FEATURE: High Stakes Primary

By on August 9, 2016

Why citizens need to show up and vote on August 16.

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Cover illustration by Walter Gerald.

The primary election is here and one thing is fairly certain, one thing we know: history says most of you won’t show up. The 34 percent turnout (Republicans always turn out in greater numbers here than Dems, by the way) of registered voters in 2014 was the best Teton County has managed in some time. In 2012, just 30 percent of registered voters cast their vote in the primary. Presidential election years, however, tend to drive better turnout.

Sure, a busy summer lifestyle makes it difficult to find time to vote. For this reason, primaries tend to draw hardcore party-liners, and those passionate about politics and the process. This year’s primary will be of local importance, however, to more than a few. Two county commissioner hopefuls will be sent packing—one from the Republican ticket, one from the Democratic side—the mayoral race will be halved from the four running, and one city council candidate will be trimmed from the field of five.

Then there’s the SPET item. Voters will be asked whether or not they want to continue to tax themselves a penny on the dollar at the cash register as the special purpose excise tax is set to expire around the end of this month. The sole item on the ballot for SPET is mitigation of Budge slide—the catastrophic, slow-motion landslide that condemned Walgreens and broke one butte home right in half. The disaster relief initiative is polling poorly so far with about two-thirds of respondents in two separate online polls saying they oppose the tax.

According to the county elections office, absentee ballots have been slow to come in despite a new absentee polling site in the basement of the Teton County administration building at 200 S. Willow. Voters may still register to vote there and cast their ballot up until 5 p.m., August 15 for early voting. The primary happens August 16.

Mayor

The race for mayor will be a historic one. For the first time in Jackson’s 102-year-old past, the term for mayor will double to four years. Councilors will still serve two. Proponents of the change say it’s necessary to provide the city figurehead with enough time to accomplish goals and provide stability. Opponents, however, see longer term limits as barring new blood and fresh ideas.

Mayor Sara Flitner may be a favorite headed into the primary. Incumbents are tough to unseat and Flitner is a public relations machine when it comes to campaigning. As a PR consultant and lobbyist, Flitner knows well how to win friends and influence people. She has already shown the ability to amass a war chest, raising some $37,000 in 2014 for her first run.

Flitner is all about finesse. Her campaign mantras are polished and, despite her claims that she offers more than just slogans, she’s good at driving those home: “passion and compassion,” “collaboration and inclusion,” “action and traction.”

Flitner has done well to find her own stride and establish a mayoral style distinct from former mayor Mark Barron, who many believed groomed Flitner as his replacement. The two have butted heads over more than one issue in the 18 months Flitner has led the town.

The mayor’s strengths may also be her weaknesses. She is a trained mediator and brings facilitation skills to running a meeting—listening to all sides and finding the flow of a discussion. However, too much listening can lead to not enough doing—and the main accusation against the current administration is they have languished too long on too many things, including a two-and-a-half year marathon over finalizing land development regulations in downtown Jackson.

Flitner’s biggest threat? It’s probably Pete Muldoon, who has been cast as the anti-Flitner vote and a representative for Jackson’s working class people, many who are struggling to stay in Jackson Hole because of the valley’s housing emergency.

Mark Obringer is another strong candidate with a wealth of experience. The primary will likely pit Muldoon against Obringer as the most contested aspect of a tight race—assuming Flitner gets the incumbent pass.

“Mark O” has been bitten by the August election before. It was the primary that did in Obringer’s bid for county commissioner in 2014—he was cut by a single vote. It may be the primary that could dog him again this time around.

The wildcard is Stephen McDonald. The unconventional candidate (he handwrites press releases and some of his ads appear to be the artwork of his kids) has improved dramatically since his 2014 bid for mayor, when he became mired in a personal rant against the police department. In two public forums to date, he struck a cord with many by blasting out-of-control growth using eloquent statements like, “I’ll get Jackson off the road to exploitation and back on the trail to preservation.”

Out of the four candidates, Obringer likely has more in common with Flitner than anyone else. Voters looking for experience will pull the trigger for either Flitner or Obringer in the primary. Those seeking change will tap the upstart Muldoon, who splits the vote with McDonald. Muldoon needs a strong voter turnout next week, whereas Obringer figures to have a better shot with the hardcore party voters who traditionally show up in primaries.

If all four went head-to-head in November, Muldoon would likely win. Flitner and Obringer split the “same old, same old” vote fairly evenly, while Muldoon gets a bigger piece of the “shake things up” option, given McDonald’s poor polling and low name recognition.

Town Council

Only one name gets shaved from the council race at the primary. For the rest, the August tally is little more than a beauty contest; though, historically, few candidates have managed to gain or lose ground significantly from what primary results indicated.

So the big question is: Who’s pulling up their yard signs on August 17? Let’s explore.

While it’s true, incumbents are usually fairly safe, that certainly wasn’t the case in the 2012. Newcomers Hailey Morton Levinson and Jim Stanford blitzed longtime incumbent Mark Obringer and seasoned veteran Steve Harrington in the primary on their way to office in November of that year.

Levinson was the top vote getter by far in 2012, and she has since gone on to become the current vice-mayor. Stanford has transitioned well from political outsider to, as he describes: “One foot in new Jackson, one foot in old Jackson.” He has taken bold stances on several issues such as zoning for housing over commercial development, but is often the sole dissenting vote. Voters looking for change will likely opt for his brash, stick-to-his-guns style in the hopes that he can get something done with a different set of comrades in town chambers.

Challenges facing the challengers include Judd Grossman’s task of proving he is more than a one trick malcontent pony raging against buses barging their way down his street. To his credit, he has not made START a main focal point. Instead, the musician and former publisher of The Planet has blasted the current regime for shifty tax hikes and out-of-control growth.

Jessica Sell Chambers is a gifted and poised public speaker who brings a background in the political field but no public office experience. She’s young and she’s female—two qualities that appear to be treasured in this valley by voters and party leaders. Chambers has ideas and could represent a shift in direction from current city hall should voters express a desire to rattle the cage like they did four years ago.

Anne Schuler brings an impressive background in the financial spectrum. She’s passionate about retaining the workforce before everyone simply moves away. She has some strategic ideas on fixing what’s wrong with Jackson and—unlike probably every other candidate—she does not have a day job to distract her.

But where Grossman has been hard-hitting in his criticism of the current regime and Chambers will likely benefit from the rise of Democratic-registered voters in Teton County, Schuler has the most ground to make up.

Board of County Commissioners

Give incumbent Natalia D. Macker the “immunity idol” right off the bat. The Democrat was the overwhelming pick to replace Melissa Turley last summer after an impressive but failed bid at a state House seat in 2014. She polls well and has made an immediate impact on the commission by her decisive stance on numerous topics.

That leaves Greg Epstein and Sandy Shuptrine to battle for the other nomination to proceed to the general election. Shuptrine has name recognition and deep experience as a former commissioner who helped craft the 1994 Comp Plan during her 12 years on the board. Epstein, who has groomed a robust campaign via social media and grassroots efforts, probably has the changeup vote should voters express a desire to clean house. His work as head of production for Teton Gravity Research will also likely garner him a younger following.

The Republican ticket features an old name and two new names.

Lisa deCosta, a former town planning commissioner, made a failed run at county assessor in 2010. Nikki Gill works for her family at the Jackson Hole Hereford Ranch. The youngest candidate in any field, Gill brings mega name cache but will need to prove she is in the race for more than to simply do her family’s bidding. Trey Davis is the field’s wildcard. He is not currently polling well but has a genuine likability even if his unfiltered opinions come off like a bull in a China shop with their rawness. “I will speak my mind to a fault. I will say what needs to be said even if I have to hurt someone’s feelings to get something done that needs to be done; so be it, I will,” Davis said.

