Welcome to 2014 JH midterms
Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Slips, slides and a whole lot of talk about housing have marked the campaign for the 2014 general election. Candidates for both town and county gigs have sniped at each other on occasion at numerous local forums as the heat turns up moving into November.
Incumbents survived the primary at the town level mainly thanks to a “don’t fix what ain’t broke” credo. The budget is in decent shape and staff is generally content (when they aren’t busy working for the county). Change is inevitable at the top seat only out of necessity after long-serving mayor Mark Barron announced he would step out of the limelight at the end of the year. Perhaps the only hot ticket item for town hopefuls to banter about is the Budge Drive hill-slide – a natural disaster that has reached unnatural attention from the media (as if candidates were ready and able to don hard hats and start shoring up the butte).
The county race is the juiciest by far. The large field – seven now whittled from nine – and several crisis-level issues have fueled a race featuring diverse opinions and strategies.
The county’s staffing woes – they’re operating with half the staff they had two years ago – have been a major concern for some candidates. Commissioners are still looking for an administrator and planning director. Housing has come up again and again. Most candidates have tied blame to the Comp Plan completion, hung up on LDR revisions. Traffic also has been the topic of lengthy discussion by BCC hopefuls. More than one campaign ad features bumper-to-bumper Broadway slowdowns and eager candidates prepared to jump in and solve the problem using Pathways, START Bus or density in town.
The battle for House District 23 has been the closest thing to a contentious race Teton County has seen in years, even while the House 22 seat looks like a yawner. Dr. Brent Blue’s survival in the primary was surprising to some. The would-be coroner has been front-page news more often than a back-of-the-paper campaign ad.
The race for coroner, county assessor, and district court clerk have been uninspiring but have served to awaken a renewed interest in asking the only question on everyone’s mind: Why are these partisan races? Does a Democrat make a better medical examiner than a Republican? Would a staunch Tea Partyist demand the coroner remove his hands from his departed loved one if he or she was a true blue Donkey? Even a few Board of County Commissioners candidates have questioned whether their race should involve party politics.
For one, a nonpartisan race would be cheaper for candidates and a lackluster turnout at the primary wouldn’t sink some ships before they pulled anchor. Town voters seem to have gotten the hang of electing the person not the party. Nonpartisan races also seem more American and more small town. It would cause campaigners to focus on detailed platforms rather than a regurgitation of the party line.
The oddities of a party-nominated clerk of district court surfaced during the recent League of Women Voters forum when both candidates said they thought it was rather capricious at best. Archaic state statute dictates the daftness but don’t expect that to change anytime soon. One lawmaker didn’t sound too keen on proposing change in Cheyenne. Sen. Leland Christensen said most voters in Teton County stay colorblind when voting party races, and he didn’t think a bill to alter the statute would fly at the state capital anyway.
And what of the side stories? Susan Crosser, who has landed more free press than she could ever buy with tirades against the system, has hijacked the run for hospital board. The League of Women Voters forum could have been a fireworks show if Crosser hadn’t pulled a no-show due to a scheduling conflict. Pete Jorgensen’s anti-incumbent ad campaign borders on bizarre – at least in this sleepy community. PJ advocates for house cleaning with a nod toward Mark Newcomb and Reynolds Pomeroy based on their Planning Commission experience.
Past history would indicate an average turnout. While voters flocked to the polls for the 2012 general election (a whopping 96 percent turnout), midterm races are less exciting. A very average 66.5 percent showed up in 2012.