Thursday, May 12, 2016

Local Candidate Forum Held in Island Park

I attended a candidate forum last Tuesday at the EMS building. The candidates for State Representative seats 35a and 35b, two Fremont County Commissioner positions and the Fremont County Prosecutor were in attendance. They were each given the opportunity to explain why they should be considered for the position and each responded to a few related questions submitted by the audience. Here are my impressions of the candidates based on the forum.

State Representative 35a
Van Burtenshaw (incumbent) was very much aware of the state budgeting process and expressed a commitment to take care of state workers and teachers. He also was proud of his assistance in opposing the Island Park National Monument by introducing the resolution in the state legislature.
Daniel Davis emphasized that he was a strict constitutionalist which would be great if he was running for national office. He proclaimed that according to the constitution, the federal government had no right to own any property and that all the national forest lands belong to the states. I have bad news for Mr. Davis, that ship sailed well over a century ago. Without presenting any specifics on what he would do if elected, I am not sure he would be an effective state representative.

State Representative 35b
Paul Romrell (incumbent) was also obviously very seasoned in the state budgeting process. He has been working to use the increase in the state gas tax to repair Highway 20 through the caldera. While this year is going to be only patching, chip and seal, he hopes to have the road rebuilt within the next couple of years.
Karey Hanks is a local school bus driver who also identified herself as a strict constitutionalist. She spent most of her time telling of hours spent with local school children, conveying the importance and her love of the constitution. She was less clear about what she hoped to accomplish if elected.

Fremont County Prosecutor
Karl Lewies (incumbent) is a polished attorney who spent his time addressing the complaints issued against him by his opponent. He explained that he handles the criminal prosecutions and that his deputy handles the civil actions, including the Commissioners’ meetings. He does case preparation on Mondays for upcoming trials and the meetings are also on Mondays. Regarding his private practice, he advised that since Fremont County is not the hotbed of criminal activity, he has intermittent time that is available. He uses the time productively to practice law in his private practice. 
Marcia Murdoch presented two issues regarding Mr. Lewies that she felt needed to be addressed. First, Mr. Lewies does not attend the County Commissioners’ meetings but delegates that duty to his deputy. Second, Mr. Lewies maintains a private practice while serving as county attorney. Ms. Murdoch promised to attend the Commissioners’ meetings personally and not maintain a private practice. Regardless of whether one thinks that these issues are important, at least someone studied and found areas to distinguish themselves from their rival. 

Fremont County Commissioners
The county commissioners have made several mistakes over the last few years that have caused many to question their judgement.
Let’s pick three:
The county commissioners hired Jan Brown and Tom Cluff. The two of them got involved in what amounted to encouraging outside organizations interested in establishing the Island Park National Monument. Residents throughout Fremont County have spent hundreds of hours working to offset the damage caused by the county employees.
The 150 percent increase in the landfill fee was a result of a failure to act in a timely manner. The closing of the Saint Anthony landfill has been pending for almost a decade and some of the expenses involved in that task should have been foreseen. A modest fee increase several years ago dedicated to that task would have avoided such a burdensome increase.
The City of Teton declined an application to rezone a rural property in a residential area near the river to allow a multi-acre open gravel pit. The County Commissioners overruled the local planning/zoning committee and allowed the pit. The City sued the County and the County lost. It cost the County $13,000 for the legal fees of the City of Teton.

Fremont County Commissioner
Leroy “Lee” Miller (incumbent) discussed the procured grant to widen and improve the Yale-Kilgore Road. He also discussed the commissioners’ commitment to opposing the national monument. He also admitted that the county made a mistake in approving the gravel pit and getting stuck with Teton’s legal fees.
Larry Singleton is a rancher who expressed a desire to add the perspective of the agri-businesses of Fremont County. He was concerned about spending but left little meat on the bones when discussing the inadequacies or mistakes of the current commissioners.

Fremont County Commissioner
Jordon Stoddard touted his on-site supervision of the county employees and his personal response to county residents’ concerns. He defended Jan Brown and Tom Cluff, disagreeing with the characterization of their involvement in the national monument fiasco.
Val Hammond is also involved in agri-business and seemed to be well organized. The increasing county budget was also his main concern. He discussed the thirteen thousand dollars that the county had to be after losing a lawsuit filed by the city of Teton over a zoning mistake made by the county.

Idaho has the advantage of being a conservative state. None of these races are as dramatic as picking between Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz. All of the candidates are good people. Local voters have some interesting choices in the upcoming primary election. Good Luck!

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