Christian Beckwith, a climber and founder of Jackson’s SHIFT festival, is running for the Board of County Commissioners as a Republican with an eye towards bringing all of Teton County’s population into the fold.
“I’m a Captain Bob Republican,” Beckwith said. “He always said run as a Republican so you can affect the agenda and the slate of who’s running, so that’s what I’ve done.”
“Captain Bob,” whose real name was Bob Morris, died in January. He was a local political celebrity who ran on the Republican ticket for national, state and county office numerous times over about 30 years. Though he never was elected to office, he still left an outsized impact on younger generations and referred to himself as an “Eisenhower Republican,” a fiscal conservative who was moderate on progressive social issues.
Beckwith, aligning himself with Morris, said he thinks Teton County is like an ecosystem that should support its underrepresented voices.
“A healthy ecosystem is by definition one that is very diverse,” he told the News&Guide. “Any single-species ecosystem is inherently weak.
“We have to create pathways for all members of our community, and particularly we have to invest disproportionately in the most vulnerable parts of our community in order to preserve that diversity and resiliency,” he said.
Beckwith’s focus on diversity stems in part from lessons he learned during a controversy centered around the SHIFT festival’s 2018 Emerging Leaders Program, which asks young leaders of diverse backgrounds to present on SHIFT festival panels. Some participants in the program said Beckwith tokenized their experiences and called for him to resign, which he did not.
“I learned how incredibly challenging it is to navigate the landscape that has been formed by systemic inequities and institutionalized racism,” he said.
The candidate reiterated his call for a “disproportionate investment,” without specifying what it would look like, in bringing Teton County’s Latino community, between 15% and 20% of the valley’s population, into the political fold and “every aspect of societal life.” Ditto other residents struggling to make ends meet.
In Beckwith’s mind that involves taking a dual look at people and ecosystems. The candidate said he supports the 2012 Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan, believes that development should be concentrated in Jackson rather than more rural parts of the county, and wants to see a neighborhood plan in northern South Park, where the Gill and Lockhart families are proposing upzones for housing development.
The need for neighborhood planning, he said, “just seems so basic.”
“We’ve all been in these communities where they have not sketched out how these various pieces fit together,” he said. “The result is sprawl, breakdowns in transportation, snarls — the housing types that are incorporated don’t match with the needs of the community.”
Beckwith said he would approach the job with a “place-first lens” because “we’re here because of this place.”
The candidate said his vision to preserve the environment would involve continued investment in water quality and opposing the Tribal Trail Connector, which he views as a last resort after the county has explored “all other options to address our traffic challenges.”
The commission race is Beckwith’s first political foray. He threw his name in the hat at the last minute, deciding to run because, after being in the valley for over two decades, he’s watched the valley’s housing and transportation problems mount and wanted to help.
“I’ve never been motivated by anything other than matters of the heart, and I’m deeply in love with this place,” he said, “and I will do everything in my power to make it as resilient and durable as I can.”