Competion heats up in county elections
After some retirements, politicians are stepping to the fore.
By Cara Rank, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: June 2, 2010
While incumbent county commissioners on the Democratic ticket will go unchallenged, Republican candidates are vying for other Teton County offices that haven’t seen a contested election in years.
During the two-week filing period that closed Friday, candidates emerged as challengers in four of the county’s eight races. Twenty men and women filed for those races. Another 101 people are vying to become precinct committee men and women.
Representatives from both parties say they are pleased with the showing.
“I think that people are anxious to lead,” said Wallace Ulrich, chairman of the Teton County Republican Party. “And people are anxious to vote.”
The primary election will be held Aug. 17. From there, voters will whittle down the Republicans and Democrats who will advance to the November general election.
In the most high-profile county race, that of commissioner, no challengers emerged for incumbents Hank Phibbs and Ben Ellis, both Democrats. Some took that as a stamp of approval for the past four years.
“The assumption has to be made that Democrats are pretty happy with Hank and Ben and how they have been performing,” said Marcia Kunstel, chairwoman of that party. “Frankly, I hadn’t heard any names of any Democrats even thinking about it.”
She said the lack of Democratic challengers could also reflect upon Republican Commissioner Paul Vogelheim’s job during the past two years.
“I think people are happy with the way Paul has served,” Kunstel said. “It has been a really good working group. I guess that may be one reason that nobody else put in their name.”
Vogelheim will face three challengers in trying to keep the seat to which he was appointed to in 2008.
That competition will be healthy, Ulrich said.
“We have people that really want to do the job and are very serious about it,” he said.
While commissioners’ races are always contested, some county offices are seeing challengers for the first time in years. Those include the assessor, coroner and clerk positions.
Ulrich explained the competition as a result of the economy.
“People are looking for jobs,” he said.
It also may be a result of retirements opening up positions, including assessor’s and coroner’s jobs, he said. People don’t have to challenge incumbents who have been doing good work, Ulrich said.
Kunstel said the turnout in her party for those positions is promising.
“The Democrats are slowly moving in on those positions,” Kunstel said. “The county building has been a Republican stronghold for quite a long time.”
For example, she said, Treasurer Donna Baur is uncontested as she seeks her second term in office.
“She obviously has done a really good job, because nobody wanted to get her out,” Kunstel said.
Ulrich had a different perspective.
Three of the county offices – attorney, sheriff and clerk of court – are uncontested, and Republican incumbents will return to office unless a write-in candidate turns out.
“There’s always wishful thinking for one party; they think it will trend one way or another,” he said. “If you look at the candidates running, the trend really doesn’t show that at all.”
While the races for precinct committee men and women are often overlooked, Kunstel said those also are important. The Democratic party has 63 people running for 64 positions.
“It’s got to be a record,” she said. “We’ve never had that many precinct leader slots.”
Those numbers are determined by how many votes the county cast for congressional candidates in the past election. Kunstel attributed the gain to Democrat Gary Trauner, a Wilson resident, who challenged Cynthia Lummis for a U.S. House of Representatives seat but lost.
“It’s grassroots,” she said of those jobs. “It’s the beginning, where things start in democratic politics.”