Readers and community members, the political forum held at American Legion Hall 26 on Thursday night was marred by one very important recurring theme: inexperience.
The forum began by addressing the 6 candidates competing for 2 city council positions. As the candidates took and answered questions, some things became immediately clear.
Who was looking good?
Scott Harjo provided strong responses, (including specific figures) to many of the questions. At times seeming to be a calmer voice among his peers, he was steadfastly direct, clear about his positions, and did a good job touting his knowledge of, and experience in, local government.
Brendan McCarthy stood out as the second choice. Lacking experience in local government, he referenced his activity in local politics and initiatives. He stressed the importance of communication between government and the community, a message that seemed to be well-received by those in attendance.
Who wasn’t looking so hot?
Frankly, everyone else.
Jenny Wirkkala came off strong as a fringe candidate from the outset. Dodging questions, and at times over exaggerating or just plain misrepresenting topics, she attempted to advertise herself as an alternative to a traditional candidate. She seemed more tied up in national political theatrics than the interests of locals.
Mack Saterfield and Danny Dack were both fairly charismatic candidates, but their lack of experience showed as they continuously responded to questions with various forms of “I’m not sure about that at this time”.
Incumbent James Green’s best responses were those that demonstrated his experience on the council, however his mannerisms, tone, body language, and concise responses left him seeming largely detached and somewhat disinterested in the position he is running for.
As the 4 mayoral candidates took their seats, the waters only muddied as no clear winner was apparent.
This was not all to the fault of the candidates, as a handful of the questions posed to all of the candidates by the MC were not applicable to all candidates. Shaun Brazell was charismatic as ever, and excelled in responding to questions that were based in emotion and beliefs, but struggled to stand out when technical questions arose. A handful of his responses echoed the lack of experience and background knowledge shared by some of the council candidates.
Incumbent Mayor Rich Sykes has the history and the experience to back up his candidacy, and directed many of his responses. At times he seemed to stray from the questions asked, and focus more on deterring critics. On a positive, well-received note, he took accountability for some decisions (such as the infamous fireplace removal) that in hindsight, he said, he would do differently. His experience was clear (largely because many of the questions asked pertained to his own previous policy decisions). All-in-all, Mayor Sykes performed well, but just as the other candidates did, he failed to break out of the crowd.
Scott Conner painted himself as being up-front about his past, stating that “all people say things they wish they hadn’t” and “nobody is perfect”, while both of these sentiments may be true, he was vague, and not entirely transparent about his own history of misconduct in positions of power. He stressed communication, and made jabs at the incumbent, but failed to provide responses that would put him ahead of the field.
Misty Pierce touted her educational experience, addressed rumors of a criminal background (clearing herself of the false rumor), and dug deep into her consistent attendance of city council meetings. She attempted to back-track on previous statements she had made about reevaluation and reduction of city employee compensation claiming she had been misquoted (she hadn’t been). She shared many of the same sentiments as council candidate Jenny Wirkkala, and painted herself as perhaps the best positioned and emboldened candidate to contest incumbent Mayor Sykes.
As the countdown to election day continues, voters will have big decisions to make moving forward. I predict that experience and transparency will likely guide the victor’s to their seats. If you have not already registered to vote, you can and should register at https://voteidaho.gov/.