Primary concern – Introducing the primary election voter guide

By on August 13, 2014

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How it goes

With primary election day just around the corner, a closer look at past Augusts reveals some compelling and disturbing trends.

First gleaned from a look back is the surprising number of quality candidates that were toast before summer’s end. And it’s a shame. In the end, roughly a third of registered voters determine the fate of partisan and nonpartisan races in August primaries.

In 2012, longtime incumbent Mark Obringer lost his bid to return to the town council by 26 votes. Claire Fuller was edged out by Melissa Turley in a close race for county commissioner. In some contests, the primary serves to weed out nut jobs, grandstanders and malcontents who have no plan and no chance. But too often, and especially in areas heavily dominated by one particular party, seeking nomination from voters to represent the “D” or “R” is an needless massacre.

Teton County has strong representation from registered Democrats but Republicans still outnumber donkeys and show up for primaries with greater fervor. In 2012, only 3,262 registered Democrats showed up to pull the trigger for one of their candidates. That’s 28.4 percent. Republicans showed up to the tune of 41.7 percent.

It’s just a bit of a shame to see good men and women pulling up their campaign signs before Labor Day only because the Hoback Nation, for instance, couldn’t be bothered to vote. District 1, Precinct 10 (encompassing Hoback Junction and Game Creek residents) had woeful participation numbers in 2012’s primary – 19.6 percent of Republicans and 14.4 percent of Democrats voted.

There is no excuse for no-shows in August. There’s too much at stake. When you consider the fact that county voters turn out, historically, in the high 90s percentile for General elections, it is sad to see so many good candidates shot down in the dog days of summer.

How it will go

Hopefully, the quality of candidates on the blue ticket for the Board of County Commissioners will draw Dems out. Incumbents Ben Ellis and Hank Phibbs are probably fairly safe. That pits Smokey Rhea and Mark Newcomb in a death match as liberals will be asked to whittle the field to three for the General. While both have showed remarkable improvement through interviews and forums, county planning commissioner Newcomb has surprised us with his poise and on-target answers. He could go all the way.

On the GOP ticket, the same scenario plays out. One candidate will be left behind on August 19. The Paul’s – Vogelheim and Perry – look solid. Incumbent Vogelheim has been a proven vote-getter and Perry has been on the commission, narrowly missing out for reelection in the 2012 General. We think Mark Obringer brings the necessary experience after his long run on the town council. He saw the last Comp Plan through. Hopefully, he can put a nail in this LDR coffin. Reynolds Pomeroy seems the likely odd man out, especially in light of his inexperience and the short-term rental albatross he wears as a result of his connection to the Clear Creek Group.

House Rep for District 23 will be a tight one. Andy Schwartz gets a free ride until November but for Republicans, the Jim Darwiche vs. Wally Ulrich showdown will be too close to call. Darwiche has enormous appeal around town with his community involvement. He shows up. His experience on the BCC shows he is electable but doesn’t necessarily transfer well to a legislative role. Ulrich knows the insides and outs of Cheyenne. He was a party bigwig at the state and county level.
County coroner and assessor are the two other local races where a Democrat gets shaved, so voters better show up. Republicans Dawn Johnson (assessor) and Russell Nelson (coroner) await the winner of blue ticket battles.

Brent Blue and Dave Hodges are both excellent choices for coroner and they represent the classic struggle voters contend with across the country: should a coroner be a doctor or a cop? A law enforcement background, especially a investigative experience, suits a candidate well. Medical training also comes in handy. Hodges has done the gig as a deputy coroner. He probably has a slight edge here.

The county assessor job is the most mystifying. Most voters aren’t clear on what an assessor does. Most homeowners are sure the assessor is the devil. Rising property taxes and sometimes bizarre assessed values cause frustration and time-wasting appeals. Dee Buckstaff knows how the office works. Andy Cavallaro brings fresh, on-the-ground appraisal skills. It will be close but in what is mainly a popularity contest, we like the way Cavallaro has hit the campaign trail since the beginning of 2014.


About Jake Nichols

Jake is a work in progress.

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