McDowell will run again

Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell has navigated constituents in the Oak Harbor area through some rough waters in his three terms on the board of commissioners, but he’s not ready to retire and give up the helm yet.

McDowell has announced he will run for re-election to position two, which he has held since 1992.

Seated in his office overlooking Penn Cove Tuesday, McDowell reflected on why he entered politics as a commissioner, goals he has accomplished, and those he still hopes to achieve.

A retired A-6 Intruder pilot, McDowell, 58, said one of the reasons he got into politics was because he thought he could help in the ongoing battle to keep Whidbey Naval Air Station off the base realignment and closure list. As the head of the NASWI Task Force in 1991, he was concerned to see the county didn’t take an active role in preserving the Navy base. He said before he became a commissioner, the county didn’t participate in the campaign to keep off the BRAC list.

Now he travels to Washington, D.C. annually to remind the Pentagon how important the Naval Air Station is to Whidbey Island.

“I’ve worked every year to get the story back to D.C.,” he said. Before the annual campaigning, “Whidbey was the best kept secret in the Navy,” he added.

As a commissioner, he has been able to help instigate county ordinances and regulations that make it easier for the Navy to operate here and be a part of the community.

During his tenure the county has adopted zoning ordinances that prevent development from encroaching on Navy property, written sound attenuation practices into the county building code, and enacted a disclosure ordinance stating that prospective home buyers must be notified of the Navy-related noise level in that area.

“There won’t be any more Admirals’ Coves,” he said, referring to the neighborhood built on the bluff, virtually off the end of Outlying Field.

In the next four years McDowell sees base closure continuing to be an issue. “I’m the right person for the job,” he said.

McDowell is also proud of his “fiscally conservative” approach to managing the county budget.

“My slogan could be ‘Straight talk, not politics,’” he said. “I am very frugal with the taxpayers’ dollars — it’s not just a free gift.”

Being fiscally conservative doesn’t mean not spending money, but rather

spending it wisely. One of his first actions as a commissioner was to recommend creating a water department, and hiring a hygrogeologist.

With the island only having a sole source aquifer, McDowell, a civil engineer, saw water as a huge issue. Island County now has one of the best water departments in the state, he said. He also recommended a new plan for the old county courthouse, which has been retrofitted for earthquake safety and turned into the county administrative office building. The county now has a new complex of buildings on the hill in Coupeville, and three public health facilities on the island.

McDowell is proud of implementing the Birth to 6 program, in which nurses visit at-risk families, and his most rewarding volunteer position is as a member of the Child Protective Team, which reviews DSHS reports in juvenile court cases.

“I think I have a real impact on a child’s life,” he said.

Implementation of the Growth Management Act, with a comprehensive plan and development regulations were major accomplishments, he said, with Island being the only county he knew of to have both a comp plan and enforcement regulations in place.

That project was not cheap, costing more than $1 million, but McDowell said it was money well spent. With the GMA up for review next year, McDowell said it would be advantageous to keep the same board. Commissioner Mike Shelton is also up for re-election.

“New commissioners with different ideas could want to change the whole plan,” he said. “I don’t think it’s been used long enough to do that.”

The GMA and the budget will continue to be major issues in the coming years, he said, especially as the county struggles to do more with less money.

McDowell believes his 25 years of active and reserve duty, and 12 years as a businessman in Oak Harbor make him a good fit for his constituents.

“I think my background and experience fits many of the people in district two,” he said.

He lives in Oak Harbor with his wife Elaine. They have two grown daughters.

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