A fixture of Teton County’s education community will try something new. Sort of.
Jackson Hole High School social studies teacher Jim Rooks plans to run for Jackson Town Council.
The former principal and athletic coach is a lifelong Jackson resident. His great-grandmother, Genevieve Van Vleck, served on the town’s — and the nation’s — first all-female government in the 1920s.
A century later, Rooks hopes to honor her legacy as a compromiser.
“I just kind of want to step back to try and do the best I can do to bring our community together,” he said, adding that there’s a higher social and economic purpose for doing so.
“We need to get together to act together and respond to the pandemic,” he said.
Rooks will stop teaching about government as he vies for a place in it.
A 2019 bike accident left him with nerve pain in his feet and legs that make teaching, which he has done for at least 25 years, difficult. He plans to resign at the end of the 2020 school year — “the hardest professional decision” he’s made, he said — but he hopes to stay involved with the high school’s team for “We the People,” a national challenge based on the U.S. Constitution.
What Rooks has learned from running the program is part of why he’s running.
“I think it was the ultimate boot camp for me to be ready for politics,” he said. “If you know the history of our country, we’re founded on compromise. There’s almost always common ground.”
In the process of taking different “We the People” teams to nationals, he chatted with Wyoming’s U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi. Though Rooks said he doesn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with Enzi, he does believe in the 80-20 compromise principle the senator espouses.
“On most topics, you can agree even with someone who’s an adversary of yours politically — you can always find 80% common ground,” Rooks said. “Do we allow that 20% of disagreement to cause gridlock and stagnation or do we seize on the 80% of common ground?”
Rooks argues for common ground.
“The very most important, pressing issue in front of Jackson Hole right now is our response to COVID-19 on an economic and social level,” Rooks said.
Our response, he thinks, requires rethinking spending.
“I think we need to put some of our previous opinions and principles behind us,” Rooks said, noting that, in the past, he wouldn’t have been running on a fiscal-scrutiny platform.
But now, given the situation, he is advocating for the town to look at “every single line item” for appropriate places to cut. He also sees rationale for digging into reserves.
“We need to spend those monies because it’s a rainy day,” Rooks said. “I consider it an economic emergency, and I think we need to access any and all available funds.”
Rooks likes the council’s nonpartisan nature. He hopes that will help bring his tradition of teaching what he called “land mine issues” without upset over to the government.
“I’m truly nonpartisan,” he said.
Rooks’ decision to enter the council race means at least four people will be vying for three seats: Mayor Pete Muldoon has said he plans to run for a council seat. Vice Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson will run for mayor. And Realtor Devon Viehman is seeking a council seat.
Councilor Jim Stanford has not announced his plans.