THE BUZZ: Pulse on Politics

By on May 31, 2016

A first glance at the candidates vying to lead, represent the valley.

JACKSON HOLE, WY  – The field of candidates for local office is set with the passing of last Friday’s deadline. Every local race—county commission, town council and mayor—will be a contested one with more eager bodies than seats. This week, The Planet takes a quick first look at government closest to the people here in the valley.

Mayor

Four hopefuls have made their intentions known to become Jackson’s next mayor and the first ever to serve a four-year term. The town council agreed to extend the term of mayor from two to four years in November 2014. Councilman Jim Stanford, who originally voted against the change, promised at the time that the next mayoral election “ought to be really interesting.” He’s right.

The race to lead Jackson from 2017 to 2021 includes the incumbent, a former vice-mayor, a former challenger, and a political newcomer. Sara Flitner won the mayoral election in November 2014 over Mark Nowlin by a razor-thin margin, 1,455 to 1,415. Nowlin called for a recount but Flitner prevailed.

Stephen McDonald, who garnered 101 total votes in a last place primary runoff in August 2014, will once again challenge Flitner.

Longtime council member Mark Obringer has been oh, so close in attempts to return to the political realm after serving four consecutive terms on the town council from 1996 to 2012. He also served as vice mayor to Mark Barron during one of those terms. Obringer was edged out of a five-peat in the 2012 primary by eventual winner Hailey Morton Levinson and Jim Stanford. He also missed the cut for the general ballot for county commission by a single vote in August 2014.

Pete Muldoon has been rattling his saber for a year. He launched the blogspot “Outside the Hole” in May 2015 with the inaugural story headline: “Do You Have A Right To Live In Jackson Hole?” Muldoon went on to write a regular opinion column for The Planet. He’s also been visible on the political scene as a Bernie Sanders campaigner and regularly attends town meetings where he has spoken on numerous issues.

Sara Flitner, 49, has lived in the valley for 25 years. She is married to Bill Wotkyns. The couple has two teenage sons, Pete and Silas. Flitner is the owner and founder of Flitner Strategies, a collaborative problem-solving/communication strategy firm.

“I have two decades of experience leading parties through complex conflicts. I have experience working on critical issues like housing, conservation, and community character—paired with patience, humor and an eye on results,” Flitner said. “I will listen, be pragmatic, and continue to get results. I meant what I said about collaborating. I am results-driven, but committed to hearing all of the information. Being fair and transparent is critical.”

Tagline: “She gets it done—in a nice way.”

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Pete Muldoon, 43, has lived in Jackson Hole for the past 16 years. He is single. Muldoon co-owns a small music production company. He is also a member of the local band Major Zephyr and works part-time for SkyWest Airlines.

“For years, Jackson’s elected officials have bowed to the desires of the elite and their lobbyists, and the result has been out-of-control growth, which has led to a housing emergency, traffic nightmares, and a reduction in the quality of life for our working and middle classes,” Muldoon said. “It’s time for us to go in a new direction before it’s too late. We desperately need leaders who are not afraid to stand up to those who put profits ahead of people, and find real solutions to our very real problems.”

Tagline: “We’re a town, not a business.”

Stephen A. McDonald, 48, has lived in the valley for 25 years. He’s married with four children. McDonald is a ski boot fitter. He is a small business owner with 25-plus years experience in that arena.

“I want to protect Jackson from big business threatening to overdevelop and strip mine our precious jewel for short-term profit,” McDonald said.

Tagline: “Housing.”

Mark Obringer, 63, has lived in East Jackson for 28 years. He is married to Mary Obringer. The two have a son Max, 29. Obringer started Precision Builders when he moved to Jackson. He served on the town council for 16 years. Before that he spent a term on the planning commission that helped form the 1994 Comp Plan. He launched the nonprofit Imagine Jackson in 2004.

“My goal is to focus on Jackson as a community not a commodity. Remember, Jackson is about people; we came for the place but stayed for the people,” Obringer said. “[We need to] learn from our predecessors. We are a community rooted in art, culture and new ideas. With an inclusive approach to the public process we can focus on a vision of Jackson that is based on a unifying action plan.”

Tagline: “Mark O for mayor!”

