Campaign season is arriving in Park County and Wyoming. With each passing day, more people announce their intentions to run for public office.
The official filing period for partisan positions such as those in the county government or the Legislature, and also for the city council, opens next month. It runs from May 17 to June 1. Folks can still run with a third-party or as an independent candidate after that, but it gets a little trickier. Seats on special district boards — such as for fire departments, hospitals, schools and cemeteries — can be officially sought starting in August.
With a few weeks before candidates must make up their minds, we’d encourage local residents to consider whether they could serve our community as an elected official.
For most of the positions up for election, there are no stringent qualifications. You don’t need a certain college degree or a specific number of years of experience in budgeting to hold office. In most cases, you simply need a good head on your shoulders — with ears ready to listen, a mouth prepared to communicate and a heart wanting to serve.
“Politicians” tend to fit into a certain mold, but it doesn’t have to be that way. This election season, we hope to see a diverse set of candidates from a wide range of backgrounds.
It’s exciting to already have several local women announce runs for the county commission and the Wyoming Legislature — and we’re glad to see a Powell resident making a bid to represent this area in the state Senate. We hope plenty of young people consider diving in.
Of course, in and of itself, someone’s gender, age or their place of residence isn’t much of a reason to get your vote. Anyone who asks for your support solely on the basis of, “I’m youthful” or “I’m a 10th generation Powellite” probably isn’t a great candidate. (Especially since a 10th generation Powellite is probably exaggerating ...)
However, there is real value in having public servants who come from different places and backgrounds. Life experiences shape how we see the world, who we regularly hear from and what we consider to be the most important issues. Someone who’s raising children has different priorities than someone in retirement; someone who’s lived in Powell his or her whole life speaks and does business with a whole different set of people than a person who’s recently moved to Cody.
For the last few election cycles, a candidate’s place of residence has become a campaign issue in races for the Park County Commission. Listen long enough to local coffee shop talk and you’ll likely hear someone complain about how Powell needs better representation. Some of that grumbling comes from the simple fact that the commission, with three seats to be filled in this year’s election, has been almost entirely made up of Cody area residents in recent years. Four current commissioners generally hail from Cody or the North and South forks of the Shoshone River while Commissioner Tim French, who lives west of Powell in the Heart Mountain area, has not announced whether he’ll run again this year.
Of course, as any of the current commissioners will tell you, their job is to represent the entirety of the county: from Garland to Wapiti to Ralston to even the small sliver of Frannie that lies within Park County.
We also believe that’s exactly what the board works to do every day; no commissioner pursues an agenda aimed at putting one community first and another second.
However, there still can be problems with having too many public servants coming from the same place — figuratively or geographically.
Here’s a small example of what we mean: During a discussion about special districts’ budgets last week, commissioners talked at some length about wanting more details about “the” hospital district. Eventually, they clarified they were referring to the West Park Hospital District, which serves the Cody and Meeteetse areas. That’s where most of the commissioners live, so for them, a discussion about “the hospital” means the one in Cody; in contrast, someone here would likely be referring to the Powell Hospital District, which serves our area.
That’s how a person’s residence, age, gender, work experience, etc., matters: It’s the perspective from which a conversation begins.
The choices that local voters ultimately make at the ballot box in August and November should be for whomever they believe will represent them the best. But, as the filing period opens, we hope a wide range of people step up to give voters as wide a range of options as possible.