By Gale Fiege Herald Writer
COUPEVILLE — Four men are challenging Island County’s first female county commissioner on the primary election ballot.
Incumbent District 1 Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, a Democrat, is running a re-election campaign against two Republicans, Jeff Lauderdale and Wayne Morrison, and two others who claim no political party preference, Curt Gordon and Ed Jenkins.
The top two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.
Johnson defends her record in getting the county through the past four years of economic recession on a balanced budget while her opponents complain about what they see as too many environmental regulations, not enough money for the sheriff’s department and lack of a pro-business climate.
Johnson said she has the experience to continue the job.
“Our economic viability depends on us having a clear and abundant water source as well as adequate infrastructure for economic development. As a business owner, I know the challenges and I have used my office to bring attention to those challenges,” Johnson said. “We made dramatic cuts in social services and we have to find new ways to meet the needs of our aging communities. I am the only candidate who knows the job, who has dealt with labor unions and who has dealt with reductions in the workforce.”
Gordon, who went to Langley High School with Johnson, came in a close third the last time he ran for county commissioner against Johnson. Gordon also owns a business and currently serves as president of the South Whidbey Port Commission. Promoting a business-friendly climate without negative effects to the environment is possible by streamlining the regulatory process, he said.
“My approach is different than Helen’s. It’s about management, not legislation. It’s about restructuring the budget so we can fund our law enforcement and justice departments,” Gordon said. “I would bring unbiased, impartial leadership to the county. Now more than ever I resent our political party influences from the federal level on down. I offer my district an opportunity to elect somebody with lot of experience and no party ties.”
Jenkins, a retired businessman, is running as an independent, too. Jenkins said that if he is elected he would use most of his salary to buy space in local newspapers to explain county government and in national publications to build year-round tourism.
“It’s all about jobs, jobs, jobs,” Jenkins said. “I would be a cheerleader for this county to attract technology jobs. The boosted revenues would put money back into senior services and law enforcement.”
Republicans Morrison and Lauderdale share frustrations about the county’s environmental regulations.
For Lauderdale, a retired Navy officer, it’s about science and running government “on the lower extreme of its revenue stream.”
“I think with all the science that the commissioners have to review, you need the right scientific background to ask the right questions and get right answers. I have that background to actually protect the environment instead of wasting tax dollars trying to do so,” Lauderdale said. “We need a serious discussion about state mandates on rural counties and possible adjustments to the growth management act to better fit rural counties.”
Morrison owns two construction-related businesses.
“I have been working with the permitting process here for many years and I find that county traditionally likes to say no, even though your project might be essential to protect your property,” Morrison. “There always are additional permits that drive up the cost.”
If elected, Morrison said he wants help create jobs, balance the county budget without new taxes and make public safety the priority in reviewing the budgets of all county departments.
Island County ballots should be out in the mail to voters around July 17 and are due back by primary election day Aug. 7.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s the job?
At stake is a four-year term as the Island County Commissioner for District 1, the south end of Whidbey Island. The annual salary is about $78,500. The board of commissioners has three members and direct all county government.
Meet the candidates
Party affiliation: None
Experience: Owns Island Asphalt. Longtime South Whidbey Parks and Recreation commissioner. Currently serves as president of the South Whidbey Port Commission. Other service includes the Conservation Futures technical advisory group and the Rural Transportation Planning technical advisory committee. Ran unsuccessfully for county commissioner in 2008.
Party affiliation: None
Experience: Retired business owner with marketing expertise. Vocal about local issues. Proposed the formation of a local public utility district. Ran unsuccessfully for port commission in 2009.
Helen Price Johnson
Party affiliation: Democrat
Experience: District 1 County Commissioner since the November 2008 election when she took office to finish the last five weeks of an incomplete term. Owns a construction business with her husband. Previously served two terms on the South Whidbey School Board.
Party affiliation: Republican
Experience: Retired Navy commander. Mechanical and nuclear engineer with experiences in sciences and leadership, including management of multi-billion dollar budget. Local involvement in septic system issues.
Party affiliation: Republican
Experience: Owner of Morrison (contracting) Co. and Blue Star Rockery. Professional career in risk management for several national corporations. President of the Economic Development Council of Island County.