The two Democratic and two Republican candidates for the Teton County Board of County Commissioners should all advance to the Nov. 3 general election, when they should compete with Independent Wes Gardner. Candidates are competing for two seats on the board: those currently held by Chairwoman Natalia D. Macker and Commissioner Greg Epstein. — Billy Arnold
Greg Epstein, Democratic Incumbent
Commissioner Greg Epstein, who initially announced that he would not seek reelection, recanted when the pandemic struck Jackson Hole and is now running to keep his seat as a Democrat.
“The situation our community is in after this COVID crisis made me realize we just need to have experienced governance for the time being,” he said.
When Epstein said he wouldn’t run again, he and his wife had just had their first child.
He was worried about balancing the demands of fatherhood with running a new business, the Jackson Hole Fly Company, and fulfilling his duties on the Teton County Board of County Commissioners.
The pandemic changed that.
“I’m in a good position,” he said, “I love this community, and I want to do whatever I can to make sure we bounce back.”
Epstein was first elected in 2016 and is the board’s vice chair.
He said he hopes to “catalyze bringing back our community’s economy” in a “healthy and safe manner.”
The commissioner wasn’t sure what, exactly, that would look like in May but said getting the “right sort” of testing and contact tracing would be part of the solution.
He has since advocated for contract tracing programs from his seat on the board.
Though he initially told the News&Guide he would vote against a measure supporting Teton District Health Officer Travis Riddell’s request for a countywide mask order, he changed course and voted in favor of one such resolution a week or so later. The state approved the order the same day.
Epstein has had a prominent voice in conversations about developing northern South Park, where the Gill family is proposing a market-based housing development targeted at the local workforce.
The commissioner told the News&Guide that he believes northern South Park is the right place for housing. Looking to move the proposal along, he has proposed altering the county’s joint planning arrangement with the town and forcefully argued to have the county take the lead on planning the area, which is in county jurisdiction.
Epstein voted for the Tribal Trail Connector in June and against the Hog Island development in May 2019.
Natalia D. Macker, Democratic Incumbent
Commission Chairwoman Natalia D. Macker was the first candidate to announce her bid for the county’s elected board, letting the public know she was interested in January.
“I know I want to do it,” Macker, a Democrat, told the News&Guide then. “I love the broadness of the work we do and the broadness of the many issues we get to work on.”
In 2019, Macker was nominated for a Wyoming Women of Influence award, appointed to the Wyoming Council for Women’s Issues by Gov. Mark Gordon and named Commissioner of the Year by the Wyoming County Commissioners Association. She was the first woman ever to win the commissioner award in Wyoming. Macker is a staunch advocate for women running for public office.
Seeking to keep her seat, she pledged to support working families and economic diversification, as well as water quality protections, child care, mental health services and climate action.
Appointed to the Teton County Board of County Commissioners in 2015 to replace Melissa Turley and then elected to a full term in 2016, Macker said she is proud of the work the county has done to promote waste reduction during her tenure. She hopes to continue addressing water quality, which commissioners designated as an area of focus for 2019 and 2020, and expanding access to child care.
“I’ve been proud to be able to make sure that those got prioritized, and now that they are, we have to keep doing the work,” Macker said.
She recently called and supported a vote on the resolution supporting the district health officer’s request for a countywide mask order, though she called the vote three weeks after it was requested.
Macker said people should vote for her because of “shared values” and a “track record of taking action on issues the community prioritizes.”
Macker voted for the Tribal Trail Connector in June and for the Hog Island development in May 2019.
“In people that we’re electing to a board, we want people who are going to vet issues but, at the end of the day, be willing to take action, because it’s never going to be perfect,” she said. “I hope that my service will speak for itself.”
Christian Beckwith, Republican
Christian Beckwith, a climber and founder of Jackson’s SHIFT festival, is running for commissioner with an eye toward 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 outsize 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 said. “We have to invest disproportionately in the most vulnerable parts of our community in order to preserve that diversity and resiliency.”
The candidate said it was necessary to bring Teton County’s Latino community, between 15% and 20% of the valley’s population, and other residents struggling to make ends meet into the political fold and “every aspect of societal life.”
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.”
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.”
Peter Long, Republican
Moran native Peter Long is running for the Teton County Board of County Commissioners as a Republican to represent young, working families that he feels haven’t had a voice in local politics.
“I’m running to represent those who are working hard, who are struggling to make ends meet, who are struggling to figure out how to pay their mortgage and their rent,” he said.
Commissioner Mark Barron has endorsed the 36-year-old candidate.
“I was stoked that he was interested,” Barron told the News&Guide.
Long said he and his wife are in the “same boat” as the working people he hopes to represent.
Though he’s a valley native, the race’s newest entrant said his family is figuring out whether they’ll be able to stay in the county long term.
Having grown up in Moran, Long left for college and worked in Washington, D.C., landing jobs on the Bush and, later, Obama administrations’ National Security Councils and as former Vice President Dick Cheney’s executive assistant at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
Long now runs what he called a “one-man shop” marketing and public relations consultancy, Longshot Strategies.
The candidate said “putting down roots here in Jackson is getting further and further out of reach,” and he thinks the COVID-19 pandemic is going to make that “exponentially harder.”
To fix that, he wants to make the government more nimble by relying less on “rigid” ideologies like those he sees in the 2012 Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan.
While “it’s important to have that long-term vision,” Long said, he doesn’t want that vision to get in the way of “our working class being able to live and work here.”
Long also said that more reliance could be placed on the business community and that business people should be more involved in policy.
“They’re the ones who live with a lot of the impacts of policy that’s written here,” Long said
“They’re the ones creating jobs around here, creating opportunities to live and work here.”