All the candidates, particularly Republicans, might have to explain why they seemingly put little faith in the 2012 Comp Plan during the League of Women Voters forum on August 4.

Gill said the plan has caused serious tension between town and county electeds and doesn’t think it does any favors for large landowners and faithful stewards of open space, like her family or the Lockharts, for example. Davis said the plan has “been really destructive” and needs to be revisited. deCosta preferred the 1994 Comp Plan, especially when it addressed more density in Hog Island where the 2012 plan does not. Macker, Shuptrine, and Epstein, however, expressed a desire to “honor” the Comp Plan when it came to resort expansion.

All candidates agree some housing density would be appropriate in Hog Island around the new Munger Mountain school since town leaders gave the go-ahead for a sewer hookup there.

State House, District 22

HD 22 covers northern Lincoln and Sublette counties and portions of Teton County including Hoback Junction and Wilson.

Marti Halverson’s stranglehold on the HD22 seat will receive some opposition this primary in the form of Bill Winney-R.

Winney failed to unseat Democrat Jim Roscoe for HD22 in 2010 in a 2,545 to 2,068 vote. He again lost to Halverson for the same seat in 2012 as in Independent, 2,407 to 1,927. Most recently Winney ran a distant third in a 2014 primary run at Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction behind eventual winner Jillian Balow-R and Sheryl Lain-R. Halverson has held the HD22 seat since 2013

Halverson, meanwhile, held off Democratic challenger Natalia Macker in 2014 with 62 percent of the vote, statewide, compared to Macker’s 38 percent, though Macker surprised Halverson by winning Teton County 749 to 570.

Halverson says she is a fiscal and social conservative who champions small government. She is a self-proclaimed “budget hawk.”

Halverson is also strongly committed to the Republican platform of taking land back from the feds and placing it in state hands. In fact, she is the chief sponsor of the RNC Lands Resolution.

Winney says, “There are three big issues facing Wyoming: Dealing with the large reduction in revenues, getting education on track, and ensuring that Wyoming does not seek a tax increase as a fix for the revenue problems.” The former member of the Navy also called Halverson out. “I believe my opponent’s record is clear—empty rhetoric and harsh conservatism.” Winney says public lands should stay in public hands.

Halverson lives in Etna. Winney resides in Bondurant.

The Democratic ticket includes a head-to-head contest between Chris Christian and Marylee White. Neither has previously run for any office. Christian has pushed state legislature for marijuana reform as the former executive director of NORML. She says her main reason for jumping into the state Congressional race was to oppose the transfer of federal lands to the state. The 66-year-old was born in Lander and has lived in Jackson Hole since 1987. She currently resides in Hog Island.

White is a fourth-generation Wyomingite from Greybull. She moved to Wilson in 1983. She’s been a journalist and teacher, and has served with the nonprofit pARTners Jackson Hole. She currently manages the Old Wilson Schoolhouse. Like Christian, White is in the race mainly to oppose the Republican Party stance on transferring federal lands to the state.

U.S. House of Representatives

The candidate field on the GOP side is crowded with eight vying for the Republican nomination. When four-term incumbent Cynthia Lummis-R announced in November that she would not seek a fifth term, no less than 10 candidates filed for the seat from the Republican side. Eight candidates remain: Heath Beaudry (Evanston), Liz Cheney (Wilson), Sen. Leland Christensen (Alta), Mike Konsmo (Powell), Paul Paad (Casper), Jason Senteney (Torrington), Darin Smith (Cheyenne), and Rep. Tim Stubson (Casper).

Cheney, who has to live down the perception she is an outsider, leads an independent poll commissioned by the Casper Star Tribune and Wyoming PBS with 21 percent of the vote. Stubson was the nearest competitor with 9 percent, Christensen had 4 percent and Smith checked in with less than 3 percent. More than half the respondents polled, however, say they are undecided. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 5.65 percent.

The Democratic ticket includes Charlie Hardy (Cheyenne), a former Catholic priest adamant about removing money from politics, and Ryan Greene (Rock Springs), a “Wyoming Democrat.” Greene backs Obamacare and opposes the transfer of federal lands to state or private interests. He is also an avid hunter and gun owner. Hardy lost a bid for U.S. Senate in 2014 after securing his party’s nomination with a primary victory over Al Hamburg, Rex Wilde and William Bryk. Greene is making a first-time foray into politics.

Lawrence Gerard Struempf (Libertarian) and Daniel Clyde Cummings (Constitution Party) are also seeking election. Struempf is an instructor at Laramie County Community College. He’s lived in Pavillion since 1990. He believes Wyomingites deserve a third party choice. Cummings has an admitted fascination with the U.S. Constitution since the age of 14. He supports Constitutional law, fiscal responsibility, and national sovereignty and independence. He lives in Casper.

– Jake Nichols

Mayor

(nonpartisan; 2 will advance)

Sara Flitner (incumbent)

Stephen McDonald

Pete Muldoon

Mark Obringer

160810CoverFeat-2_origSara Flitner

Overview

In Sara Flitner’s opinion, two years were not enough to implement her vision for Jackson. She would like four more to make real progress.

“I will be fair,” Flitner said. “Maintaining a strong middle class is foundational to our community.”

Flitner promises, as she did in 2014, an office of compassion, transparency and problem solving. She also stresses a pragmatic approach that represents openness and compromise.

“Let’s don’t tear each other down, let’s help each other out,” Flitner said. “We have our challenges and they are great, but we build each other up. We elevate each other in this community.”

Leadership style

Flitner: I believe in collaboration as a philosophical approach. Your view is weighed with others. I don’t believe in agendas. All have the opportunity to come forward and solve problems with us.

Taxes—SPET, general, lodging?

Flitner: We all love to hate taxes but I support all three.

Regarding SPET/slide, there is a clear danger to public safety and we need to protect infrastructure. There are homeowners and businesses up there that are hurting. Visitors pay 60 percent of this tax. The Tea Party, Republican Party, and Democratic Party have all agreed to fix this disaster. That doesn’t happen very often. I’m excited about that.

I would have preferred SPET for our Community Priorities Fund also but I lost that battle. I hope you see that as what compromise looks like. We don’t have the resources we need to continue our current level of services. I will continue to support the lodging tax. It’s the tax we don’t pay.

Housing—is it a big problem and what should government do about it?

Flitner: The housing shortage is real and it is heartbreaking. There are more people living in more cramped units. We all know that. I do think progress is being made. The Community Priorities Fund represents one of our ideas. It is not perfect but it shows ideas we have to stave off the biggest threat to our community and that’s second home purchases. I have confidence in this community and the hard work of the electeds so far.

What did we learn from the just-completed District 2 zoning?

Flitner: We spent a year and a half listening to the community. You saw us pivot and shrink the lodging overlay. We dialed back commercial by 50 percent or more. I hope everyone felt included. If you didn’t feel listened to and felt we were not transparent, I would agree, don’t vote for me. You deserve to be listened to in my mind.

START Bus ridership has stagnated. Is START an answer to traffic congestion?

Flitner: There is also Pathways. We just have to be honest. I am part of the problem when I drive in my car by myself. We all have to change our behavior, and also deal with the fact that it will be a little more congested in Jackson at certain times of the day.

What is affordable housing and is it achievable in Jackson?

Flitner: I guess the banker would tell you affordable housing would be about three times your annual income. When you think about what is the percentage of people in our community that can afford to pay three times, that percentage is dwindling quickly. It’s about a balanced functional community. I worry about the categories 1 through 6 that we all spend a lot of time talking about, but we are about to turn the page on a whole other set of professional people who may not be able to afford moving here.

Stephen McDonald

Overview

Stephen McDonald says he never expected to be running again but one incident in particular has motivated him. “I got fired up when ‘Think About It’ got started. They are asking for more development with some real hubris,” McDonald said. “We are over our carrying capacity, and it’s our turn to think about it.

