Blaine County election campaigns kick off
"I dont really put myself in the same league as Bush and
Gore. Its not as big a deal for the candidates as it is for the papers."
Dennis Wright, South county incumbent
By GREG STAHL and TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writers
Fall is a time for changing leaves and changing temperatures, as well as
the time for a changing of the guard in local government, and Labor Day weekend is the
traditional kickoff for local election campaigns.
Though the Nov. 2 Blaine County general election is still two months away,
county commission candidates for the north county seat, being vacated by Len Harlig, and
the south county seat, for which incumbent Democrat Dennis Wright plans to run again, are
beginning to campaign.
In all, five candidates are running for two commission seats: Democrat
Sarah Michael, Republican Ivan Swaner and independent Sue Noel are taking a crack at the
north county vacancy. Independent James Super is running against incumbent Wright for the
south county seat.
Sarah Michael, 52, said shes "very excited" about this
falls final campaign push, but right now shes focused on learning the nuts and
bolts of the commissioners job.
For the past several months shes become a familiar sight at county
commission and county P&Z meetings. During a telephone interview Thursday, she said
shes boning up on current issues so shell be ready to work after November.
"I dont want to spend my first year [doing] on-the-job
training," she said.
And it appears Commissioner Leonard Harlig has helped with her
"He gave me a very detailed memo on the monthly breakdown of the
commissioners job," Michael said.
Some believe Michael is a shoo-in for the north county seat, but Michael
doesnt see it that way.
She said she is currently gathering materials and recruiting volunteers
for door-to-door campaigning, flyers and advertising after Labor Day.
During the Wagon Days parade, scheduled for Saturday, she plans to ride a
Democratic Party float called "The Winning Team."
But campaigning is not a topic on which she preferred to focus. Instead,
she talked about the things shes learned during the meetings shes attended.
"I want to be more proactive in getting the commission more involved
in getting the community more involved in meetings," she said. "My style would
be to more proactively solicit public input."
The reason that doesnt happen as much as it should now, she said, is
that "the commissioners have too much on their plate."
To fix that, she said, she would like to hire a professional
administrative manager to relieve commissioners from routine work such as reviewing and
signing liquor licenses so they can focus on more important planning issues.
"Im in the minority on that," she said, because of the
cost. But, she suggested, professional management could pay for itself through greater
efficiencies and grants.
Michael, who worked for the California Assembly Transportation Committee
before moving to Blaine County in 1992, said she looks forward to hammering out some
solutions to the areas traffic problems.
"Its going to be wide open, no-holds-barred," north county
candidate Ivan Swaner said about his campaign plans.
During an interview at the Forest Service Park in Ketchum last week, the
66-year-old Republican hopeful passed out a campaign card that professes his honesty and
integrity. His slogan"Your commissioner at work"rides on a
magnetized sign attached to the door of his blue Dodge pickup.
Like Michael and other candidates, he plans to campaign door-to-door, to
pass out brochures and to create radio, newspaper and television ads.
He said he has several donations on his "promise list" worth
Swaner said he is mostly concerned about "conservative issues"
like health care.
"I want to make sure the indigent people whom the county pays the
hospital bills for get fair and just treatment," he said.
When questioned about the nature of that comment, Swaner said, "I
want to make damn sure they get equal treatment since [taxpayers] are paying the
Other pressing issues, in Swaners view, are conservation of the
valleys aquifer and improving county roads.
Water for recreational uses, such as golf courses and lawns, should be
limited, he said.
Reluctant to reveal too much to the competition, Swaner declined to
comment further on the major planks of his platform.
"There are some other [issues]," he said, "but Im not
going to state them until I hear from my opponent."
Swaner actually has two opponentsDemocrat Sarah Michael and
independent Sue Noelbut, he said, hes "discounting" Noel as a
"Ive never seen her at a parade or city function," he
Sue Noel, 61, has been a Ketchum resident since 1979 and said moving here
is "the best thing I ever did."
She was active in local politics as a two-term member of the Ketchum City
Council before being ousted by current Councilman Maurice Charlat last November.
Additionally, she was defeated by Len Harlig for the north county commission seat in 1998.
Shes continued her involvement in local decision-making, however, by
serving on the Blaine County Housing Authority, as chair of the Blaine County
Transportation Committee and as chair of the Regional Public Transportation Advisory
"There are never enough opportunities for us to appear before groups
so [voters] have the chance to talk to us one on one and ask us similar questions."
Noel said over lunch at a Ketchum restaurant last week.
Noel said she plans to purchase campaign ads on the radio and in local
newspapers, but the key will be getting out and meeting people, "particularly in
places where Im not well known."
Direct mail advertising will probably not be one of Noels focuses,
she said, because "I always have to do my campaigning on a shoestring."
Noel remains steadfast on the importance of the upcoming election.
