2020 Primary

Luther Propst, Mary Gridley, Seadar Rose Davis and Jessica Sell Chambers watch as results come in during a primary election night party in August 2018. There might not be a scene like this this year, though — and not because of the pandemic. So few people filed to run for office that primary candidates for town, county and state offices will likely all be candidates in the general election.

Everyone who met Friday’s filing deadline to run for local offices in August’s primary elections will likely move on to the general election come November.

While not incredibly common, uncontested races happen, Teton County Commissioner Mark Barron said. And he would know. While he secured a spot on the Teton County Board of County Commissioners in 2018 in a contested race, he served as mayor of Jackson for 12 years, at times running for the seat without any opposition.

Still, he added, “I don’t know that we’ve ever had the entire primary ballot qualify to be the general election ballot.”

With the exception of independent candidates, who don’t have to file for primaries, that will be the case come August for the Jackson Town Council and Teton County Board of County Commissioners races. The three candidates who filed for seats in the Wyoming House of Representatives will also run unopposed in their primaries.

Town Councilor Hailey Morton Levinson, who currently holds the seat of vice-mayor, is running for mayor unopposed.

“I’m still excited to run,” she said. “Being unopposed is a different game — or maybe not a game — but I still look forward to doing a campaign.”

She and Mayor Pete Muldoon announced earlier this year that they planned to switch things up, with Morton Levinson running for mayor and Muldoon running for a council seat.

In addition to mayor, the council also has two open seats with three candidates vying for them: Muldoon, Realtor Devon Viehman and former social studies teacher Jim Rooks.

After the Aug. 18 primary, the top four vote-getters will advance to the general. With only three running, all should advance to the general election where one will be eliminated if the ballot remains as is.

Councilor Jim Stanford, a former journalist and current boatman, is not running to retain the seat he has held for eight years.

“Sometimes it’s good to step aside and make room for new people who bring fresh ideas,” he said. “That’s how I got the chance to serve, so I’m walking the walk.”

The race for county commissioner saw only one new entrant Friday: Christian Beckwith, the founder and director of SHIFT and the Center for Jackson Hole. He said he decided on an eleventh hour filing because he felt the time was right — or as right as it could be.

“It’s a little like having a kid,” Beckwith said. “There’s never a right time.”

His entrance brings the total number of people running in the primary for the board to four. Two candidates are incumbent Democrats: Chairwoman Natalia D. Macker and Commissioner Greg Epstein. Two are first-time Republican candidates: Beckwith and Peter Long, a Moran native who spent years working in Washington, D.C., before returning to the valley to start his own business and, now, run for office.

Two seats are open on the board. When that’s the case, the top two vote-getters in each party move on to the general election from the primary. Because there are only two candidates for each party, all four will advance.

Races for Wyoming House seats look similar. Reps. Andy Schwartz and Mike Yin, Democrats who represent Districts 23 and 16, respectively, will run unopposed in the primary. Bill Winney, a Bondurant Republican and perennial candidate who filed Friday, will run unopposed in the District 22 primary.

Independents have a different filing process and deadline. Party-less political aspirants such as Jim Roscoe, District 22’s sitting representative, and Wes Gardner, the owner of Teton Toys who is vying for a seat on the board of county commissioners, will enter the action in the general election, as long as they meet filing requirements.

Wyoming State Sen. Mike Gierau, a Democrat representing District 17, said he was surprised that interest was low enough that all primary candidates across the board will roll over into the general.

“I’m surprised given the time,” he said. “I’m surprised given the amount of issues on the table. I was anticipating a few more filings.”

Barron wasn’t surprised, though. He speculated the pandemic influenced relatively low candidate turnout.

“We’ve got unemployment out the wazoo,” he said. “We’ve got businesses challenged like they’ve never been challenged before. People are struggling on a day-to-day basis. It is an expensive time in this community like never before for working people, and they don’t have time to screw around with local politics.”

Contact Billy Arnold at 732-7063 or barnold@jhnewsandguide.com.

Teton County Reporter

Previously the Scene editor, Billy Arnold made the switch to the county beat where he's interested in exploring Teton County as a model for the rest of the West. When he can, he still writes about art, music and whatever else suits his fancy.

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