Let’s Keep the Personality Politics Out of Teton County

On Tuesday, October 13, two votes, one by the Town Council and another by the Teton County Board of County Commissioners, cut housing mitigation rates by 50%. 

Both votes were 3-2. On the county commission, Commissioners Greg Epstein and Natalia Macker joined Commissioner Mark Barron in voting for the reduction. 

Both Macker and Epstein are running for reelection. On Thursday, I nearly published a post that criticized them for their votes.

I’m glad I didn’t.

My day job is SHIFT. I spend all year developing a summit that convenes health providers, land managers, conservation advocates, outdoor recreationists and researchers around the health benefits of nature in order to strengthen the argument for nature itself.

The 2020 SHIFT Summit started Wednesday. The vote on mitigation rates was on Tuesday. I spent late Tuesday night working on my opening remarks while writing a post about the vote on the side.

By the time we opened the Summit on Wednesday morning, the post was ready to go. Something about it didn’t feel right, but I was too distracted by the Summit to be able to put my finger on precisely what it was.

I had to give final approval on the post by Thursday morning. At 7 a.m., still not absolutely certain it was the right thing to do, and with Day 2 of the Summit about to begin, I pulled the post.

The vote on the housing mitigation rates was complicated, in a my-eyes-are-glazing-over way that leaves most people fuzzy about what’s at stake. I could go into the details, but for all our sakes I’ll simply refer you to a real journalist’s synopsis of the matter.

Tuesday’s vote paved the way for more commercial development, including hotel construction, in both the Town and the County. In my post, I was going to argue that our ability to provide housing for our workforce was fundamentally weakened by the vote, that the cuts to the mitigation rates could and should have been smaller, and that, with the decision to cut it in half, Commissioners Epstein and Macker had chosen a side in an ideological battle between those who believe the free market will take care of housing on its own, and those who recognize it never has and never will. 

But in the days since the Summit ended, I realized what had been bugging me about the post. Criticizing Commissioners Epstein and Macker for their votes would have represented a step towards a negative campaign. And while negative campaigning is a proven strategy at the state and national levels, I don’t want to have anything to do with it in the race for County Commission—and I believe we need to do everything we can to keep it out of the other races for political office in our community as well.

Let’s be frank: Our nation is sicker, poorer, meaner, greedier, less honest, and more polarized, traumatized, racist, misogynistic, narcissistic and morally bankrupt than it was in 2016. We can’t afford four more years of this. If we are to preserve our democracy, we must vote accordingly.

The issues we face in Teton County, though, are neither Republican nor Democratic. And while making political hay on the housing mitigation issue might have won some votes, it would have contributed to a deterioration of the discourse in our own community. 

Not a lot. But a little. And even a little is too much, because a positive discourse is critical to our ability to work collaboratively on the issues that matter to our community’s character, resiliency and quality of life. 

Voters in next month’s election have a lot to think about. Their electoral decisions will affect our ability to provide clean drinking water, affordable housing, sensible transportation solutions and the protection of our ecosystem to our residents. 

As a community, let’s stay focused on the issues and keep the vitriol and toxicity of personality politics out of our valley. We’re better than the politics we see playing out in the headlines. Let’s keep it that way.

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@ 2020 Christian Beckwith for Teton County Commissioner.