"There is no elected position as important to every resident of this
valley as the county commission. There is not a soul in this valley who should stay home
on election day."
Noel said she is often perceived as a controversial candidate because
shes not afraid to let people know what she thinks.
"I am controversial. I am unafraid to state strong opinions and
expand on my beliefs, even if they are unpopular," she said.
Among those opinions, Noel said she is in favor of widening state Highway
75 to accommodate the increased demand from commuter traffic. She advocated creating a
medical overlay zone in McHanville for St. Lukes new medical complex that would
allow peripheralbut relatedoffice uses.
Shes for affordable housing "all over the county, including
Ketchum." And she said southern Blaine County agricultural land should be developed
according to existing zoning rather than from the comprehensive plan.
But she called the upcoming elections biggest issue the
disenfranchisement of the general public.
"I dont like injustice, and I dont like to see people
disenfranchised from their rights. Thats why Im running," she said.
Those rights include the publics right to affordable housing, right
to a wider highway and right to develop south county agricultural land, she said.
As for growth, Noel said it is better to plan than tremble.
"More people are going to want to come here," she said.
"Urban flight is not going to cease. We need to figure out how this inevitable growth
can be managed so that what we came here to find is still available to [those who
"I never did consider myself a politician, and I never did like
elections," said Dennis Wright when questioned about his campaign plans during a
Sunday afternoon telephone call.
Wright, 58, said he "doesnt have a lot of plans" for his
campaign between now and November.
"I suppose itll be the same routine of signs and
candidates nights and door-to-door campaigning," he said.
Wright said the local newspapers inflate the importance of campaigns.
"I dont really put myself in the same league as Bush and
Gore," he said. "Its not as big a deal for the candidates as it is for the
Wright said he hasnt received any recent campaign contributions.
On the actual work of being commissioner, however, south-county Democratic
incumbent Wright was less cynical.
"I really believe the single biggest issue is land-use
questions," he said.
Wright said being a county commissioner is "not as simple as some
make it out to be" because of the constraints of county code, which strictly guide
public officials decision-making.
"The folks Ive talked to so far are very receptive to my ideas
and what I plan to do for Blaine County," south county challenger, independent James
Super, said during an interview at his home south of Bellevue on Friday.
Super, 46, said hes been visiting valley residents all summer,
talking issues and relying on word of mouth to help circulate his name.
"I think thats what it takes," he said of his campaigning
Thats not to say hes not going to use other avenues to
campaign. Limited direct mail advertising and "hanging out at some post offices"
are also on his campaign agenda, he said.
Super, a local outfitter, said he doesnt believe in buying his way
into office, however.
Super is a three-year valley resident, originally from Washington state
where he served on the Emmett City Council for seven years.
"I obtained a great deal of knowledge regarding planning and zoning
issues and developed the ability to draft ordinances to meet the local comprehensive
plan," he states in a campaign brochure. "I have the skills to lead Blaine
County forward into the new century."
Sitting down for a conversation at his home, Super relayed some of his
biggest platform issues.
"We should set up our ordinances so they agree with the comp
plan," he said. "I think the county ordinances are more subjective than
objective. There shouldnt be subjective decision making."
On the issue of south county agricultural land development, Super said the
ordinances need to be written to include a variety of density options, not simply the
one-residence-per-20-acres zone that is in place now.
In short, he said, south county land should remain green, but it must be
done with the countys ordinances rather than with the comprehensive plan.
Potential Bureau of Land Management land trades are also an issue Super is
"At some point in time, that public ground, when thats turned
to private ground, you compromise access."
County zoning should be set up for federal lands that could be traded or
sold, he said. As an example, he said, one residence per 100 acres as well as an access
easement could be required.
"Thats why were herethe environment around
us," he said.
Super also said growth is going to be impossible to avoid.
"There has been no community on the North American continent that has
been able to stop growth," he said. "You can plan for growth, and you can manage
growth, but you cant stop growth."
And as such, hes in favor of expanding Highway 75.
"Its almost inevitable that youre going to have to expand
Highway 75. You need to be able to move people quicker and faster through there," he
Regional public transportation is something he said he is interested in
looking into, but he has his doubts on how well it could work.
"See if you could get even 15 people to get into a van," he said
of his plans to advocate a trial transit system.
Affordable housing is a countywide issue, he said, not just a north-county
issue. But he said hes not sure if trading development densities or using transfer
of development rights are the ways to go.
"Yes, we need [affordable housing], but its going to take some
innovative thinking," he said.
The inevitable question that will arise during his campaignhow he, a
three-year resident, can match up to incumbent Wrights longtime residencywas
an easy one for Super to answer.
"I am part of this community. I plan to stay in this community. Just
because I havent been here 30 years is not a factor why people should or
shouldnt vote for me.
"The best candidate is the one who will take Blaine County into the
future the way the public wants to see it go."