Casper re-elected to second term as I.F. mayor

Mayor Rebecca Casper reacts with friends as election results roll in during Casper’s viewing party for the mayoral seat in the runoff elections on Tuesday. Casper defeated Ehardt in the runoff with an unofficial vote count of 5,304-3,417. John Roark/

Mayor Rebecca Casper reacts after the unofficial election results came in during Mayor Rebecca Casper’s viewing party for the mayoral seat in the runoff elections on Tuesday. John Roark/

Mayor Rebecca Casper gives a speech after she defeated Barbara Ehardt for the mayoral seat in the runoff elections on Tuesday. John Roark/

Mayor Rebecca Casper reacts after the unofficial election results showed she defeated Barbara Ehardt in Tuesday’s runoff election. John Roark/

Election results
City of Idaho Falls mayoral runoff election
Number of Precincts Reporting* 29 of 29
Rebecca Casper 5,304
Barbara Ehardt 3,417
*Includes one absentee precinct
City of Blackfoot mayoral runoff election
Number of Precincts Reporting* 8 of 8
Marc R. Carroll 674
Paul M. Loomis 542
*Includes absentee, early voting precincts

Rebecca Casper will remain mayor of Idaho Falls.

She gathered 5,304 votes, or nearly 61 percent of Tuesday’s runoff election result, while City Councilwoman Barbara Ehardt received 3,417 votes, about 39 percent of the total.

After a contentious election cycle, Casper said Tuesday’s decisive victory shows the type of politics Idaho Falls residents appreciate.

“Voters sent a message that negativity is not how they want to be informed — they want positive, constructive messages,” Casper said. “I don’t think Idaho Falls residents are afraid to deal with hard issues; they just want a more constructive approach, and we tried to be positive and fact-based. That seems to have been rewarded.”

Balloons bearing the colors of Casper’s white and red campaign literature surrounded dozens guests at an election watch party Tuesday night at the Hilton Garden Inn.

After polls closed, attention eventually shifted from plates of pizza to a projector screen bearing unofficial vote totals. The incumbent’s strong lead carried from absentee voting onward, and contained excitement turned to celebration and hugging as the result became clear.

Casper entered the election’s final leg with a distinct advantage; the runoff was narrowly triggered when she was just 3 percent shy of an outright majority of the vote in the Nov. 7 general election. The runoff saw 8,721 votes, about 75 percent of the general’s 11,511 votes.

The race was the most expensive mayoral election in Idaho Falls’ history with campaign expenditures approaching levels more typically found in Boise mayoral races.

More than $119,000 was spent locally, eclipsing the 20-year Idaho Falls mayoral average of $58,000 and the previous record: $88,000 spent in 2013.

Casper, who won that 2013 election, spent many of her advertising dollars convincing voters to continue Idaho Falls’ trajectory.

She called for public works projects, expansion of science and manufacturing industries, as well as continued development of the local workforce — partially through the College of Eastern Idaho, for which she was a key proponent.

“Achieving a community college makes Idaho Falls better, by definition, than it was four years ago,” Casper said during her victory speech. “And that captures the true spirit of this community — that Idaho Falls is the kind of place that continually seeks improvement. It’s who we are.”

Prior to the election, Casper touted her support of Idaho National Laboratory and her seat on the Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission, as well as the formation of citizen review committees, updates to the city’s signage and wayfinding program and other public works projects.

In the lead-up to the November general election a political action committee called Businesses for Growth emerged to challenge the incumbent mayor, including with billboards that said “Anyone But Casper.”

The PAC’s presence and largely negative messaging was unusual for a nonpartisan election in a city of Idaho Falls’ size. Funded largely by businesses associated with three men, former Bonneville Republican Chairman Doyle Beck, Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot and attorney Bryan Smith, the PAC spent more than $31,000 on advertising that in some cases made false claims about Casper.

After Tuesday’s runoff election results were announced Businesses for Growth posted a statement on its Facebook page that said the PAC created “a greater conversation among the public, higher scrutiny of the candidates’ records and more attention to their plans should they be elected.”

“Now that the debate is over and citizens have cast their votes, the community should rally in support of Mayor Casper. She is a hardworking, dedicated, courageous and intelligent mayor. Her commitment to our city is exemplary,” the statement said.

Before the runoff, PAC content had expressed support for Ehardt.

The councilwoman, who eventually distanced herself from the PAC, campaigned on a platform emphasizing “needs versus wants,” increased governmental transparency and a shifted balance of power between the city council and mayor’s office.

Ehardt, often the lone dissenting voice on the council, frequently took issue with consistent tax levy increases, as well as Casper’s management style with city employees and handling of council agendas.

Still, Ehardt said Tuesday she respects the decision made by voters.

“I’m certainly disappointed in the results tonight, but I absolutely believe in the process. I have tried to stay true to my messaging and the reasons why I felt it was important to run,” she said in a statement. “I was impressed to see just how many people were motivated to turn out in the runoff so as to allow their voices to be heard.”

Ehardt’s council seat was won Nov. 7 by retired firefighter Jim Freeman. However, she left the door open for another foray into elected office.

“I don’t think I’ve gone through this much to just step away form the political arena. I think I’m an effective leader representing a key voice in our community — I certainly wouldn’t rule it out,” she said.

Reporter Kevin Trevellyan can be reached at 208-542-6762.