“This town has made me and my children great. I’m going to be here for Jackson; Jackson has been here for me,” McDonald said. “But our town is under assault. We are at maximum carrying capacity. Trash is all over the streets. Who else do we think we can we fit in here? We are selling out and visitors will see that. We need to respect our town.”

Leadership style?

McDonald: I will be hands on. I’ve learned about command structure and authority. At a street level view, I’ve seen how this town works.

Taxes:—SPET, general, lodging?

McDonald: I am emphatically opposed to all three new taxes. They just feed the machine. By design, these taxes are meant to increase traffic and exacerbate our housing needs. I’ve had tough times in my life and I have had to cut back. Why can’t government do the same thing? New taxes have a habit of sticking around, and create a palate for even more.

And SPET for Budge?  Who made the decision to put Walgreens in there? What the hell were they thinking? I’m sure all the big players in the valley got together and said, ‘We need to support the SPET tax,’ but I’ve only talked to a handful of people who are for SPET. Walgreens’ business model is to destroy local commerce like Stone Drug. And now we all end up paying for that… again?

Housing—is it a big problem and what should government do about it?

McDonald: We all know housing has been a problem. It’s been that way for a hundred years. I can definitely tell you both historically and with statistics, it is not going to be solved with subsidized housing. Subsidized housing simply creates segregation and inequality. I personally know people that have left their affordable home empty for years after moving away and going to grad school. Or one person who I know is renting theirs nightly on VRBO. And I just finished a ride-along with the Jackson Police Department and guess where the new crime hotspot is in town? The new [JHMR employee] housing complex. Government housing always attracts increased police response. Deregulation is going to be the answer.

What did we learn from the just-completed District 2 zoning?

McDonald: I learned the town council doesn’t listen to the people. Everybody is upset about it. Between Walgreens and the Marriott, we are all getting blindsided by these huge government decisions.

START Bus ridership has stagnated. Is START an answer to traffic congestion?

McDonald: I challenge anyone to say they ride START more than me. The only way we can make it more ride-able is to have less stops. Who rides the START Bus to check their mail or go buy a gallon of milk? It is impossible. It will take you three hours to ride to the post office from East Jackson and back. We need more direct routes and less stops. It’s painful to ride the bus in town. It’s a sentence.

Pete Muldoon

Overview

Musician and activist Pete Muldoon says he is fit to lead, something he picked up getting fellow band members on the same page for years. The ex-military man (he joined the military at 17 years old) moved around a lot before coming to the valley in 2000. “Jackson is the only place that has ever felt like home to me,” he admitted. Although he has painted himself as a voice for locals, he says he is also not anti-business and pointed to the small business he owns.

“I don’t know everything, but I know where I want to go and I’m not afraid to ask directions. I will do my homework and you will always know where I stand,” Muldoon said. “I don’t owe anybody and I don’t have clients.”

Leadership style?

Muldoon: I didn’t appreciate command structure when I was in the army. It’s not going to be my style. Understanding the issues is important. I’m not looking for a plaque on the wall. I intend to bring the people with me.

Taxes—SPET, general, lodging?

Muldoon: Budge slide is a no-brainer. [Budge Drive] has to get fixed. We can point fingers all day long but it has to get repaired.

The sixth cent [of general sales tax] is also critical. Before we even get into housing and transportation issues and paying for them, we have rising services needs. I whole-heartedly support both taxes. I half-heartedly support the lodging tax.

Housing—is it a big problem and what should government do about it?

Muldoon: I’m very interested in housing. There is a reason we set a goal of housing at least 65 percent of our workforce, locally. Studies show that a community fails when we fall below that level, and our community is slowly dying. We need to solve this problem. It’s an emergency. Yes, I think our local government should continue to build housing. But there’s no free lunch. If we want affordable housing, we are going to have to pay for it.

What did we learn from the just-completed District 2 zoning?

Muldoon: I learned zoning is incredibly complicated. Landowners know it, but the average voter doesn’t follow it that closely. They need clear leadership and elected officials they can trust who will dig through things and come up with tools to help them.

START Bus ridership has stagnated. Is START an answer to traffic congestion?

Muldoon: We need to increase the stops and make it more convenient. Look more at Pathways and biking. I was just in Amsterdam and there is not a car on the road. And they have a million people. I’m not saying everyone here should give up their cars—I’m certainly not. But it’s also better for the environment to bike or bus.

Mark Obringer

Overview

Mark Obringer often points out his past experience—28 years in valley, 16 years on the town council and four on the planning commission under seven different mayors.

“We are reinventing town again and it seems to be a bit of a struggle,” Obringer said. “It’s not going to be easy but I think I can help. I promise not to use ‘planner wonk’ too much. Jackson is a community not a commodity.”

Leadership style?

Obringer: I will be very inclusive. I will reengage the public with dialogue. It’s how we’ve handled the process that is mostly to blame.

Taxes—SPET, general, lodging?

Obringer: I support SPET for the slide. Our friends and neighbors need our help. Those people have had their lives devastated. The safety issue is real. It also keeps SPET alive and it should.

I do not support an additional penny of [general] sales tax. I don’t see a plan for how it will be spent. The lodging tax needs more dialogue, and maybe the proceeds should be used completely for transit.

Housing—is it a big problem and what should government do about it?

Obringer: Housing has always been an issue. It doesn’t mean we aren’t chipping away at it. I was part of the government that started the affordable housing program. We should make all new luxury homes in the valley come with a caretaker residence. We should let private developers build housing above existing government space. And we should make the county do some affordable housing. They are 55 times bigger than the town.

What did we learn from the just-completed District 2 zoning?

Obringer: Telling people what they can do with their land is incredibly difficult. We need to change the process and better engage people.

START Bus ridership has stagnated. Is START an answer to traffic congestion?

Obringer: START could be more convenient. Maybe have smaller buses in town. That’s what we said we’d do with the last Comp Plan. But START has been successful. They’ve doubled ridership [since its inception]. We’ve talked about paid parking downtown, too, but we don’t do it because it’s such a cultural shift.

Town Council (nonpartisan; 4 will advance)

Jessica Sell Chambers

Judd Grossman

Hailey Morton Levinson (incumbent)

Anne Schuler

Jim Stanford (incumbent)

160810CoverFeat-3_origJessica Sell Chambers

Overview

Jessica Sell Chambers said she is about finding solutions rather than scapegoating any one group. She’s not afraid to stand up for what she knows is right. She lost her mother back East in a car accident in 2009 and was suddenly thrust into the role of caring for her brother. She uses the experience as an example of what it was like for her to make a new home, a new beginning in Jackson. “I know what it’s like to live paycheck-to-paycheck, and be an outsider in a community,” she admitted.

“We have some very qualified council members and candidates,” Chambers said. “I bring a fearlessness, not recklessness. I bring decisive actions. Inaction is just as bad as failure. There are more voices that could be heard. They could be better incorporated into decision-making. I’m also strong on listening and communication. I’m accessible. I pick up the phone.”

Taxes—SPET, general, lodging?

Chambers: Not passing the SPET tax would be highly irresponsible. I would use the general sales tax to acquire land and continue to partner with other groups to build workforce residences, while simultaneously streamlining START service with the community’s developing needs and goals. Housing and transportation go hand in hand.

We need to address our housing needs short-, mid-, and long-term. People are homeless right now. They have nowhere to go. We need to mitigate that issue immediately.

Housing—is it a big problem and what should government do about it?

Chambers: The simple answer is the community should build enough units of workforce housing over the next 10 years to get to the stated goal of housing 65 percent of our workforce, locally. But we need to quantify what that looks like. If we’re currently housing less than 60 percent of the workforce, as per the town’s 2016 Indicator Report, how many people need homes to get to 65 percent?

