDowell said, but he stands by the choices he's made. He said the alternatives of continuing to plan with a public commission that was making little headway was not acceptable. Neither was the option of adding five to nine new planners to the county payroll as suggested by the planning director.That would have added a half-million dollars per year, he said, adding that even after the plan was completed, the county would be stuck with the cost of the employees for years to come. He (Dearborn) came in, he did his job and he's gone.McDowell also said he's done a good job on environmental issues, though he seldom gets credit. He pointed to the county's groundwater mapping study, trails program, new farm management practices and new rules on development around critical areas such as streams and wetlands. Everybody knows the rules now, he said. It should be pointed out, however, that some of those rules are still being challenged by environmental groups who say they are inadequate.McDowell said continued county funding, economic development, salmon recovery and growth planning will be major issues over the next few years.They are challenges, but I'm confident the county is up to the challenge, he said. The expansion of state and federal government concerns me more. The taking away of rights, bigger government and more costly government, those are the things that bother me."