155-year boys club comes to an end

COUPEVILLE — Throughout its 155-year history, the Island County Board of Commissioners was an all-male group.

That changed last week when Helen Price Johnson was sworn in as the county’s District 1 commissioner.

A Democrat, Johnson defeated Republican incumbent Phil Bakke in the general election with 20,367 votes to his 18,576.

Bakke, a former county planner, had been appointed a year ago to fill the position following a resignation. Since the District 1 position’s four-year term was uncompleted, Johnson was sworn in Tuesday after the election was certified.

Johnson may not be the only woman serving on the commission in the coming year.

Democrat Angie Homola leads incumbent District 2 Commissioner William “Mac” McDowell, a four-term Republican, by 60 votes. A hand recount of ballots in that race begins Monday.

A standing-room-only crowd attended the swearing-in ceremony for Johnson and county Auditor Sheilah Crider, a Republican, who had been appointed to her job in January and had to run for election to keep it.

Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock presided over the ceremony in his courtroom, which was so packed a group sat in the jury box.

Among the people attending was Maddie Rose, who rang doorbells for Johnson. She sported her campaign button and carried a bouquet of flowers for Johnson, along with some chocolate the new commissioner can stash in her desk.

“Helen’s election opens up a whole new era in open government,” Rose said.

Before taking the oath of office, Johnson thanked her supporters and family, and talked about her mother and grandmother, who also grew up on Whidbey Island.

“I dedicate myself to this job in their memory and for our children and grandchildren,” Johnson said.

Johnson, 50, recently resigned her position on the South Whidbey School Board.

“I am honored to be the first female commissioner,” she said after the ceremony. “But what I bring to this office has more to do with my history in this county and my concerns for its future than with my gender.”

State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, hugged Johnson and told her that Island County is one of the oldest counties in the state and one of the last to elect a woman to its commission.

“I had been trying to convince Helen to run for office for many years. She has a bright future ahead,” Haugen said. “Our county is going to have some tough times, but we’re in good hands.”

District 3 Commissioner John Dean of Camano Island agreed.

“In this economic climate, it’s going to be important to have fresh ideas,” Dean said. “To have one and possibly two women on the board of commissioners, that’s historic. Our all-male board has been kind of a monoculture. This change reflects the national scene.”

Reporter Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427 or gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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