Final candidate forum focuses on social issues

Thursday night’s town and county candidate forum at St. John’s Episcopal Church marked the final debate before Tuesday’s primary election.

Hosted by Shelter JH, an affordable housing advocate, and PFLAG — Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays — the forum was more focused on social issues than previous debates.

The five Town Council candidates, four Jackson mayoral candidates and six Teton County commissioner candidates were all asked if they supported a minimum wage increase, if they would supplement anti-discrimination legislation passed in 2015 and how they would fund social services in the wake of state cuts.

While all agreed those issues offer tough choices for government, the solutions were largely placed in state hands.

“We hear a lot of talk about state cuts, but we as a community can push back … because there are other ways we can be spending money in our state budget and pushing for better allocation of our priorities,” Councilor Jim Stanford said. “I’m all for football, but our Legislature spent $9 million on football this past session while gutting really important social services.”

Though a lot of time was given to talk about social services that are largely out of town and county hands, no policy debate in Jackson Hole is complete without a discussion on housing.

Moderators Mary Erickson of JH Shelter and One22, and Mark Houser of PFLAG specifically pinpointed the candidates’ stance on short-term housing solutions that Shelter JH brought before the Town Council during a housing demonstration in July: constructing semipermanent modular homes on public land, permitting overnight parking and car camping in town and introducing tenant protections.

Most candidates said they were hesitant to make rash decision on short-term solutions instead of focusing on long-term solutions.

“Like [county commissioner] Natalia [Macker] said I’m hesitant to focus on these short-term solutions when we could make progress on long-term solutions,” said county commissioner candidate Nikki Gill. “I think we could start solving this problem with better zoning in the county.”

Candidates were also asked to comment on various long term-solutions that haven’t been as frequently discussed in the public debate. Key topics included updating the Snow King master plan to incentivize more affordable housing, rezoning the fairgrounds for housing developments and increasing residential and commercial housing mitigation fees.

With mixed reactions, most candidates said supporting these proposals would depend on the circumstances and must be looked at carefully.

“It goes against every grain of my training and what I found to be successful to answer complicated questions yes or no,” Mayor Sara Flitner said. “I apologize to anyone who is offended by my middle path, it is the path I believe in.”