Three contending for Bonneville County Commission seat
IDAHO FALLS — Three Bonneville County men are looking to claim the District 2 County Commission seat now that outgoing commissioner John Radford is running for the Idaho legislature.
Brady Belliston, former state representative Tom Loertscher and Jon Walker are seeking the Republican nomination in the May 19 primary. To learn more about their platforms, EastIdahoNews.com sent the same eight questions to each candidate. Their responses, listed below, were required to be 250 words or less.
Tell us about yourself — include information about your family, career, education, volunteer work and any prior experience in public office.
Belliston: I grew up in Idaho and graduated with degrees from Ricks College and BYU. I played football at Ricks College and was a member of the 1992 team that finished 11-0. I also did some post-graduate work at the University of Utah and an internship at KUTV 2 in Salt Lake in sport’s broadcasting. I married my dear wife Sasha and we have been married for 25 years. We have four children and just became grandparents in December. Being a father, husband, and grandpa is awesome! My professional life has included owning and managing many businesses including a 3,500-acre cattle ranch, a real estate development company, a residential building company, an excavation company, and an insurance company. I served on the Ouray Park Irrigation Company board for 9 years, 6 years as vice president. I currently serve on the Panorama Hills Water board. I have also been serving on the Iona Bonneville Sewer District Board for 5 years and have been the chairman for the past 3 years. I served as Boy Scout leader for 20 years and have coached numerous youth sports teams including being the freshman, JV, and assistant varsity softball coach at Bonneville High School. I am also a sports broadcaster on the radio for Sports Zone 2 at 92.5fm and on the internet for the NFHS Network covering high school sports. I love to play basketball, fish, hunt, camp, and DJ dances, parties, and weddings.
Loertscher: I am an active farmer and rancher in Bone, Idaho and have been in farming all of my life. We moved to Bone 50 years ago and are still there. I received my bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Utah. I served for six years in the Army Reserve first in an Artillery Battalion and later in a support and training unit.
My wife Linda and I have eight children, seven sons and one daughter and we have 38 grandchildren and two great-grandsons. All of our children have college degrees and are gainfully employed.
In addition to serving in various positions in church, I was a member of the Idaho State Job Training Council. I was President of ECIPDA where we established the first-ever Idaho Small Business Administration revolving loan program to promote small business in Eastern Idaho.
I served for six years as a Bonneville County Commissioner. I then was elected to the Idaho House of Representatives and served there two different periods of time. The first was for sixteen years and after a two-year break served for another fourteen years. While there I was elected by my colleagues for six years as Assistant Majority Leader and subsequently served as Chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee and then Chairman of the House State Affairs Committee.
Walker: I am a family man first and foremost. I love my family and spending time with them. I love Bonneville County and enjoy the amazing lifestyle this area offers. I love to camp, hike, fish, shoot, and be outdoors. I have worked for the City of Idaho Falls in the Sewer Department, Police Department and the Fire Department. When I became a firefighter I started a sandblasting business. I learned a great deal as a small business owner. A mix of my experience as a police officer, and later a paramedic, led me into the position of Bonneville County Coroner where I served 11 years. I worked on several critical regional level and state level committees as a Captain and Division Chief at the fire department including homeland security and a regional response statewide team. Planning and budgeting are critical. My family is my priority. When our daughters were young, I helped coach club volleyball, then judged for debate as they got older. I still judge for my daughter’s debate team and support my grandchildren’s activities. I have had many opportunities to volunteer in educational activities. I am a lifelong supporter of the scouting program.I spent countless summers on staff as a youth and love to volunteer at every opportunity.
What are your proudest accomplishments in your personal life or career?
