Idaho Falls residents had a final chance Wednesday night to see their mayoral candidates debate before Tuesday’s runoff election.
Incumbent Mayor Rebecca Casper said during the Compass Academy-sponsored event that her vision of Idaho Falls’ future includes continued growth of the city’s regional stature.
“Eastern Idaho looks to Idaho Falls for leadership, as a commercial center, as an entertainment and arts center, and I don’t want to lose any of those titles,” Casper said.
Casper’s challenger, Idaho Falls Councilwoman Barbara Ehardt, called for a future without political correctness.
“Phrases such as ‘Merry Christmas’ cannot be spoken or offered officially by the city of Idaho falls. But these are our God-given constitutional rights,” Ehardt said. “… I believe in protecting these rights and the city should be a standard bearer going forward for how religion and government can coexist.”
Candidates differed on a handful of questions offered by Compass students.
Ehardt said city taxes are too high, which impedes new business. Casper said taxes and development costs are actually lower than in Pocatello, Rigby, Blackfoot, Ammon and Rexburg.
Casper said water pipes and a new police station top the city’s infrastructure priorities. Ehardt mentioned a new police station, new recreation center and outdoor pool.
Each candidate also was asked whether political action committees have a place in Idaho Falls. Businesses for Growth, a local PAC funded largely by companies associated with three people, has produced ads critical of Casper and supportive of Ehardt.
Casper said the freedom of speech that protects PACs is “worth fighting for,” but criticized the content of the ads, several of which featured inaccurate information regarding city council expenditures and Casper’s travel time.
“If you have messaging that is disingenuous, inaccurate or malicious, then you create an atmosphere that is not conducive to a healthy community dialog. … Confusion will never breed good citizenship,” Casper said.
Ehardt said she doesn’t control the PAC, but that she’s felt recently like a “victim” of local media and must “forge ahead.”
“I open (the Post Register) and see things written about me that I know absolutely are inaccurate, and some of the malicious and mean things that are said, that’s not easy,” Ehardt said. “… I cannot control the messaging of the PAC, Post Register, or mayor’s campaign. All I can do is control my own messaging.”
Reporter Kevin Trevellyan can be reached at 208-542-6762.