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Wednesday, May 19, 2004


County Commission race enters home stretch

Candidates agree election is about change

Express Staff Writer

This spring’s primary election for the Blaine County Commission could measure public sentiment on whether the status quo is working or if citizens are sold on the alleged need for more proactive leadership.

Because both commission candidates in the one contested election are Democrats, the Tuesday, May 25, election will decide who will take office in January 2005 to represent District 2. No Republican challenger is seeking the postion.

Incumbent Mary Ann Mix will face former Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Tom Bowman for the District 2 seat. The race is a rematch from 1996, when Mix beat Bowman by 224 votes.

Incumbent District 3 Commissioner Sarah Michael also is on the ballot, but is unopposed.

In interviews leading up to next week’s primary, both District 2 candidates agreed that this would be an election about change—or a lack thereof.

"I think part of this election is: Why take the risk? I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve never had an agenda. Why change what’s really not broken," Mix said. "This time, I think the community really needs that proven leadership and effective coalition building."

Similarly, Bowman said voters should consider him for a more proactive voice on the three-member board.

"The focus of my campaign will be planning and getting the county back on a planning perspective," he said. "I want to do something. I think there are a lot of things that need to be done that haven’t been finished. I’m really interested in planning for the future."

In the final weeks leading up to the primary, the race has heated.

Former and current commissioners are backing their preferred candidates, and the candidates themselves are attempting to make their positions more clear. If nothing else, they have plastered Highway 75 with pink and black signs proclaiming: "Re-Elect Mary Ann Mix" and "Bowman Commissioner."

Though he lost to Mix in 1996, Bowman said he has more momentum this time around.

"I really have a lot more energy now," he said. His kids are older. He has retired from the business that occupied the brunt of his time. He also accumulated five more years of experience on the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission, for which he served as chairman during the mid-1990s.

Mix, on the other hand, has maintained that if the county government is not broken, why bother trying to fix it.

"Balancing land-use planning with fiscal conservatism is really important for Blaine County right now," she said. "How we pay for our infrastructure over the next 10 years is important. It’s important to not raise taxes."

Adding some spice to the race, Blaine County Commissioners Dennis Wright and Sarah Michael have weighed in, and they disagree about whom to vote for.

Michael, who considers herself a proactive voice on the commission, is backing Bowman. She believes he would bring more vision to the board. Wright said Mix has the nuts-and-bolts knowledge of government, as well as the necessary vision, to continue serving in a beneficial way.

"When it all boils down to it, the record is important," Wright said. "I would challenge the voters of Blaine County to look at: What in Blaine County government has gone wrong? I don’t think you could come up with a positive answer that things haven’t been done because of her. She’s quite a leading component in ideas and process. She’s certainly with knowledge of government and process, county process and legal process."

Michael reiterated that the election is about change.

"To me, it will reflect whether the citizens are comfortable with the status quo or if they’d like to see some initiative in planning for the future," she said.

For her part, Mix said she is adept at building coalitions and added that the time is ripe to begin looking at planning issues from a regional perspective.

"We need to move forward and not let egos get in the way," she said. "My experience and my depth in the knowledge of this—building these coalitions—is really critical at this time."

In interviews and in a Thursday debate with Bowman, Mix touted a long list of measures she helped implement and grants she obtained for the county. She emphasized her work on behalf of open space, mediation legislation that was used to reach consensus on a new medical office building at the St. Luke’s Wood River Regional Medical Center site and land acquisition for future infrastructure needs.

She also serves on no fewer than seven governing boards.

Since announcing his candidacy in March, Bowman has released a flurry of press releases targeting planning, elder care and Mix’s meeting attendance record. However, he said the election, at its core, is about looking forward.

He said he believes most of the prominent issues facing Blaine County are planning oriented, but stressed that he can handle the administrative side of things, too.

He began operating his own business in 1981 and said the endeavor was very successful.

"That has to do with problem solving and planning and managing budgets," he said. "I firmly believe that the position of county commissioner will have all those elements. It’s not like I’m a novice to any of those.

From his years on the county P&Z, Bowman said he is proud of a number of accomplishments. He chaired a citizen’s advisory board to work with south county ranchers and other P&Z members to write the county’s Agricultural Land Cluster Ordinance, which enabled development of clustered home sites on smaller lot sizes instead of the original zoning that encouraged spread-out development.

"There are so many things I want to get working on," he said. "With the tremendous growth the county is experiencing, we need a vision and a plan for the future, not just a short-range focus on day-to-day details."

Mary Ann Mix, Democrat
Age: "over 50"
Occupation: Environmental planner/consultant
Why running: "I think part of this election is: Why take the risk? I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve never had an agenda. Why change what’s really not broken? This time, I think the community really needs that proven leadership and effective coalition building."

Tom Bowman, Democrat
Age: 49
Occupation: Retired/part-time telephone repair technician.
Why running: "I want to change the shift a bit from looking at day-to-day issues and looking up to the horizon to see what’s coming … There are so many things I want to get working on. With the tremendous growth the county is experiencing, we need a vision and a plan for the future, not just a short-range focus on the day-to-day details."


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