Teton Toys owner Wes Gardner is getting back on the horse.
“I’m doing this completely different from the way I did this last time,” he said. “The expectation is to compete to win.”
In November’s election, Gardner will reprise his role from 2018, running as an independent for a seat on the Teton County Board of County Commissioners.
Voters will decide who fills two of five commission seats in November. Commissioner Greg Epstein has announced that he will not run for reelection, leaving Commissioner Natalia D. Macker as the only incumbent in the race this go-around.
In 2018, Gardner finished seventh. The top three vote getters in that county race won seats on the commission. Gardner did not.
Despite that midterm loss, Gardner has made moves on some of the issues he ran on in 2018. Then, the owner of Teton Toys ran on a penchant for transportation and waste management.
Running on similar issues this year, Gardner now has some meat on his policy-making bones. As a member of the START board, he was heavily involved in the drafting of the bus system’s new route plan, which debuted earlier this month.
The update will connect Rafter J, Melody Ranch and South Park to the system, offer increased commuter service to Star Valley and Teton Valley, Idaho, and experiment with microtransit options in town to avoid “running buses empty through East Jackson.”
It’s also emblematic of what he hopes to communicate with his campaign.
“I believe that we live in a community full of people that want to be part of a solution,” he said, noting that giving people solutions is what he wants to do as a commissioner.
Making public transit a worthwhile alternative to driving a personal vehicle is one example of how Gardner hopes to do that, giving people viable options to combat climate change.
He also hopes to turn a shrewd eye to how county policy affects business.
In 2018, Gardner said he was inspired to get in the game the day the town and county approved new housing mitigation rules. In that process, he felt officials rushed to a conclusion without addressing valid concerns from some elected officials and members of the public.
A few years on, Gardner is still talking about that meeting.
“I think there needs to be a keen eye and keen observation of unintended consequences when policy affects the marketplace,” he said.
Deciding to run as an independent, Gardner recognized, was a “difficult decision,” particularly when it comes to financing his campaign. But he thinks positioning himself outside of traditional party lines will appeal to voters.
“There’s more people than ever in modern American history who are really disillusioned not just with the other party, but with their own party,” Gardner said. He aims to provide an antidote to that by “studying problems” and “working on solutions with the community’s interests in mind.”
“The basis for my appeal is my attention to detail and my willingness to roll up my sleeves and really understand the micro dynamics of a problem and build to a solution,” Gardner said.