Crowded commissioner race is taking shape
Voters will get to choose among eight candidates to fill three Teton County commissioner seats in the coming 2018 election.
Two seats are up for grabs with Commissioner Smokey Rhea deciding not to run for a second term and Commissioner Paul Vogelheim leaving the board after a decade of service. Incumbent commission Chairman Mark Newcomb is facing challengers for the third seat.
The race is drawing candidates from both sides of the aisle. Three Republicans — Mark Barron, Andrew Byron and Mary Martin — will all advance to the general election.
On the Democratic side, voters will have to choose three of four candidates in the Aug. 21 primary to narrow the field for the Nov. 6 general election. Democrats vying for seats are Richard Aurelio, Seadar Rose Davis, Mark Newcomb and Luther Propst.
Tim Rieser also has announced plans to run. As an Independent he has until Aug. 27 to file as a candidate. Independent candidates are required to file by petition nomination, which means they must present a petition with 249 valid signatures from registered Teton County voters.
Richard “Dick” Aurelio
Engineer and businessman Richard Aurelio said he can’t “sit on the sidelines” any longer as the county strays from the Comprehensive Plan values of ecosystem stewardship, growth management and quality of life.
Having moved to Jackson Hole full time in 2002 to work in finance and raise his daughter, Aurelio values remaining a “community first, resort second.” He’s critical of the management of START bus, the plan to build the Tribal Trails Connector with WYDOT and Jackson Hole Airport’s planned acquisition of fixed-based operator Jackson Hole Aviation.
“As I look at the decisions that are being made, while very well-intended, there seems to be a lack of experience when it comes to making sound operational and financial judgments,” Aurelio said.
He would like to see the affordable housing program be less chance-based and more “need- and skill-based,” going toward firefighters, police and Latino workers.
Seadar Rose Davis
Seadar Rose Davis is running to give back to the community. She is a songwriter, vocalist and guitarist with Americana band Screen Door Porch and a freelance web designer.
“The life of a touring musician, you’re thrown a lot of curveballs that you had no idea were going to come,” Davis said. “I think that happens with local politics, too. I’m definitely ready for that.”
Davis said she represents a fresh perspective for Teton County and is passionate about ensuring that the elected board serves everybody, including working-class residents.
“I want to make sure that all parties are represented at the table,” she said.
Davis currently serves on the START board and is interested in expanding service, finding more funding sources and rallying the community around using the bus. She’s also interested in balancing public and private housing solutions and fostering a healthy community.
As the current board chairman and only incumbent in the race, Mark Newcomb is seeking a second term. He is self-employed as an environmental economics consultant.
“I’m running to continue to pursue a vision for the county I’ve had for a long, long time growing up here,” he said. “That is a vision that tries to protect our rural character, our small-town feel, our wildlife values, our ecosystem values.”
He wants to be a part of continued land development regulation efforts, like planning the county’s “complete neighborhoods” such as Wilson and The Aspens.
“I would like to see if we can achieve outcomes for those communities that might accomodate more of our workforce without destroying or even too substantially impacting the characters of those communities,” he said.
Newcomb wants to ensure everyone in the county has a seat at the table to collaborate on solutions and prioritize how the county spends its revenues.
Experienced in land use and regional planning, Luther Propst founded the Sonoran Institute, where he worked with communities like Jackson to manage growth and change while protecting public lands. He feels this experience has prepared him to balance county priorities of public lands, wildlife, housing, transportation and human services.
“It’s a balancing act to protect what makes Teton County unique,” he said, “which, at the top of that list, is our wildlife and conservation and public lands.”
Propst said he would like to see the county adopt an integrated conservation plan, spend more time on “big picture” problems facing the community and actively engage with federal partners on public land questions.
“I think my experience and my energy and action orientation can help this county meet its future more successfully,” Propst said.
Mark Barron served as Jackson’s mayor for 12 years, beginning in 2003. He won re-election five times.
“I really feel like we need some leadership in local government,” Barron said, “and I have some experience that I can put to good use for the people of Jackson Hole.”
He owns and operates High Country Linen Service and founded Blue Spruce Cleaners. He also helped found Snake River Roasting.
Barron’s focus is accountability in the county budget, private-sector housing solutions, government transparency and reducing the property tax burden.
“I’ll provide leadership to bring spending under control because our tax base should not ever be treated as the county credit card,” Barron said. “We can do better than exponential tax increases in a place that is already expensive to live.”
A Teton County native, Andrew Byron sees a need for members of the community to work together toward bipartisan solutions.
“I really think the list is long with the work that needs to get done, and the issues are mounting every day,” he said. “It’s important that we take a level-headed approach in terms of tackling the issues and working across party lines to come up with solutions.”
Byron is a fishing guide, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort employee and real estate agent. He also served on the Jackson/Teton County Parks and Recreation Board, which prompted his interest in how citizens can make a difference in local politics.
Top priorities for Byron are conservation, private property rights, a balanced county budget and public-private partnership approaches to the housing crisis.
As a community development education specialist for the University of Wyoming Extension, Mary Martin has had a hand in helping start projects such as the Senior Center of Jackson Hole, what’s now Children’s Learning Center and One22. She has been involved in community projects from Teton County hazardous fuels reduction to restaurant sanitation.
“I’ve been part of creating a lot of the fiber that makes Jackson what it is,” she said.
Martin said her experience in organizational development, leadership and strategic planning has prepared her for problem-solving in the county and making county meetings efficient.
As commissioner she would focus on “the people,” including looking out for children and seniors. She wants to support developing an adequate workforce housing supply, boosting morale among government employees and ensuring a vibrant business community.
Rieser sees the valley’s current political climate as a pivotal time. He feels his voice is needed in the race to challenge the status quo.
“I am fundamentally an agitator,” Rieser said. “I have been since I was a little child. I question authority; I question rules. I question people in power. I have maybe an overtuned sense of justice. It bothers me terribly when people are mistreated.”
Rieser said the county needs to stop sacrificing people’s well-being and housing in the name of protecting the environment. He would like to see commercial growth slowed, the lodging tax voted down to stop what he sees as excessive tourism, and zoning rules relaxed to create opportunities to build housing.
“I would like to see leadership that is less concerned about pleasing everybody and more concerned about forward progress,” Rieser said. “I would like to see leadership that is more resolute and certain in their decisions.”