THE BUZZ 1: ‘We Stand By You’

By on November 15, 2016

New leaders Muldoon and Epstein vow to protect the rights of locals under a Trump presidency.

Mayor-elect Pete Muldoon and County Commissioner-elect Greg Epstein.

Mayor-elect Pete Muldoon and County Commissioner-elect Greg Epstein.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – This week people across the country expressed fear and uncertainty about what a Donald Trump presidency means for minorities, women, immigrants, the environment and America’s place in the global community. In contrast, however, the valley’s choice in local elected officials reflects a continued commitment to progressive, inclusive policies. Both Mayor-elect Pete Muldoon and Teton County Commissioner-elect Greg Epstein say they will work to enact local legislation that protects all people here, particularly Jackson’s most vulnerable populace—the Latino community.

In this unprecedented national political climate, local governments face the challenge of at once needing to do just what Trump did—validate constituents’ pain, promise to subvert systems that have worked to disenfranchise them—while also resisting and condemning the racism, sexism, and xenophobia that Trump has emboldened. Muldoon does not see this as an impossible feat. “We have to realize that there are a lot of Trump voters who just wanted change and voted for him despite the hate, and not because of it. We should appeal to their better instincts,” he said.

However, this appeal, Muldoon says, must happen in the context of “pushing back in every way that we can” against Trump’s plans.

“Trump has promised to uproot 11 million people who are an integral part of communities across this country. This is morally despicable and doesn’t make economic sense. It’s a fearful and emotional outburst.”

Hence, it will be up to America’s towns and cities to resist these movements.

The first thing Jackson can do, Muldoon said, “is make sure that those in our community who rightfully feel threatened by the things Trump has promised know that we stand with them, and that we value them and see them as equals. We’re all in this together, and it’s important to express that.”

This is already happening. On Wednesday, November 16, One22 is holding a free community forum at St. John’s Episcopal Church. The forum, organizers say, is “in response to an overwhelming request for information on immigration law under a new administration.”

One22’s executive director Mary Erickson says worry among community members is widespread. “We’ve heard from school administrators, teachers, and parents concerned about the kids. Kids pick up on everything. They are afraid a parent will be deported. They are concerned about their friends. The day after the election people told us they were closing bank accounts. I think some of that initial panic has calmed a bit, but people are still afraid,” she said.

Right now, Erickson says community advocates are urging folks to take a deep breath because nothing will change until January. “We don’t know exactly what will happen under a Trump administration, but we do know some things. So [attorneys] Elizabeth Trefonas and Rosie Read will share those things that we know [at the forum].”

Erickson says she does not believe there will be a mass deportation. She says she is concerned, however, for the possibility of significant changes that could dramatically impact people in the community. “One22 is committed to standing with members of our community who feel threatened or at risk,” she said. “Our first job is to help educate and increase understanding throughout the community.”

She encourages residents all of stripes to attend the forum in solidarity.

Epstein echoed Erickson’s priorities. The county commissioner-elect, who, like Muldoon, was inspired to run for office because of Sen. Bernie Sanders, says he will work to keep the valley “a friendly town that accepts people from all different kinds of lives.” Responses to potentially prejudiced policies, he said, will require a “top down” commitment.

“Local government needs to show we’re not going to be on a witch hunt. The Latino community needs to know we’re all in this together,” he said.

Muldoon agreed, saying that he will resist if the federal government “starts pushing” 287(g) agreements, which authorize the feds to work with local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law.

“I’m opposed to having our local law enforcement work with federal immigration to tear our town apart by uprooting and deporting hardworking immigrants who play a huge role in our community,” he said.

Epstein said, as a county commissioner, he will encourage the town to enact protections for vulnerable populations. “The best thing [county commissioners] can do is just be advocates to the town. While the county is under Wyoming state law, the Town of Jackson can create their own ordinances. I will advocate for the town to move in this direction.”

Supporting the vulnerable will require that city governments take strong stances. Multiple American cities have declared they will remain sanctuary cities—protecting illegal immigrants either by law or action—even as Trump threatens to rob these cities of millions in federal funding for doing so.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared that, “Seattle is the same city today that it was yesterday … guided by equality and inclusion and openness,” Murray was reported saying in the Seattle Times. Murray joins the mayors of Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia  and others who also have vowed to protect their citizens of all stripes even if it means losing federal funding.

Working to ensure that Jackson remains a place that protects its inhabitants regardless of what happens in the next four years will take work, but Jackson has chosen officials who say they will do just that. Epstein says both locally and nationally, people want change, and that Muldoon represents “a level of progressive idealism.” Leaders, he says, need to be prepared to work within the dynamism of a unique community.

“We’re not a quaint little mountain town anymore,” Epstein said. “We’re growing up and we have elected people who will tackle what comes next.”

Muldoon says his election doesn’t necessarily reflect a shift in values. Progressive values, he says, have always been here but the policy hasn’t always matched up. Jackson is rapidly changing, he says, and if policies don’t catch up with that pace, the result will be “angry and frustrated voters; and angry and frustrated people don’t always make good decisions.”

Indeed, in the presidential race, many angry, frustrated and desperate folks turned to Trump. People who felt disenfranchised and unheard. The Guardian’s Naomi Klein argued: Trump’s message was, “All is hell,” while Clinton’s was, “All is well.” Her message alienated those who have lost jobs, pensions, and the safety net that had previously softened those losses, she wrote.

As the U.S. enters an extremely complicated time, Muldoon says there is a unique opportunity here. “The world notices what Jackson Hole does,” he said. “We have a lot of influence here—millions of tourists pass through here each year, or dream about doing so. We’re known as the wealthiest county in the country, as well as for having the highest income inequality. We’re internationally known for our conservation ethic.

“We’re also located in a state … [where] our voters have nearly 80 times more power in the Senate than the voters of California. For better or for worse, Wyoming has an outsized influence on our country. What we do here matters. And people pay attention. It’s a responsibility I hope we can live up to.” PJH

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