Local runoffs on ballot in I.F. and Blackfoot
Two eastern Idaho mayoral runoff elections take place Tuesday in a state that typically sees just one annually, Association of Idaho Cities policy analyst Justin Ruen said.
Idaho Falls incumbent Mayor Rebecca Casper faces Councilwoman Barbara Ehardt, and Blackfoot incumbent Mayor Paul Loomis faces challenger Marc Carroll.
Casper, first elected in 2013, touts a handful of accomplishments, including the establishment of departmental citizen review committees, infrastructure projects, the city’s wayfinding and signage program as well as the establishment of College of Eastern Idaho, which Casper vocally supported.
Casper also has referenced her support of the Idaho National Laboratory, the small modular reactor program and experience with the state Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission.
Casper has expressed a desire to continue workforce growth, partially through CEI, in order to fill hiring needs by local employers.
Ehardt, also elected in 2013 and typically the council’s most conservative member, has consistently emphasized the need to increase governmental transparency and balance power between the council and mayor’s office.
Ehardt is typically opposed to tax levy increases — she believes Idaho Falls isn’t competitive with Bonneville County or nearby cities — and is often the lone dissenting vote on city budgets and other initiatives, including abolition of the Idaho Falls Police Department’s civil service rules.
A sports coach, she often advocates for a new city recreation center and other athletic facilities as well.
Unique to Idaho Falls’ mayoral election has been the Businesses for Growth political action committee, largely funded by businesses associated with former Bonneville Republican Central Committee Chairman Doyle Beck, Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot and attorney Bryan Smith.
The PAC initially encouraged voters to reject Casper — including with false information about her record — and has more recently produced ads supportive of Ehardt.
Though common in gubernatorial, attorney general and legislative races, nonpartisan city elections typically don’t feature PACs, Ruen said.
“With city elections, things like name recognition usually play a greater role. People often know the candidates personally,” he said.
Several Businesses for Growth ads featured miscalculated statistics about Casper’s travel, as well as a city expenditure that never happened. That’s typically something you’d see in larger cities, constitutional scholar and Alturas Institute President David Adler said.
“I think this current mayoral election has probably provided a window into a brand of politics we don’t ordinarily see in city races. Usually we see these harsher expressions of opinion revealed in places like Chicago or New York,” he said.
Blackfoot’s mayoral election has been comparatively low key.
Loomis, elected through a 2013 runoff election, has touted recent signs of economic revitalization in Blackfoot, as well as the city’s partnership with Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho.
Loomis said the city previously balanced its budget each year by depleting the general fund, but his leadership has put the city on firmer financial ground.
Loomis has called for additional city annexations and a new fire station on the east side of town.
Carroll worked in the banking industry and also was employed by the federal government as a fleet operations manager at Idaho National Laboratory.
He said Blackfoot needs to develop a stronger regional identity, particularly with closure in recent years of downtown big box stores. Carroll said Jensen Grove is the type of attraction Blackfoot officials should leverage to become more notable off Interstate 15.
Carroll also said he would advocate for zero-based budgeting, where all expenses are analyzed and re-justified every budget cycle.
Reporter Kevin Trevellyan can be reached at 208-542-6762.