The People’s Voice

By on August 12, 2016

Social justice forum ignites discussion among candidates on Jackson’s most pressing issues.

The crowd during Thursday’s candidate forum reacts to the astounding idea of parents receiving child care assistance on site where they work. Such necessities may be slipping away with state budget cuts.

The crowd during Thursday’s candidate forum reacts to the astounding notion of parents receiving child care assistance on site where they work. Such services may be eliminated with state budget cuts. (Photo: Meg Daly)

Jackson Hole, Wyo. — Just ahead of Tuesday’s primary election, a forum Thursday night forced candidates to answer tough questions about the valley’s income disparity, housing crisis, social services and discrimination.

The elephant in the room was palpable. Months have passed since an emergency meeting was called in the same St. John’s church meeting room to discuss Jackson’s housing crisis. Short-term solutions have yet to be enacted.

Organized by One22, Shelter JH, and PFLAG, the forum was emceed by Mark Houser and Mary Erickson. Jorge Moreno offered live Spanish translation. An engaging format with a lightning round, the social justice-focused event stood out from other recent forums.

In three rounds mayoral, county commission and town council candidates were first asked if they would support a living wage in Jackson, as opposed to the state’s $5.15 minimum wage.

Mayoral candidate Pete Muldoon said he supported a living wage, which, in Jackson Hole he says should be $22.50. “There’s no reason for people to be working 40, 60, 80 hours a week and not make enough to live here,” he said.

Incumbent mayor Sara Flitner agreed with Muldoon’s number but said it wasn’t enough. She recounted meeting a window washer making $30 per hour who was still looking for a third job.

Mayoral candidate Mark Obringer said that he was not an expert on income inequality other than in his own family where, in an apparent throwback to the 1950s, he gives his paycheck to his wife “and she keeps it.”

In an attempt to directly address Latinos, mayoral hopeful Stephen McDonald answered questions in Spanish, leaving non-Spanish speakers in the dark.

Among town council candidates Judd Grossman was against raising the minimum wage. Jessica Sell Chambers, on the other hand, said it was the first place to start if the valley cares about its rising income disparity.

Anne Schuler said she would prefer to diversify Jackson’s employment opportunities and Hailey Morton Levinson agreed, saying a higher minimum wage would be an unnecessary government imposition.

Meanwhile Jim Stanford spoke in favor of a state income tax on high earners. “That will really have an effect on the income inequality here,” he said.

County commissioner candidates diverted discussion from income inequality to the affordable housing shortage. Nikki Gill stated her preference for loosening county zoning laws so that private developers can save the day. Greg Epstein and Lisa daCosta echoed Gill.

Natalia Macker, however, said she wants to address all forms of inequality in the county. Trey Davis said yes to both raising the minimum wage and increasing the available rental housing market. Sandy Shuptrine spoke to the need to stick close to the Comp Plan.

In the second round, candidates were asked about passing a town ordinance on nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation and sexual identity. Muldoon supports such an ordinance and noted that if it was an ordinance protecting white men, Jackson would pass it quickly. Flitner agreed and said she believes an ordinance is the right thing, and that she made mistakes on the first go-around. Obringer said he supports an ordinance and would want it to extend further than town.

Town councilors were more mixed. Chambers clearly understood the symbolic as well as practical importance of an ordinance and spoke in favor of both. Schuler, Levinson and Stanford each said they want something passed, but not until it can have political “teeth.” Grossman, however, said he does not support an ordinance.

Then came the fun. For the third round of questions, candidates were given “Yes,” “No,” and “Maybe” signs to hold up in response during a “speed round.” The dozen or so questions all pertained to housing solutions, from immediate to long term.

Muldoon and Chambers held up their “Yes” sign for all answers, keeping their hands raised for the entire round.

Mayor Flitner commented, “You saw me hold up ‘Maybe’ a lot. It goes against my training to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to complicated questions.”

Some of the only people to speak directly to practical solutions to implement now, county commissioner candidates Davis and Shuptrine both spoke emphatically in favor of installing trailers or modular homes on county land to house Jackson workers currently living in cars. “Do I want to see trailers around Jackson? No,” Davis said. “But we have to do something.”

A bit of political theater was welcome at the tail end of a series of public forums. But the engagement during the forum also signaled a new wave of politically conscious residents who are demanding change, and at a faster pace than what many have grown accustomed to in recent years.

Stay tuned to The Planet for more from the social justice forum in the coming days.




About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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