Also, let’s focus on this idea of ‘keeping up’ with employment growth. There is only so much growth possible—and we need to stay focused on what’s creating the growth—is there a way to curb it?

Finally, we have surpassed the point of being overly picky about our backyards. Either we take action to fix the problem or we should stop complaining about it. There are people suffering right now. Sacrifices will be needed across the board.

How about ARUs and building higher, like four stories?

Chambers: Four stories is appropriate in some locations; near the new Marriott for example. We need rental units, which means we need density and four stories in some places. I’m a huge fan of the Comp Plan but we need to enable developers and make it lucrative for them.

As for ARUs, my husband and I plan on taking advantage of ARUs for the rental income it could provide for property owners.

Traffic is bonkers. Any ideas?

Chambers: We need to address this along with housing and zoning and LDRs. Nothing happens in a vacuum. We have to attack traffic problems from many directions. In major cities, parking is made expensive to discourage car trips.

Judd Grossman

Overview

“I am weirdly in love with Jackson. I live and recreate in town. I don’t view town as a crash pad or an investment. It is special to me to preserve,” Grossman said. The 30-year musician came to Jackson in 1980. He’s become increasingly interested in politics beginning with fighting START Bus on his street on Rancher. “I’ve lived here a real long time, and I have a historical perspective. Government has a tendency to reinvent itself and go round and round again. I know what’s succeeded and what’s failed.”

Grossman says Jackson is maxed out with people and cars. District 2 zoning mistakenly expanded development rights, which will only add to the problem, he says. “More jobs worsen our housing crisis. The current strategy of low density is ineffective because we can only build a handful of units every couple of years. The town council is planning to double down on past mistakes.”

Taxes—SPET, general, lodging?

Grossman: Taxes are a big deal. Tourists are also people and they don’t deserve to have their money wasted. I’m on the fence about Budge Drive. Town has done a lousy job explaining why taxpayers are responsible for this. I am also disappointed with the cynical use of SPET. It’s a shell game designed to kill SPET for now. SPET will be back and then your taxes will be at seven percent.

I would vote ‘no’ on the general sales tax increase. It’s a blank check for government. The transit plan and housing plan don’t lead to solutions. It’s a big money grab by local government. There is no guarantee that it will be spent on transportation and housing, and there is no chance that it will make a significant difference in our traffic and housing woes.

I vote ‘no’ for the lodging tax. If anyone has noticed lately, we are maxed out.

Housing— is it a big problem and what should government do about it?

Grossman: We have too many jobs. That’s why we have a housing problem. The economy is superheated and all we do is help out the employers with housing? We are creating corporate welfare. Government’s role is to suggest zoning. Density belongs in the downtown core where people can walk to everything.

There is unlimited demand for Jackson Hole. We are maxed out. In our Comp Plan, we could double population. We are going to have to hold on tight. We need to plan for buildout and hold on to the Jackson we know. We can’t have our dear things at 200,000 population. The way to deal with housing is create density and go vertical in the core.

How about ARUs and building higher, like four stories?

Grossman: ARUs are allowed already in 70 to 80 percent of town. The discussion is now to extend to the outer parts. I’m totally against that. You will double or triple density and traffic.

Four stories? Of course, in the downtown core.

Traffic is bonkers. Any ideas?

Grossman: Stop digging a hole. Focus on a walkable downtown core in my proposed workforce housing overlay. We are maxed out with cars. The elephant in the room is the only way to fix our traffic is to expand our roadway system and actually make our roads function.

And START is not an answer. START handles 1 percent of our traffic now. It will handle 3 percent in 10 years after we spend millions on it.

Hailey Morton Levinson

Overview

Hailey Morton Levinson was raised in Jackson with her family in the hospitality industry. The incumbent believes that gives her a unique perspective of hard work and community values. She also thinks, at 30 years old, she represents the voice of her age group.

“I’ve led with an open mind, honesty and level head. I’ve gained invaluable insight in budgeting, planning, and more,” Levinson said. “I have a strong understanding of the issues facing our community.”

Taxes:—SPET, general, lodging?

Levinson: I will vote ‘yes’ on each. Safety is a concern with the slide. SPET is the best option to pay for it. As for the general, we need to fund our community priorities fund. With housing, I struggled with using the general penny. SPET has been used well in the past. In the end I decided that a general penny was more appropriate when considering capital projects while also maintaining and operating these projects. SPET only builds capital. To make lasting impacts we have to operate and maintain capital improvements.

Yes on the lodging tax. Funds used are critical to operations, promoting the off-season tourism economy, and year-round employment and sustainability.

Housing—is it a big problem and what should government do about it?

Levinson: Housing is something our community has always struggled with. There is a growing gap between what is affordable and what isn’t for most people. It will take the whole community working together using all the tools we can to keep diversity. We should add appropriate density, and we will certainly have to put our tax dollars to work for more affordable units.

How about ARUs and building higher, like four stories?

Levinson: I voted in favor of ARUs. They offer blended density. Also, they are mainly attached units; you are not seeing a whole lot of new units. Therefore, neighborhoods won’t change that much. And it’s a self-regulating law, meaning just because you are allowed to doesn’t mean you have to do it.

As for four stories, I am open to discussion. There are appropriate places for it.

Traffic is bonkers. Any ideas?

Levinson: Alternate transportation works when we make it more convenient than a car and safer. We need more sidewalks, better START routes, better signage. My family has one car. I walk pretty much everywhere. Public transportation is expensive, yes, but we need more bus stops.

Anne Schuler

Overview

“There’s a lot happening right now in Jackson,” Anne Schuler said. “I bring a positive, no-nonsense voice to leadership.”

Schuler references her business and finance background as being a key ingredient needed in town leadership. She also points to the fact that she doesn’t need the “job” of councilor, rather she feels an obligation to give back to the community.

“As an employer, I see the struggle to attract and maintain good employees,” Schuler said. “Also, I ask myself, ‘Would I have fun doing the job?’ There is a lot going on right now in the town. We are making important decisions on making our community more livable and vibrant.”

Taxes—SPET, general, lodging?

Schuler: I do support all three taxes. SPET will raise $6 million needed to fix the slide. I would also like to see future SPET used for housing projects.

A one percent tax for our community priorities fund will come from 60 percent tourists. If we don’t like the results in four years we can vote not to renew. I would like to see a permanent source of funding for START.

The lodging tax does a good job of promoting Jackson in the off-season. I would like to maybe see it increased [from two percent].

I would also like to explore a real estate transfer tax.

Housing—is it a big problem and what should government do about it?

Schuler: The housing shortage is creating a lot of stress. But I don’t think government should be building anything other than parking garages. We need to be opportunistic. We need to build through the highs and the lows. We should be looking for ways to partner with private developers to build workforce housing, and increasing density in town where appropriate.

How about ARUs and building higher, like four stories?

Schuler: I support ARUs. It allows homeowners to get additional income.

Ha, yes, build a skyscraper—a Jackson skyscraper: four stories. I think four stories could work where appropriate. The Comp Plan calls for three stories, max, though.

Traffic is bonkers. Any ideas?

Schuler: Traffic solutions need to be integrated with housing solutions. We should push density downtown. We should ease up on parking spaces. Maybe explore ride share programs. It’s hard to get people to totally give up cars.

Jim Stanford

Overview

“I think people remember me from two years ago when I ran an unorthodox campaign with no yard signs. ‘You are the Bernie Sanders of Jackson politics,’ people said. I take that as a huge compliment,” Stanford said. “I have one foot in old Jackson and one in new Jackson.”

The incumbent adds that his perspective as a 17-year boatman for Barker-Ewing, as well as a former journalist, helps him be uniquely suitable for a role in town leadership.