Town Council

The race for town council features two openings with both incumbents wanting to keep their seats. Their rivals are fresh faces to elected office but have been involved in politics. Hailey Morton Levinson obliterated the field in 2012 as top vote getter in the primary and general elections. Jim Stanford placed a comfortable second ahead of Phil Cameron and Jim Genzer.

Judd Grossman, a self-described activist since the ‘80s, has been increasingly involved and vocal in the local political arena. He is joined by Jessica Sell Chambers who has rocketed to recognition in the local Democratic Party. Anne Schuler rounds out the field. The small business owner is new to politics but brings a financial background and a history of volunteerism.

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Hailey Morton Levinson, 30, is a local product. She is married to Nate Levinson. The couple welcomed their first child, Ari, in November 2015. Morton Levinson has served on the council for three and a half years. She is currently the assistant innkeeper at Inn on the Creek, her family’s business.

“I am invested in Jackson’s past and dedicated to Jackson’s future,” Morton Levinson said. “Jackson is the heart of this valley. With great environmental wonders at our fingertips, Jackson has attracted a wide variety of highly educated and motivated individuals, all with a common love of this beautiful place. I know Jackson is where I want to raise my family, where I want to make a difference in the community, and where the special combination of environment, economic viability, and community focus will continue to attract great people.’

Tagline: “A balanced approach.”

Jim Stanford, 45, has been a county resident since 1992. He lives in East Jackson with his fiancée, Abbie, and their dog, Camille. Stanford is a freelance writer, photographer and editor. He has spent the past 16 summers as a boatman for Barker-Ewing.

“Four years ago, I pledged to be a strong, independent voice on the council, and I have done just that,” Stanford said. “[I will continue to] protect what we love about Jackson Hole, while planning for a quality future.”

Stanford cited his involvement in getting new sidewalks built, starting the airport shuttle, creating a dog park, and work toward providing more housing. He is calling on residents to join him in supporting the August tax vote for stabilizing the landslide above West Broadway, as well as the November vote for using a penny of general sales tax for community priorities such as housing and transportation.

Tagline: [“Let’s go Mets!”] The candidate does not use campaign signs or slogans.

Judd Grossman, 54, has lived in the valley for 36 years. He is married to Mary Grossman with two children—Esther, 19, and Isaac, 15. Grossman is the co-founder and former co-owner of Planet Jackson Hole Weekly. He was also a town planner in the 1990s and works today as a local musician.

“The general excise tax increase is a boondoggle. Local government wants a blank check to double down on failed policies,” Grossman said. “Taxpayer subsidized housing for the private sector is corporate welfare. I propose that we implement a Workforce Housing Overlay to provide meaningful zoning incentives for employment based deed restricted housing in the walkable urban core of Jackson.”

Tagline: “Let’s get Jackson back on track.”

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Jessica Sell Chambers, 34, has lived in Jackson for six years. She is married to Reed Chambers. The couple is guardian of brother, Luke, 16, and parents of McCrae, 22 months.

Sell Chambers is a stay-at-home mom. She is a Model United Nations consultant and a National Committeewoman-elect to the Democratic Party where she recently attended the state convention as a 2016 delegate.

“People that work here need to be able to live and vote here, and we’re teetering on either enabling that or further disabling that,” Sell Chambers said. “The choices we make now will determine whether this is a diverse community that we live in and love or just another soulless point on the map.”

Tagline: “Community candidate, community first.”

Anne Schuler, 50, has spent the past 13 years in the valley. She is single with one dog. Schuler owns and manages Brilliantly Done, a cleaning service in Jackson that employs 18 people. She has a background in finance and accounting where she worked for Citibank and JP Morgan Chase from 1987 until 2002. She has been a Soroptimist member since 2003, serving as board president for two terms. She is also the board treasurer of the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center and previously served on the Old Wilson School Community Center board.

“I bring a new set of skills to the town council; a fresh and positive voice in leadership,” Schuler said. “I will employ my financial background and business experience in decision making. [I want to] focus on continuing to strengthen our community and economy. We need to smartly address growth in order to retain and replenish our workforce. I support ideas that allow individuals and businesses to prosper.  I have respect for the people who have made Jackson great and I want to make sure we retain the character of this great community as it grows.”

