There are just seven weeks until Teton County voters will decide which four Teton County commissioner candidates will advance to the general election in November.

Three Republicans and three Democrats are vying for two seats opening on the Teton County Board of County Commissioners. One seat is held by Chairwoman Barbara Allen, a Republican, who is not seeking re-election. The other is held by Commissioner Natalia Macker, a Democrat, who was appointed to the position in October after Melissa Turley resigned. Macker is running to keep her seat.

The primary election on Aug. 16 will narrow the pool to two candidates per party. Voters must declare a party to vote in the primary.

“Wyoming allows same-day voter registration, so you can change your registration on election day, but you have to declare a party to vote in that primary,” Teton County Clerk Sherry Daigle said.

This week the News&Guide asked those seeking election to answer questions about income disparity, a topic that resurfaced after a study published by the Economic Policy Institute found Teton County is the most unequal county in the country.

Candidates were asked what income inequality means in the community, and what — if anything — should be done about it. They were also asked to explain who they represent in the community.

Democrats

Greg Epstein

Greg Epstein, 45, a Jackson Hole native and head of production for Teton Gravity Research, said he doesn’t “demonize” the wealthy.

“I feel like a lot of the income and the dollars that these wealthier people bring to this town has helped invigorate the economy,” Epstein said. “Probably the one thing I am seeing with a lot of the wealthier people, especially the newer wealthier people, is they’re not quite as in touch with what goes on in our community, so maybe they’re not even aware that there is this kind of disparity.

“Real estate prices have gone so high that the backlash is there’s not a lot of free-market affordable housing. That’s probably the trickiest part of all this,” he said. “I think that’s where it’s just getting the wealthy people to understand the dynamics of our community.”

Epstein said the solution lies in the 1 percent general sales tax, proposed to flow into the Community Priorities Fund, which is intended to support housing and transportation options in the community.

“With that 1 percent tax … I feel like at least that’s a start to constant revenue where we can actually start to think about plans,” Epstein said. “We can start to think about how to help the underserved.”

As for who he represents, he said, “My constituent is people who want to live in and enjoy Jackson Hole. I really think I have ideas for all the different groups of people in Jackson Hole.”

Natalie Macker

Natalia Macker, 32, is the one incumbent Teton County commissioner running for re-election. She also is artistic director for Off Square Theatre Company.

Macker said income inequality plays a role in straining community resources, particularly social services.

“As we see people struggle for housing or not being able to afford health care, those impacts percolate throughout the whole system, and there are costs associated with that, which everyone bears,” Macker said. “Locally, what it looks like are available jobs and not as much available housing.”

However, Macker also said, “it’s important that we not demonize any one group” and that economic diversity is key in the community.

“Income inequality is going to exist, and it’s not inherently a bad thing,” she said. “I think what we need to look at is, do people have what they need? Is opportunity available to everyone? I think that’s questionable in our community right now when we look especially at housing.”

Of her constituency, Macker said, “When I sit and make decisions, I very much want to represent everyone who lives in our community. That being said, I’m a young working mom. I’m in a family that has two working parents, so I definitely feel I can bring the perspective of a young family trying to plant our seeds in this community.”

Sandy Shuptrine

Sandy Shuptrine, 71, a former county commissioner who is retired, could not be reached before press time.

Republicans

Lisa daCosta

Lisa daCosta, 51, is the owner of Cache Creek Financial. She sees the income gap eventually being a driving force for raised wages, as wealthier families move into the community and build homes.

“It’s going to continue to drive demand for high-end construction services, which is going to push wages up in those sectors,” she said.

Higher wages in one section, she said, will put “wage pressure” on other industries to also raise their wages.

DaCosta said the wealth in the community has also allowed Jackson to develop and support services other communities don’t have.

“Could we have built Vertical Harvest here if we didn’t have demand across a base of high-end restaurants and grocery stores to create that opportunity?” she asked. “Is that a good thing? Yeah, I would say most people would say it’s a good thing.

“The very wealthy here have also allowed for Old Bill’s Fun Run, the buildout of all the nonprofits that provide all sorts of different services for the community, the Center for the Arts, and also the growth in all of the professional services. … All of that has led to us having a more vibrant and diverse community.”

DaCosta said she hopes to represent everyone appropriately and equally.

“Since there’s only five seats, we’ve got to be looking at how we represent all fairly and equitably,” she said.

Nikki Gill

Nikki Gill, 28, is the sales and marketing manager for the Jackson Hole Hereford Ranch.

She said the way to decrease the gap of income disparity is to support a “vibrant and diverse business economy.”

“As a county commissioner I would have little authority on increasing wages or directly closing the income gap we have in Jackson,” Gill said. “But what I can do is work to create a more vibrant and diverse business economy, which I think could really help. Right now tourism and real estate are the two pillars of our economy, and I think we really need to add more pillars.”

Gill said the board has an opportunity through updates to the land development regulations to “lure” new companies to the area and support existing companies.

“Right now that really highly educated workforce in Jackson works largely in the service industry because that’s where they can make the most money in Jackson,” she said. “But I think if we can enable new and existing companies to thrive in Jackson and in the county, we can in turn help close that wage gap, even just a little bit.”

Gill, a fifth-generation native, said she is in the unique position to represent “a lot of different generations in Jackson.

“I really want to advocate for the middle class and the working families that are trying so hard to stay in Jackson and create a life here for themselves and their children,” she said. “And also our local businesses, which I think are so important to our community character and the people of Jackson.”

Trey Davis

Trey Davis, 45, is the owner of Sweetwater Restaurant.

Davis said Jackson has become a really tough place to live — a place where he likely wouldn’t be able to buy a home if he moved to the area today.

“Because of the 1 percent the property values and rent, everything has gone through the roof,” he said. “The average working person can’t afford to buy a home here.”

Increased property values have also pinched businesses, he said, with skyrocketing rents and sale prices.

“It’s just hard to start a business,” he said. “What you have here are people with businesses who are trying to make a business work with younger people who are just here for the summer.”

But the solution, he said, is hard to nail down.

“I hear other people say you can put a cap on what housing and commercial real estate can go for,” he said. “But that’s unrealistic. Our country is based on the free market.

“To be honest with you, I don’t have an answer on how to slow it down in town. You can slow down growth, but that — if anything — makes it more expensive.

“I don’t know there’s an answer for it,” he said.

Davis said he represents working people: “People who go to work every day and bust their butts to make it work here.”

Contact Melissa Cassutt at 732-7076 or county@jhnewsandguide.com.

Allie Gross covers Teton County government. Originally from the Chicago area, she joined the News&Guide in 2017 after studying politics and Spanish at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

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