“[Barker-Ewing] keeps me involved in our tourist economy, which I think is important. Our ecological legacy is important,” Stanford said. “I’ve had to make some pretty tough decisions, and I always try to be clear about what I think. I delve into the details of government. I do the work. I come prepared. I bring a lot of ideas to the table.”

Taxes—SPET, general, lodging?

Stanford: We are stuck with the tab for the slide, like it or not. It needs to be fixed and this is precisely the role of government. SPET is the least painful way for government to fix it. I would also like to point out that the tax rate will stay the same at six percent. This is not a tax increase even if the November [general sales tax penny] goes through.

I support the general penny. I think we can make incremental progress on housing. Transit also requires a substantial investment. The money generated by this tax is not a large sum of money; not with Jackson building costs anyway. And the notion that the private sector will build workforce housing is a fairytale. We need to put money into it. We need to crack down on illegal short-term rentals.

I might be against the lodging tax, maybe. This place is overexposed and the economy is super-heated. I would at least change the distribution ratio.

Housing—is it a big problem and what should government do about it?

Stanford: I moved here 24 years ago and housing was bad then, but it has gotten worse. I do think there is a role for government in this. Adding 20 to 30 units a year does some good. We are going to be a community of bussed-in people who serve second homeowners if we don’t do something. I live in a deed-restricted house and I wouldn’t be here today serving the community if not for that opportunity. It pays off for all of us in the long run.

How about ARUs and building higher, like four stories?

Stanford: I did support action the council just took on ARUs. It works in Portland, Oregon. It’s a way to possibly get us more housing without sacrificing community character. It could also provide rental income for homeowners.

I vote no on four stories. The Comp Plan calls for three with a setback on the third floor. I uphold that.

Traffic is bonkers. Any ideas?

Stanford: I ride my bike. A lot. It starts with changing our behavior. We have a town streets plan and a bike network. Public transportation costs money. START buses cost $500,000 each, then we have to pay driver salaries and ongoing maintenance. Connectivity of our road network is important too.

160810CoverFeat-4_origTeton County Commissioner
(4 candidates will advance)

Greg Epstein—D

Natalia D. Macker—D

Sandy Shuptrine—D

Lisa daCosta—R

Trey Davis—R

Nikki Gill—R

Greg Epstein—D

Q: How will you uphold the Comprehensive Plan? Give us three strategies.

Epstein: Teton County’s natural and wild resources and the protection thereof should be foremost in our planning efforts. I support environmental oversight of our air, water and land quality countywide, and I believe public lands must remain in public hands. In addition, I support energy efficiency measures and waste reduction strategies throughout our community.

I support a cultural shift away from our over-reliance of single occupancy motor vehicles. START expansion, bicycle commuting on our pathway system, a Town of Jackson Bike Share Program and complete streets are solutions to help this movement. In addition, I support collaboration with WYDOT to look at innovative traffic mitigation solutions such as roundabouts and HOV lanes to keep traffic moving before we expand to five lanes countywide.

I support “Town as Heart” and complete neighborhoods that are accompanied by detailed transportation and parking plans. Through the new Housing Board and in collaboration with the private and business sectors, we should be looking to create stable housing by increasing our stock of cost effective and deed-restricted rental units through public and/or private development partnerships.

With the Wyoming state budget being cut and with 60-70 percent of our community’s revenue coming from tourism, I support leveraging the four million tourists who visit Jackson Hole annually. Yes on SPET and yes on the Community Priorities Fund.

Our community should strive for the creation of a sustained year-round working population where the environment, people and businesses can thrive side by side.

Q: Do you support building workforce housing in Hog Island? If so, how will you mitigate the impact on traffic and wildlife? 

Epstein: I am not in favor of the size of the Munger Mountain School for the Hog Island neighborhood. However, now that the project looks to be approved and town has allowed for a sewer connection, we should look to create a complete neighborhood with affordable housing. As we continue to strive toward less traffic on the roads, it is going to be crucial that we create basic amenities, expand the necessary START Bus service and slow the speed of traffic to help with wildlife interactions. Furthermore, it will be important that children from Melody Ranch and Rafter J use the school bus to reduce unnecessary vehicle trips. Finally, with the right data and plan, the county may have to create some sort of underpass system to help with wildlife on South Highway 89.

Q: What will you do to fix the housing emergency in your first 100 days? People are living in their cars, in tents and trailers, and winter is coming. What are your short-term solutions?

Epstein: If elected, by the time I get sworn into office (January 3, 2017) it will be mid-winter and out of the peak season. Assuming the summer of 2017 to be as busy as the current summer, part of the first 100 days in office should be spent creating the procedure and the permitting process for people to live in their vehicles on public streets and parking lots, if necessary. In addition, the community should identify a location and procedures for an emergency employee camping site. Simultaneously, the electeds should be approving housing proposals that have been vetted by the Housing Board and planning commission, and pushing them toward the construction phase.   

Q: Do you trust local government to responsibly manage the proposed 1% general revenue sales tax, and use it for housing and transportation?

Epstein: I do trust local government to make the right decisions with the Community Priorities Fund, and the public should feel confident because there are a handful of stop-gaps. First, local government budgets are part of the public domain and are easily accessible online or at the county and town offices for the public to examine. Second, government officials are elected and can be voted out of office. Finally, if the 1% tax is approved, it will be up for a revote in four years where the public again can give it a thumbs up or down.

Q: What skills do you bring to the task of managing the county budget?

Epstein: At my current job as head of production at Teton Gravity Research, a large part of my responsibility is to understand, create and implement budgets for a variety of media proposals and projects. At any one time we have multiple projects in the works that require individual attention and action, making my job very dynamic. I manage a staff, hire contractors, permit land usage, arrange logistics, review progress and collaborate with many of our project stakeholders.

Natalia D. Macker—D

Q: How will you uphold the Comprehensive Plan? Give us three strategies.

Macker: The Comp Plan is our community’s agreement on where we want to go. It was vetted through the public during the multi-year process leading to its adoption. It is a vision document while also being a snapshot of the time it was created. As a commissioner, I take seriously our role in implementing the vision of the Comp Plan. At the same time, both elected officials and the public should consider some flexibility as we move through full implementation so we can get the best possible results. We cannot turn a blind eye to changing circumstances, and we have public processes to utilize in vetting needed adjustments. The Comp Plan contains many instances of compromise across our community, which means that there are inherently some contradictions within the Plan. It is the job of our elected officials to ensure we are moving forward on the vision of the Comp Plan but not letting any singular goal or interest group overwhelm the overall vision of the plan. Three priorities for me related to the Comp Plan include:

1. Continuing to update the Land Development Regulations, which are the “boots on the ground” implementation of the vision in the plan.

2. Working to accomplish our workforce housing goals.

3. Continuing to move forward with the implementation of the Integrated Transportation Plan, including pursuing the wildlife crossings.

Q: Do you support building workforce housing in Hog Island? If so, how will you mitigate the impact on traffic and wildlife? 

Macker: I am willing to consider proposals for workforce housing in District 7, but those proposals will need to go through the planning process and will likely need to include environmental mitigation. If we want to add density in the county, it is important that we don’t disregard our other community priorities. We must be practical about the impacts on the environment, open spaces, and the transportation network, and work to avoid sprawl.

The highway south of town is getting widened, so I think we have to consider what density will appropriately utilize that roadway resource. I want to try everything we can before we commit to widening more highways. Through the planning process, I believe we can address issues with wildlife through crossings, clustering and other tools as recommended by our environmental experts. I want to emphasize that we have to be pragmatic and transparent as we approach issues that are important to our community. We need to make sure all stakeholders are involved in the process and that we don’t push something through that sacrifices our other community priorities.

Q: What will you do to fix the housing emergency in your first 100 days? People are living in their cars, in tents and trailers, and winter is coming. What are your short-term solutions?

