Republican enters commission race for lone Democrat's seat
June 25, 2008 · Updated 3:20 PM
A Navy veteran and five-year resident of North Whidbey is challenging incumbent Democrat Bill Thorn for the District 3 seat on the Island County Board of Commissioners in November's general election.
District 3 includes Whidbey Island north of Oak Harbor and all of Camano Island. Traditionally, its commissioner lives on Camano, as does Thorn, but Bill Byrd is hoping to end that tradition.
Byrd, a Republican, said Tuesday he decided to throw his hat in the ring primarily out of concern over the county's current budget crisis, a situation he feels might not improve soon and which will call for some tough decisions by commissioners.
"The budget is going to remain a big issue," Byrd said. In a period of decreasing state and county revenues, it's crucial that commissioners work to maintain core public services while stimulating the economy, he said.
Byrd, who is president of the Sunrise Hills Community Association and a trustee of the Oak Harbor Yacht Club, said the current board of commissioners has done a "relatively good job" in dealing with budget cuts. What he can bring to the table, he says, is a lifetime's worth of experience in "executive level" problem-solving, a strong sense of fiscal responsibility and administrative expertise.
Byrd served 30 years in the Navy, first in the submarine forces as a chief petty officer and later as a commissioned officer, where he received a bachelor's degree from Naval Postgraduate School. After retirement, he worked at Raytheon Co., where he managed missile and electronic warfare systems. He later was involved repairing ships in the Gulf War.
Byrd said such combined experience in the Navy and the private sector, coupled with a lifelong involvement in grassroots politics, gives him a solid foundation to work for Island County residents.
"It goes back to work ethic and civic responsibilities," he said. "You've got to be responsible to your constituents, and if you're not, you're not going to last long."
Having played quarterback on various football teams in the Navy, Byrd said he knows the value of cooperation.
Regarding economic revitalization, Byrd said he would work to encourage the movement of new businesses into the area, especially "clean" or nonpolluting industries such as software development and service-oriented companies.
"We really need to do something here to develop some sort of tax base," he said. He believes the Island County Economic Development Council should be fully utilized in its capacity to bring new businesses into the area.
In a related matter, Byrd said seeking ways to improve transportation would rate high on his list of priorities, both in terms of facilitating commuter traffic flows as well as bringing back reliable commercial air travel to the region.
"That's something we really need to do," he said. "The loss of the Oak Harbor airport is hurting the local business environment."
Byrd said that in dealing with future budget shortfalls, commissioners need to take a larger role in working with the state to determine how mandated programs can be preserved. He said he will lobby at the state and federal level in order that core public services receive adequate funding.
Although he recognizes it will be necessary to cut back in certain departments, Byrd said, he would be loathe right now to make any dents in the realm of law and justice.
"One thing I feel strongly about is the sheriff's situation. It's probably the wrong time to be cutting back in that area," he said.
"Property ownership and the family unit are the foundations of our free society," Byrd said. One of the biggest issues now facing the county is maintaining public safety and emergency management in a time of economic downturn for county government, he said.
Byrd characterizes himself as a "straight-shooter" with a strong sense of civic responsibility.
"I want to be factual," he said about his campaign. "I don't want to mislead people or blow things out of proportion. I'm not going to try to get in the mud and be destructive.
"I want to make a difference," he said.