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For the week of August 30 through September 5, 2000

Blaine County election campaigns kick off


"I don’t really put myself in the same league as Bush and Gore. It’s 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.

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Sarah Michael, 52, said she’s "very excited" about this fall’s final campaign push, but right now she’s focused on learning the nuts and bolts of the commissioner’s job.

For the past several months she’s become a familiar sight at county commission and county P&Z meetings. During a telephone interview Thursday, she said she’s boning up on current issues so she’ll be ready to work after November.

"I don’t want to spend my first year [doing] on-the-job training," she said.

And it appears Commissioner Leonard Harlig has helped with her pre-election training.

"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 doesn’t 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 she’s learned during the meetings she’s 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 doesn’t 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.

"I’m 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 area’s traffic problems.

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"It’s 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 about $1,500.

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 bill."

Other pressing issues, in Swaner’s view, are conservation of the valley’s 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 I’m not going to state them until I hear from my opponent."

Swaner actually has two opponents—Democrat Sarah Michael and independent Sue Noel—but, he said, he’s "discounting" Noel as a threat.

"I’ve never seen her at a parade or city function," he said.

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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.

She’s 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 Committee.

"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 I’m not well known."

Direct mail advertising will probably not be one of Noel’s 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 she’s 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. Luke’s new medical complex that would allow peripheral—but related—office uses.

She’s 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 election’s biggest issue the disenfranchisement of the general public.

"I don’t like injustice, and I don’t like to see people disenfranchised from their rights. That’s why I’m running," she said.

Those rights include the public’s 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 come]."

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"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 "doesn’t have a lot of plans" for his campaign between now and November.

"I suppose it’ll 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 don’t really put myself in the same league as Bush and Gore," he said. "It’s not as big a deal for the candidates as it is for the papers."

Wright said he hasn’t 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.

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"The folks I’ve 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 he’s been visiting valley residents all summer, talking issues and relying on word of mouth to help circulate his name.

"I think that’s what it takes," he said of his campaigning so far.

That’s not to say he’s 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 doesn’t 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 shouldn’t 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 county’s ordinances rather than with the comprehensive plan.

Potential Bureau of Land Management land trades are also an issue Super is concerned about.

"At some point in time, that public ground, when that’s 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.

"That’s why we’re here—the 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 can’t stop growth."

And as such, he’s in favor of expanding Highway 75.

"It’s almost inevitable that you’re going to have to expand Highway 75. You need to be able to move people quicker and faster through there," he said.

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 he’s not sure if trading development densities or using transfer of development rights are the ways to go.

"Yes, we need [affordable housing], but it’s going to take some innovative thinking," he said.

The inevitable question that will arise during his campaign—how he, a three-year resident, can match up to incumbent Wright’s longtime residency—was an easy one for Super to answer.

"I am part of this community. I plan to stay in this community. Just because I haven’t been here 30 years is not a factor why people should or shouldn’t 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."

 

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