Macker: We have to work as a team and a community. This means the county working together with the town, the public sector working with the private, and our individual elected officials reaching out to all segments of our community. While implementing the long-term solutions within the Housing Action Plan remains my highest priority, we cannot ignore the overwhelming urgent need within our community. In the short-term, the county can consider a few things. Through our planning process, we can prioritize applications and projects that include affordable and workforce housing so we can shorten the timeframe for housing being built. I would welcome proposals related to short-term solutions from the public. I am open to considering temporary housing via trailers or mobile homes, but we have to find the right location and ensure safe, sanitary conditions. I also don’t want us to let a temporary solution hinder our long-term success.

Q: Do you trust local government to responsibly manage the proposed 1% general revenue sales tax, and use it for housing and transportation?

Macker: The county and the town passed a resolution pledging those funds to housing and transportation. The additional general revenue sales tax pledged to the Community Priorities Fund is the most effective tool to accomplish the complex, nuanced goals in our housing and transportation plans because it is an ongoing, dedicated funding stream. The Community Priorities Fund will be kept in its own line item through the accounting process so we can be transparent with the public. I will work hard to ensure the integrity of that funding so we are using it to address the community’s needs. The public money is all of ours. It’s also worth noting that the county is managing more than just the proposed 1% sales tax, so we need to elect leaders that will continue to uphold the open and transparent budgeting process for all public funding.

Q: What skills do you bring to the task of managing the county budget?

Macker: Managing the county budget is a collaborative process between elected officials, staff, and the public. I have been responsible for creating and managing all production budgets at Off Square Theatre since I became artistic director in 2013. I work with each of our design departments and our director to accomplish the goals of the project without exceeding our resources. This is not just about giving each department a budget and walking away. It requires me to build trust with my colleagues so we can work together to maximize our limited resources. It means including the team in the problem solving, so we can come to the best possible solutions. My first budgeting process with the county demonstrated how collaborative that process is as well. We are working with other duly elected officials, our department heads, and community organizations to make sure we are meeting the needs of our community while still living within the means of the public resources. I enjoy the process of working with people, and I have spent all of my professional life problem solving. I find that when we all come to the process with an open mind and ready to listen to each other, we are poised for success. Positive collaboration also means we have to know our limitations and be curious about what we don’t know. I have gained the respect of my colleagues and constituents for being willing to put in the time and effort to listen and learn. While it takes collaboration to get to agreement on the budget, it also takes discipline to make sure we are maintaining transparency and accountability. During a fiscal year, we need to be able to respond to the needs and opportunities in our community. However, we also need to make sure requests for changes to our budget are transparent and that we maintain adherence to the process. Otherwise, we risk growing beyond our means.

Sandy Shuptrine—D

Q: How will you uphold the Comprehensive Plan? Give us three strategies.

Shuptrine: The Comprehensive Plan is not “suggestions” for land use and development in our county, but rather the only county regulations authorized by Wyoming State Statute, available for development activity. It is based on vision, goals and objectives worked on by the public, town and county elected and professional officials, and occasionally professional consultants, over decades. It has been recently updated, although not quite finished. I would uphold it by:

1.  Understanding the updated version and helping to complete it.  (approx. 175-200 pages, but have been unable to confirm online).

2. Reading all staff reports and asking questions regarding development applications. Getting answers before making decisions.

3.  Listening to public and developer input regarding development applications. Deliberate respectfully with fellow commissioners.

Q: Do you support building workforce housing in Hog Island? If so, how will you mitigate the impact on traffic and wildlife? 

Shuptrine: Until there is a development application brought forth, I would not want to venture a guess. There may be some possibility for ‘zone/district changing’ adjacent to the school site due to the existing mixed uses. Meanwhile, maintaining good relationships and communication with WYDOT are essential. I believe they have already moved a wildlife crossing planned for the area based on the school plans and may have added a turn lane to their highway construction plans. A majority of the Board of Commissioners must agree on any decision to be made. Good communication with the School District is very important as it appears they are asking town, county and state to assume financial burdens in order to construct the school in that location.

Q: What will you do to fix the housing emergency in your first 100 days? People are living in their cars, in tents and trailers, and winter is coming. What are your short-term solutions?

Shuptrine: Should I be elected, I would do my best to encourage focused, inclusive and timely decision-making in regard to policies and new approaches for the newly established Housing Department, if that has not already happened by January 1. Again, the board of commissioners and the town council must agree on a course of action. Although a drop in the bucket, I have requested that those wishing to financially support my campaign, instead contribute to the One22 housing crisis fund for the purpose of giving displaced families relief. Some of the summer crisis will likely ease once the summer high season passes. Not all seasonal workers are expected to become permanent residents.

Q: Do you trust local government to responsibly manage the proposed 1% general revenue sales tax, and use it for housing and transportation?

Shuptrine: Yes, because it is in the community’s best interest and that is what we are elected to represent. Earmarking the general revenue penny of sales tax creates more opportunity for dealing with declining state revenues in other budget categories. I do not favor perpetual governance via SPET because spending for the approved projects is constrained by exact ballot language and usually does not account for operations and maintenance for the approved facilities. It is also often a lengthy process for collaborating and agreeing on SPET ballot questions, involving town and county decision-makers and other public service interests. For example, hospital, library, schools, START and much more.  We have 30 years of approving capital projects (SPET) for our growing community and its needs.  Now, they must be cared for and maintained over the long term as a fiscal responsibility of your elected representatives.

Q: What skills do you bring to the task of managing the county budget?

Shuptrine: Twelve years of successful budget decision-making for Teton County, as a former commissioner, and six years of budgeting, also utilizing taxpayer dollars, for the Teton Conservation District. This includes department, staff, facility and equipment considerations, as well as all program areas and partnerships to promote and maintain a healthy community. This is approximately a five- to six-month process. One must be present and participating in order to be constructive and successful.

Lisa daCosta—R

Q: How will you uphold the Comprehensive Plan? Give us three strategies.

daCosta: I am concerned that there has been the lack of action to build wildlife crossings, which were called for in the Comprehensive Plan to mitigate wildlife deaths on our roads. Sublette County has built very effective crossings, and we have not. Pushing forward to plan and build wildlife crossings on our major roadways is very important to me.

Q: Do you support building workforce housing in Hog Island? If so, how will you mitigate the impact on traffic and wildlife? 

daCosta: Yes. Hog Island is already a mixed-use district, with Evans, WYDOT, Weed and Pest, a number of home businesses and a long time trailer court along the river. Though there may be wildlife moving through this area, they have been migrating through these impacts for many years. WYDOT is already planning a road widening for South Highway 89, and now sewer infrastructure to the school makes this complete neighborhood an appropriate location for additional housing. Putting in wildlife overpasses as this complete neighborhood is built out would go far to meet the needs of the Comp Plan while also meeting the needs of the community.

Q: What will you do to fix the housing emergency in your first 100 days? People are living in their cars, in tents and trailers, and winter is coming. What are your short-term solutions?

daCosta: The most immediate response would be to:

1. Change zoning in select regions of the county to allow for denser housing and to 2. work with developers who are already trying to build workforce and employee housing to fast track their projects. The planning and building department and county commission have been a hindrance to development with long, drawn out approval processes and conflicting requirements. We can make it easier for the private sector to start projects in the spring of 2017.

Q: Do you trust local government to responsibly manage the proposed 1% general revenue sales tax, and use it for housing and transportation?

daCosta: I am concerned about how government will define what is “housing and transportation” since this is a general penny, and cannot be dedicated the way a SPET tax can. The resolution passed by the town and county is non-binding. Housing and transportation could mean more staff, not more projects. The ITP, for instance, calls for the creation of another department.

I am also not certain that the funding coming from the general penny will be sufficient to accomplish the goals. The expansion of just the START system as proposed in the Integrated Transportation Plan would consume more than half the funds raised by the penny annually.

