Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, made a surprise endorsement of Mayor Rebecca Casper in a column in the Post Register on Friday.
The move has some of his supporters — and some of the conservative base for whose support he and Councilwoman Barbara Ehardt courted during the election — turning their backs on him, the latest in a long series of internal conflicts within the local Republican Party.
Thompson, who finished third in November’s mayoral race, said his decision to endorse Casper was based on qualifications and education.
“There’s several things I looked into with Barbara after the original election. Barb and I had always agreed on a lot of issues as the mayor and I have,” Thompson said.
But Thompson said he concluded Ehardt didn’t have the experience or education to manage the city’s $500 million budget — a figure he repeated several times. She never received her college degree, he said, and doing the job of mayor required being able to read the budgets.
Idaho Falls’ total budget, including enterprise funds such as Idaho Falls Power’s, is just under $195 million.
Thompson said he felt Ehardt had also shown insufficient attention to Idaho National Laboratory.
“Rebecca Casper, at the end of the day, is respected in the Idaho Falls Power area, the INL area and the cleanup area,” he said. “I’ve never seen any interest in these issues from Barbara, and they’re vital.”
Ehardt said she was disappointed by Thompson’s decision.
“He had been such a strong critic of (Casper) during the last four years and certainly during the campaign,” Ehardt said. “If he truly felt that she and her experience were best suited for this position, why did he decide to run for mayor in the first place?”
Mike Adams, a longtime Thompson ally who did volunteer work on his campaign, approached the Post Register to denounce the endorsement.
“I really helped Jeff through the first round,” Adams said. “I went around putting up signs and everything. But there are so many people who told me that you just can’t trust Jeff.”
Adams said Thompson had originally given a verbal agreement to endorse Ehardt, in exchange for which Ehardt would endorse his next House run. Adams said he put the deal in writing, but it fell apart when Ehardt told a KPVI reporter that Thompson had endorsed her.
KPVI later ran a correction saying Thompson had called to deny the endorsement.
Thompson gave a different version of the story.
“She tried to steal my endorsement one night, and I had it stopped,” he said.
Adams said he was disappointed to see Thompson endorse Casper after being strongly critical of her record.
“I think we have to have honesty in politics, and I think Jeff is being completely dishonest,” Adams said.
John Henager, a member of the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee and a vocal Ehardt supporter, said he didn’t think the endorsement would hurt Ehardt, but he suggested Thompson’s candidacy had.
“It is incredibly disappointing, especially as his late entry into the race seemed unnecessary as (he and Ehardt) shared similar concerns and similar solutions,” Henager said. “Regardless of his actions at this important moment, I’m confident that those who supported his campaign recognize the need to unite behind Barb’s campaign.”
The election concludes Tuesday.
Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 208-542-6751.