THE BUZZ: Dem there were three

By on June 30, 2015

Party rounding up a trio for Turley’s successor 

Teton County Commissioner Melissa Turley (far left), poses with the board of commissioners: Paul Vogelheim, Smokey Rhea, Mark Newcomb and Barb Allen. Teton County Democrats are eyeing candidates to replace Turley, who announced her intent to leave the board two weeks ago.

Teton County Commissioner Melissa Turley (far left), poses with the board of commissioners: Paul Vogelheim, Smokey Rhea, Mark Newcomb and Barb Allen. Teton County Democrats are eyeing candidates to replace Turley, who announced her intent to leave the board two weeks ago.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – More than two weeks after Melissa Turley announced her intention to leave the Board of County Commissioners, Democratic Party leaders are still muddling through the preliminary stages of finding three candidates to replace her.

Party leaders stressed they are waiting on the process before speaking on the record. Potential candidates were also reluctant to make declarations until the BCC chair makes her resignation official. That announcement is expected to come July 7 at the board’s next regular meeting.

“She could always change her mind and not quit,” county clerk Sherry Daigle said. “But I have the letter drafted and ready to go.”

The clock would begin ticking on July 7, assuming Turley does step down then. Democratic Party leaders would have 20 days to field a trio of registered Dems intent on filling the seat. A vote of precinct committeemen and committeewomen would whittle candidates down to the three who would then interview before the BCC. Commissioners would have 20 days after meeting candidates to make their selection. Democratic Party vice chair Mary Erickson said a tentative meeting of the committee is scheduled for July 22, which could put the candidates in front of commissioners by their July 27 regular meeting.

Erickson was encouraged with the preliminary responses the party has received so far, she said. She would not refer to anyone by name but did say there has been “a lot of interest including six or seven committed to serve.” Erickson also added the party has been pleasantly surprised by the many young and relatively new names that have surfaced so far.

One name that has come up repeatedly as a candidate wanting in is Hank Phibbs. The longtime commissioner was soundly beaten in last August’s primary but brings previous experience that might allow him to get up to speed if he took over for Turley midterm. Phibbs would only say he has received calls suggesting he put his hat in the ring. It would be premature to disclose his intentions until Turley was officially out of the picture, he said.

In last week’s opinion piece, “Props & Disses,” it was suggested by this reporter that Natalia Macker would make a strong candidate to replace Turley. More than one person was listening.

“I’m definitely interested in looking into it,” she said. “I’ve talked with some people about it. I’ve had no formal talks with the party, though. There is a process. We’ll have to see how that takes its course. I can’t say what I’ll do until everything is official.”

Former commissioner and Democratic committeeman of Precinct 1-2 Mike Gierau said he thought Macker would be a great choice.

“Ms. Macker would be a strong candidate,” Gierau said. “I’ve spoken to her and I was very impressed by her during her campaign against Marti Halverson. She won Teton County and made that race a lot closer than anyone gave her credit for going in. She ran a great campaign, putting in the time and effort knowing it was an uphill battle and she probably wouldn’t win but she did it anyway with grace and courage. I have a hell of a lot of respect for someone like that.”

Commissioner Mark Newcomb-D said replacing Turley would be difficult. “She brought some great qualities to the board and a real care for the community,” he said. “She’s also simply very smart. She is able to keep track of all the details as chair, and keep us all on track and running an efficient meeting.”

Newcomb has heard rumors that the party will be looking for someone on the young side to replace Turley, but he also was cautious about naming names. “I’m really hesitant to put any names out there myself,” he said. “I’ve heard a few. I know of one person in particular who is keen on getting involved but out of respect for them I don’t want to get ahead of the process.”

Gierau is also excited about a youth movement and the opportunity to see some new faces emerge. He is also one of few commissioners who has seen this process from both sides. He filled John Carney’s vacated seat in 2005, beating out Ben Ellis and Ellen Fales. He later helped choose Paul Vogelheim to replace Bill Paddleford, who died of cancer in 2008.

“For me, as a precinct committee person, I will be looking for someone who is serious about running again after the term expires. People willing and able to put in the time,” Gierau said. “As far as the issues, well, I learned a long time ago if I wanted someone who agrees with everything I do, I would just run myself. But that sure as heck won’t be me this time.”

Gierau pointed out one old-school theory he thought would not come into play.

“Some people say the Republicans [Paul Vogelheim and Barb Allen] on the board will vote in the weakest candidate,” he said. “Someone who is least likely to win an election in 2016. That’s complete horse hockey. They’ve got to work effectively with whoever it is. I’ve been there. They’re going to want someone who is best for the board and best for Teton County.”

Newcomb agreed.

“The No. 1 priority is getting a person with a deep, broad connection to the community,” he said. “This is not a time to be playing politics. This person will have to hit the ground running at a time when we are doing so much important and exciting stuff that will have a lasting impact on this valley.”

Other potential candidates contacted for this story:

Pete Muldoon: “I am considering it. It would be a great opportunity to do something about the issues that are important to the community.”

Claire Fuller: “I’ve given it some thought but it just wouldn’t fit in my life and career trajectory right now.”

Jay Varley: “I’d have to give it some thought. My beef is with the town, mainly.”

Mike Randall: “Not a chance.”

Christine Christian: “I’ve taken up the cause to get marijuana legalized in Wyoming. I’m not sure if that kind of lobbying would preclude me from being considered.”

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