Q: What skills do you bring to the task of managing the county budget?

daCosta: Among all the candidates, I believe I have the most extensive skill set around managing the budget. I have 30 years of financial analysis and accounting experience, and 15 years of operational finance experience—meaning that I understand the numbers in the budget and how they translate into operations. I have direct experience budgeting for a $300 million business—substantially larger than the county. I understand how important it is to spend prudently, consider the return on investment—measured against the goals achieved—and report back to constituents in a clear and transparent way.

Trey Davis—R

Q: How will you uphold the Comprehensive Plan? Give us three strategies.

Davis: Flexibility in reviewing applications and in zoning with incentives for workforce housing; drawing other types of diverse businesses to the county other than hospitality/tourism; mitigate animal fatalities as traffic grows and promote wildlife bridges.

Q: Do you support building workforce housing in Hog Island? If so, how will you mitigate the impact on traffic and wildlife? 

Davis: Yes, I do support building workforce housing in Hog Island. I will promote usage of school buses, support more START Bus options for the community and more signage/information to the public for migratory months to mitigate the impact on traffic and wildlife.

Q: What will you do to fix the housing emergency in your first 100 days? People are living in their cars, in tents and trailers, and winter is coming. What are your short-term solutions?

Davis: The housing emergency will likely not be fixed in 100 days. If elected, however, I will strive to promote the purchase of trailers from oil/gas communities that are no longer operating, to afford rental options in town and county, for example START land, the fairgrounds, possibly a Virginian trailer park (public/private partnership) and/or the Stilson lot.

Q: Do you trust local government to responsibly manage the proposed 1% general revenue sales tax, and use it for housing and transportation? 

Davis: It has nothing to do with trust. The county has no control over a natural disaster, or other shortfalls that may require some of the general revenue sales tax funding. If SPET was the tool, those monies would be segregated for the particular purpose of housing and transportation.

Q: What skills do you bring to the task of managing the county budget?

Davis: As an owner of a small business and as an executive chef of private restaurants and world-class resorts, I have been responsible for multi-million dollar budgets, been subject to severe budget cuts and strict financial management of purchasing, salaries and resources.

Nikki Gill—R

Q: How will you uphold the Comprehensive Plan? Give us three strategies.

Gill: I think the Comprehensive Plan has prioritized land conservation at the expense of property rights and affordable housing. The Comp Plan attempts to preserve open space by zoning large parcels of land one house per 35 acres, which doesn’t do much to truly conserve land or provide affordable housing. I hope to create more effective zoning that enables us to build workforce housing, and protect both wildlife and open space. I will also work to incentivize land conservation easements that are fair to large landowners and cattle ranchers.

Q: Do you support building workforce housing in Hog Island? If so, how will you mitigate the impact on traffic and wildlife? 

Gill: With a new school being built on Hog Island there will already be increased traffic in and around that area. The county needs to begin to shoulder more of the housing burden and I think building workforce housing near schools makes a lot of sense. Town is limited by the space and availability whereas the county has more flexibility in regards to land and zoning opportunities.

Q: What will you do to fix the housing emergency in your first 100 days? People are living in their cars, in tents and trailers, and winter is coming. What are your short-term solutions?

Gill: I’m hesitant to support short-term solutions at the expense of us focusing on long-term solutions. I would however, look into converting some of the older, vacant motels into studio/efficiency apartments for temporary, seasonal employee housing. As far as long-term solutions, I believe that we can create more opportunities for affordable housing through better zoning, increased density bonuses, and clustering. The Comprehensive Plan identifies key receiving areas in the county that would be ideal for affordable housing projects, but they aren’t being used.

Q: Do you trust local government to responsibly manage the proposed 1% general revenue sales tax, and use it for housing and transportation? Please explain.

Gill: The General Excise Tax is a way for local government to collect money without the checks and balances that SPET provides. There’s no guarantee that the money collected through the General Excise Tax for “housing and transportation” will actually go towards housing and transportation projects. Instead the money will go into a general fund and can be spent at the discretion of the elected officials on whatever they choose, including salaries and additional staff.

SPET was created to provide transparency, and to ensure that local government had a clear plan in place on how it would spend taxpayer money. Since its inception, SPET has had a great track record and has been a very effective way of forcing local government to fully define the scope of a project and ensure that they are held accountable.

Q: What skills do you bring to the task of managing the county budget?

Gill: I believe my degree in business administration as well as my experience creating business plans and budgets in both an academic setting and in my family’s business will serve me well when managing the county budget.

160810CoverFeat-5_origHouse District 22

Chris Christian—D

Marylee White—D

Bill Winney—R

Marti Halverson—R (incumbent)

Chris Christian—D

Q: If elected what is your first order of business? Why?

Christian: If I am elected, I will be hands on and learn the job. I am not a politician and I’d expect to be given some minor roles while they “break me in” as a legislator. I would be initially supportive of the Democrat agenda and ongoing legislative efforts to first of all, pass Medicaid Expansion because I see that, after the housing crises, as our community’s greatest need of all.  Many of the Republican constituency also demand that we pass this legislation as soon as possible. I am happy to do the due diligence required of the job.

Q: Who should have control of public lands? Why? 

Christian: I am running on a strong opposition platform to block the passage of any bills that intend to pass control of public lands to the states.  I cannot be forceful enough in opposing the sagebrush land grabbers that want to take our beautiful mountains, forests and streams to exploit them by mining, fracking, timbering and ruining our recreation industries for the sake of the Reaganomics ideas of Milton Friedman and the privatization movement. When will this idea die its due death? I advocate the most sound fiscal practices that even conservatives will agree with. Frugality and preventing waste. I am foremost opposed to the unrealistic projections of the state’s righters that the land won’t be sold.  Now, why would we accept their word on that? Examples in Idaho and Nevada support the idea that these claims are meant to mislead simple people into believing that some of America’s land should still be gotten for free. Tell me again who the freeloaders in our society are?

Q: What makes you qualified to represent your constituents?

Christian: My qualifications include serving in the capacity of manager or team leader and squad leader as a firefighter/paramedic for the City of Richmond, VA. I have managed retail stores such as Seven-Eleven and was the first female incident commander for hazardous materials ever hired by the Chemical Transportation Emergency Center (Chemtrec) in Washington, DC.  For seven years I was a Girl Scout leader and taught first aid classes. When I returned to Wyoming in 1987, I determined to get a college degree. I studied psychology along with a second degree in anthropology and also a minor in North American Indian Studies. I was never employed full-time in the field of my degree choice and like so many of my compatriots, I have been active in my community as a woman’s advocate and worked with clients for the Dept. of Vocational Rehabilitation part-time. I worked at Red Top Meadows and at the alternative high school before taking a position as a school custodian—a year-round job with benefits in Jackson.  I was injured and had to stop doing that work so I have been a self-employed bookkeeper since.  I have a paper route too. I have worked at whatever jobs I could find just to stay in the valley, finally comfortable with semi-retirement. I spent three years recently as the executive director of Wyoming NORML and received a great deal of coaching in the legislative process along the way. Lastly, I feel that I can be a positive influence on Wyoming’s future course because I am a forceful and informed opponent when the time comes for me to be. I want the people of Wyoming to be served fairly and honestly and I’m not afraid of bullies. Some have accused me of having an abrasive personality—only if you rub me the wrong way

Q: What is Wyoming doing well and what does it need to improve?