Tagline: “For Schuler, for sure!”

Board of County Commissioners

Hopeful commissioners total six for two open seats. Current BCC chair Barbara Allen-R will not seek another term. Natalia Duncan Macker-D will. The field—split evenly between three Democrats and three Republicans—also includes a former commissioner, a former town planner, and three newcomers to politics.

Natalia Duncan Macker-D, 32, has been a resident of Hoback Nation since 2011. She is married to Thomas Macker, Art Association gallery director, with a two-year-old son. Macker is a producer and performer for stage and screen currently serving as artistic director of Off Square Theatre Company. She also has experience as a paralegal and fundraising consultant. Macker made a run at State Legislature in 2014 for the House District 22 seat. She was appointed twice to the Parks and Recreation board. Macker was also appointed by the Governor in 2015 to serve a 4-year term on the Land Quality Advisory board for the DEQ.

“I’m running for reelection to the board of county commissioners because I want my son and all of our children to grow in an open community full of opportunity with access to the wonders of the natural world,” Macker said. “We are teetering out of balance and need action now so our children can live, work, and play in the Teton County we all know and love.”

Tagline: “A working mom for working families…”

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Sandy Shuptrine-D, 71, has lived in Teton County for 45 years. She is married to Dick Shuptrine and together the couple has an organic produce business. They have two children—Shannon and Carl—who both teach at local schools. Shuptrine is the supervisor for the Teton Conservation District. She served on the BCC from 1991 to 2003. She chaired the Teton County Solid Waste Advisory Committee and is co-founder of Jackson Community Recycling.

“It is a time in my life when I am able to put my experience and energy to work for Teton County again. As a practiced listener, problem-solver and decision-maker, I hope to assist in bringing constructive progress to the community. I am offering that choice to voters,” Shuptrine said. “Our natural resources are fundamental to our economy, quality of life and experience, and I intend to look out for them.”

Tagline: [None provided].

Lisa daCosta-R, 51, has lived in Jackson Hole for 23 years. She is single with no kids. daCosta currently serves as the local business advisor for the Wyoming Entrepreneur Small Business Development Center. She also has experience managing large budgets. She served on the town planning commission from 2005 to 2010. She made a failed run at county assessor in 2010.

“We need to refocus on the Comprehensive plan’s primary values of natural resource and wildlife conservation, and preservation of community character,” daCosta said. “We need to get back to basics—all of our county departments must provide timely and effective services to the public.”

Tagline: “She wins, we win.”

Greg Epstein-D, 45, was born and raised in Jackson Hole. He is a department head at Teton Gravity Research, managing a staff of 10. Epstein is also the current president of Friends of Pathways.

“The two most significant issues currently facing the town and county include affordable workforce housing and optimizing Jackson Hole’s transportation system,” Epstein said. “These two matters must be integrated into Teton County’s current comprehensive plan mission. [These] issues will require long-term vision and careful deliberation to keep the fabric of our community intact.”

Tagline: “Balancing Jackson Hole’s character and community.”

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Nikki Gill-R, 28, is a local product. She is married to Rob Ottaway. Gill is director of marketing and sales for her family’s Jackson Hole Hereford Ranch. She is also the commercial real estate manager for her family’s holdings. Gill is the granddaughter of Ralph, former commissioner and mayor.

“Just like the four generations of my family who lived in Jackson before me, I care deeply about our community,” Gill said. “I plan to fight to maintain the community character that makes Jackson so special. The working families, middle class and local businesses that make-up our community core are the ones most affected by our housing crisis. If we lose these groups, we lose the heart and soul of Jackson Hole.”

Tagline: “A voice for the valley.”

Trey Davis III-R, 45, moved to the valley 14 years ago. He is married to town attorney Audrey Cohen-Davis. The couple has two kids—son Jordan, 11, and daughter Hudson, 7. Together they own Sweetwater Restaurant. Davis is a previous board member with Trout Unlimited. He has managed budgets for restaurants and resorts with hundreds of employees for the past two decades.

“I might not always say or do what’s politically correct, but I will always say and do what I think is right,” Davis says. “I’m not afraid to say what is on my mind.”
Tagline: “Davis can get it done!”

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