How did Blaine County Vote? (PDF)
With half of the county's 14 precincts reporting shortly before midnight on Election Day, the race for county commissioner in District 1 seemed poised to come down to the wire with Democrat Larry Schoen and Republican Dale Ewersen nearly tied in the polls.
But by the early-morning hours of Wednesday, once the population-heavy precincts in Hailey and Ketchum had been tallied, Schoen had built a solid lead and secured a victory.
Blaine County lived up to its reputation as an island of blue in a sea of red Tuesday after the majority of its citizens voted Democrat in all contested local and state races, including two big battles for county commissioner.
Schoen and fellow Democrat Sarah Michael each received about 60 percent of the votes in the races for two seats on the three-member Blaine County Commission.
Schoen beat Ewersen by about 23 percent in the race to represent District 1, or the south county, on the County Commission. Schoen garnered 4,431 votes (59.64 percent) to Ewersen's 2,749 votes (37 percent).
Michael beat Independent Mickey Garcia by a wider margin—about 27 percent—to retain her seat as the District 3 (north county and Ketchum) representative. Michael, who has served on the County Commission since 2001, landed 4,470 votes (60 percent). Garcia received 2,480 votes (33 percent). Garcia has now lost four bids for public office: He has run for mayor of Ketchum twice and Ketchum City Council once.
With District 2 representative Tom Bowman, a Democrat, elected to a four-year term in 2004 the County Commission will retain its Democratic reign for at least two more years. Dennis Wright, also a Democrat, is retiring after representing District 1 for 10 years.
While Blaine County traditionally leans Democratic, Schoen and Garcia both believe the results of the County Commission race more aptly reflect the community's views on growth and private property rights, not political allegiances.
"My values reflect the majority view of voters who put quality of life above unrestricted growth and development," Schoen said Wednesday morning.
"Blaine County is stubbornly NIMBY land and they're gonna vote that way," Garcia said, referring to the Not-In-My-Back-Yard mentality that he said plagues the majority of the county's population. "One thing about liberal Democrats who come up here is they become 'environmentalists' after they buy their house. They're phonies. They just use it as an excuse (to close the door on future development)."
Garcia and Ewersen ran on the same primary platform planks: Property rights should be protected; government should be limited; and development restrictions that are perceived to devalue private land should be lifted. Both were opposed to the Blaine County 2025 plan, which effectively hindered development potential in the county's rural and environmentally sensitive areas.
"With these guys in charge the economy will be worse because they're battling against development," Garcia said Wednesday. "They claim they're managing growth, but they're really being NIMBYs."
Michael countered that characterizing the 2025 plan as an "anti-development" measure would be inaccurate.
"In fact, (2025) will provide more certainty and better projects that will fit the values of the county," Michael said Wednesday. "It's not at all an anti-growth measure. It ensures that development fits within our values and within our ability to provide services."
Michael noted that about 500 housing units are currently being built in Hailey, and there are several annexation proposals and large developments in the county's pipeline.
"There are almost 1,000 units that will be proposed in the next two to five years," Michael said. "So I think the economy and development pressures are being accommodated pretty significantly."
Schoen stressed throughout his campaign that he wants to preserve Blaine County's quality of life by protecting natural resources, encouraging development close to the cities and boosting affordable housing.
He has never said he is opposed to development. Instead, he believes future growth should be subject to "the latest science and sound analysis" to ensure it's appropriate and gels with the county's comprehensive plan.
If the election was driven by party lines anywhere in Blaine County, Schoen believes it was in the Republican-centric agricultural areas in his own district, where Ewersen dominated.
Seventy-two percent of Carey and 64 percent of Gannett and Picabo voted for Ewersen. Ewersen, who pledged from the beginning that he would run a gentleman's campaign and avoid personal attacks, declined to comment on the election.
"I just want to congratulate Larry and wish him the best on his term," he said.
Schoen said he regretted not carrying the south county.
"I have worked hard on a real ground-level, practical basis to represent the agricultural community," Schoen said. "I see the votes there as having gone along party lines."
Meanwhile, Schoen did win in Sun Valley and Ewersen's hometown of Bellevue. Both cities are traditional Republican strongholds and were hotbeds of Proposition 2 support.
"The fact I carried (those areas) was strong, and I hope it sends a message to Prop. 2 supporters where Sun Valley voters lie," Schoen said.
Schoen edged Ewersen by seven votes, 360-353, in Bellevue and took Sun Valley 209-178.
Meanwhile, Michael beat Garcia by more than 100 votes in each of those precincts.
With a victory under his belt, Schoen's main challenge now is gaining the trust of his constituents in the south county.
"I will be spending time face-to-face with people in those areas," Schoen said. "We need to have a conversation and not be afraid to call to each other because I will continue to represent their interests to the best of my ability. I sincerely hope that given the growth pressures in that part of the county that those people will not be afraid to reach out to me and the other county representatives."
With election results less than 12 hours old Wednesday, Schoen was already getting a head start on his new job.
"I'm picking up copies of the updated (comprehensive) plans of all the cities, and I want to read them," he said. "I think that will help me understand where they're coming from. I want to do my part to build a good relationship between the county and the cities."
Schoen and Michael will be sworn in to office in January.