Christian: Wyoming is doing and always has done the tourism business well. We draw a great many visitors but we’re not very outgoing in inviting them to stay. We make people “tough it out” here and that’s a shame.  Ethnocentrism and xenophobia are definite drawbacks to progressive thought and action at the legislative level. It seems Wyoming is not good at accepting and adapting to change. Wyoming rates high in things we want to be low in—like suicide, and low in what we want to be high in—like educational achievements. Wyoming WANTS to stay behind the times and I find that extremely frustrating when we all know that we can’t stop time or change. We must adapt. We must innovate. We must imagine and experiment and create new ways to use our lands effectively and produce the goods that meet our needs efficiently, effectively and economically. We must Invent. We cannot languish in the glory of bygone days, which Wyoming loves to do to the point of soppy sentimentalism. Let’s live today in today, assuring a tomorrow for those who follow us.

Q: Who are you voting for in the presidential election and why?

Christian: As a Bernie Sanders delegate to the state convention, I have struggled to finally reach the decision that I will support Hillary Clinton. That was not easy. I don’t care much for Hillary, either. My main reason is because I simply cannot imagine DJT as POTUS without shuddering to my depths. I am a woman and a Democrat—vote for him? You’d have to kill me first!  Seriously, Hillary is the most qualified person in America for the job and I don’t have to like her to vote for the best thing that could happen to America: a Hillary Clinton presidency. I am a pragmatic realist. I have to accept what I cannot change… for now

Marylee White—D

Q: If elected what is your first order of business? Why?

White: I will work to prevent the transfer of federal public lands to the State of Wyoming, to expand Medicaid coverage, to preserve investment in education and to diversify the economy. My mission is to focus on core Wyoming values, the things that make life good for everyone in this great state:

1. The ability to support our families and ourselves including a quality education, a favorable business environment and affordable housing.

2. A balanced approached to preserving and protecting our wild places, safeguarding the needs of our precious wildlife and access for recreation.

3. Good health and access to the care we need to stay healthy.

Q: Who should have control of public lands? Why?

White: Federal public lands are a national treasure. They belong to everyone in the

nation and it should stay that way. Polls have shown that the majority of Wyomingites are against the transfer of public lands to the state. We live in a state largely dependent on the mineral industry for income. With the US government covering the costs of administering federal land and the state receiving royalties from the mineral industry we have not needed to have a state income tax. If those lands are transferred to the state we would either have to sell them off to cover the costs or levy an income tax, or both. Western states have already disposed of about 31 million acres of state land. Once lands become privatized, access vanishes.

Q: What makes you qualified to represent your constituents?

White: I know the people of the State of Wyoming. My parents grew up on homesteads near Medicine Bow. I was born in Greybull, graduated from high school in Worland, college in Laramie and worked for the state in Cheyenne before moving to Wilson 33 years ago. I have written about local government as a reporter for the Jackson Hole News and I’ve managed local organizations, first as a preschool director and later as a nonprofit executive director. I know the value of having a vision and a strategic plan to get things done when working with diverse groups.

Q: What is Wyoming doing well and what does it need to improve?

White: Wyoming has done a good job saving for the economic bust that we are now experiencing. We are required by our constitution to balance the budget, but we can use reserve funds to do it in a deliberate and humane way without abandoning the most vulnerable people. The current downturn demonstrates once again the urgency that we fulfill decades of promises to diversify Wyoming’s economy and invest in the future. A 2015 study found that Wyoming has the second most volatile revenue in the nation. Despite decades of talk about the need to diversify our economy we continue to rely on revenue from the energy industry.  Wyoming must continue to create a favorable business environment for innovative start-ups, new technologies and sources of sustainable energy. We must create policies that discourage intolerance and discrimination to make our state welcoming to new businesses and their employees.

Q: Who are you voting for in the presidential election and why?

White: I will vote for Hillary Clinton because she has worked hard for children and families and she is the most qualified candidate.

Bill Winney—R

Q: If elected what is your first order of business? Why?

Winney: The reduction in revenues will continue for several years; the first order of business needs to be getting the expenditures in line.

Q: Who should have control of public lands? Why? 

Winney: The people. The premise of those that want public lands to remain in federal hands operate on the premise that the federal government can do it better than the states. I don’t agree. I believe all states should control their lands.

Q: What makes you qualified to represent your constituents?

Winney: Extensive experience in leading people, 12 years observing and (in the past seven or eight years) speaking up in front of committees in public comment and in some interim hearings.

Q: What is Wyoming doing well and what does it need to improve?

Winney: Wyoming handles its infrastructure well. Keeping taxes low is attractive for people and businesses. However, the state has relied on federal mineral tax revenues far more than it should have. That must be brought down.

Q: Who are you voting for in the presidential election and why?

Winney: I support the Republican candidate, Donald Trump. He was a lot of Republicans’ first choice, he was nominated and became the candidate. We should get on with business.

[As of press time, incumbent Marti Halverson had not responded to an email questionnaire. -Ed.]


What the SPET?

Despite town and county support, will the public shoot down SPET in the primary?

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At first glance, you’d think the proposed specific purpose excise tax, or SPET, to shore up the West Broadway landslide— or Budge slide—was a slam dunk. Town and county officials all support it, and the majority of candidates for town and county office say “yes” as well. Mayoral candidate Pete Muldoon calls it a no-brainer, and Mayor Sara Flitner believes, “Yes, we have to fix it for public safety concerns.”

However, voters may think differently, at least according to two separate polls. As of press time, 78 percent of people who responded to a local online newspaper poll indicated it is not a proper use of SPET money. Seventy-two percent of respondents said “no” to repairing Budge with SPET funds on another local online poll, too.

Time will tell if these polls reflect how the public votes August 16. Online polls are easy to manipulate by deleting browser history. A computer user could vote multiple times as long as the website doesn’t recognize the computer being used.

Jackson resident Phil Cameron issued his own poll on Facebook collecting responses from many electeds and candidates. Cameron, a geologist and former executive director of the Yellowstone-Teton Clean Energy Coalition, supports the Budge slide SPET.

SPET is the mechanism by which we can choose to tax ourselves for public projects that fall outside the normal operations of local government. The Pathways system is our gold star example. Other SPET funded projects include Energy Conservation Works, which installed energy efficient lighting, solar panels, and energy efficient devices throughout the county. SPET money helped Teton County Library double its size and attain LEED certification.

“I will vote ‘yes’ for this critical measure to keep our community safe, to keep our infrastructure from failing, and to avoid losing domestic water to all points south and west of the slide,” Cameron wrote.

One vocal critic of the 2016 SPET is town council candidate Judd Grossman. “I think the Town has done a poor job of justifying this SPET initiative,” he said on Cameron’s Facebook page. “If it’s an emergency, why wasn’t it fixed immediately? If there is an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic flood why aren’t we taking steps to make sure that we are confident in the earthquake shut off system that is installed on the water tank?”

Mayoral candidate Stephen McDonald opposes the SPET tax altogether, and particularly for Budge slide clean-up. “Town created this problem,” McDonald said. “It was in greed and deceit that this happened.”

The 2016 SPET money would pay to bolster the infrastructure repairs necessary to ward off disaster. The slide is still moving—one-quarter inch each month. A U.S. Geological Survey indicates there is still a possibility of “catastrophic” failure of the hillside, which could damage a water main, leading to floods, water outage, sewer destabilization, and a giant hole in the middle of West Broadway.

“It is imperative that we take corrective efforts,” Cameron told The Planet. “There are several million gallons of water in a tank up there.”

According to the Town of Jackson’s website, it estimates only a six-month taxation period to raise the $6 million needed to stabilize public infrastructure. Commercial property owners, the town claims, will not benefit from this public money. The town estimates that two-thirds of the revenue will come from visitors and guests.

Town councilor Hailey Morton Levinson says that the money has to come from somewhere. “If it isn’t passed, we will then have to use money from something else for the fix instead. Think [about] pushing back needed streets projects, other capital projects, adjusting water and sewer rates.” PJH

A primary election forum on SPET is 6 p.m., Wednesday, August 10 at Teton County Library, followed by forums for House District 22.

-Meg Daly

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