Belliston: My proudest accomplishment in my life is being married to my sweetheart Sasha for 25 years and raising four wonderful children. There will never be anything on this earth that is more important to me than my family. Coaching the youth in this community has been a wonderful experience and I love running into kids that I have coached at stores or other places and hearing about the wonderful things they are doing in their lives. In 2017 I was the JV softball coach at Bonneville High School and our team won the JV Championship. It was awesome that their hard work paid off. I also helped coach the varsity teams at Bonneville in 2017 and 2018 and we made state both years. That was an incredible thrill for those girls which included 2 of my daughters and so that was extra special. In 2014 I was a scout leader in Troop 92 and we set the goal to help our boys finish up their Eagle Scout Awards. We had 13 boys receive their awards that year and it was an amazing experience. In 2019 I received the Award of Merit from the North Caribou District of the Boy Scouts of America and that was a special honor. I am also proud of the work that we have done on the Iona Bonneville Sewer District board. We have been able to keep rates low, restore trust in the organization, and save $20 million in reserves for future projects.
Loertscher: My biggest accomplishment in my personal life is my family. The farm has provided our family the opportunity to work together and to teach our children how to work and be responsible for their lives. Linda and I have worked hard to teach our family how to succeed in life. At her feet all of our children could read before they went to kindergarten.
We have succeeded on the farm living through some tough times. Linda and our children have stepped in and have worked by my side so that we could earn a living and raise our family.
Walker: I am most proud of my family. I married my best friend and we have raised two wonderful daughters together. They have both married amazing men and are raising fantastic children. We love to work together and play together. In my career, I would say my greatest accomplishment is a life dedicated to protecting and serving. I am a public servant. Every career step I have taken has been dedicated to making this community safer, stronger and better. In the Police, Fire, Paramedic, and Coroner capacities I swore to protect and serve our community. Key successes: Our county was in serious need of a morgue and as coroner, I worked diligently to make that happen. In the fire department, I focused on training and public education to make sure we were constantly improving and constantly planning. I also made sure we worked hard to educate the public concerning issues such as fire prevention, accident prevention and suicide prevention. Our public services in the City of Idaho Falls and Bonneville County are top-notch and always improving.
Briefly explain your political platform, and/or legislative goals if you are elected to office.
Belliston: My political platform and goals were formed after spending December and January meeting with all of the elected officials in the county including multiple meetings with our current commissioners. I also spend two days with Sheriff Wilde and Sam Hulse touring facilities and talking about the sheriff’s office. I met with 4 of the mayors in the county as well as 3 previous mayors. I also participated in a meeting in December that included almost every state elected official from our area as they discussed with our commissioners things that they wanted to address in the upcoming legislative session. I also met with members of multiple city councils, business leaders, school leaders, and citizens around the county. After all of this homework, I announced my candidacy for commissioner on Jan. 21st and my 3 goals. First, continued fiscal conservatism by keeping taxes as low as possible and spending each dollar wisely This would also include working with our state officials to get state mandates funded. Second, growth planning including updating our comprehensive growth plan. This would include meetings with developers, city leaders, building associations, utility companies, the sheriff, and citizens so their voices are heard. I would also like to develop an economic growth plan to attract more good businesses to our area. Third, better communication between citizens and elected officials including updating our county website and forming county social media accounts. I will also have regular open listening sessions around the county so citizens are heard frequently.
Loertscher: I am a conservative with a proven track record as such. I will continue to work toward lowering property taxes and reducing spending as much as is humanly possible. Just the Bonneville County portion of your taxes increased this year by $4 million. This is not sustainable. People on fixed incomes and agriculture and small businesses are struggling and the ever-increasing taxing and spending of the county contributes to the problem.
My goal is to make the commissioners more accessible to the public and hold important public hearings in the evenings to increase public participation. Bonneville County’s web site needs to be upgraded with more information and supporting documentation available for public inspection prior to hearings. The public deserves to know what the county is doing. I have always welcomed public participation.
Walker: My political platform: I am a conservative Republican who believes in limited government, protecting individual liberties and fiscal responsibility. My goals are a safe community, a transparent government, a balanced budget, low taxes, and economic recovery from Covid-19. A high priority is a long-term plan for growth and development that is updated constantly. We are experiencing a great deal of growth and this must be carefully managed.
What are the greatest challenges facing your county?
Belliston: The greatest challenge facing our county, according to the majority of people that I have met with over the past 5 months, is growth. The state of Idaho and Bonneville County have been discovered and for good reason. It’s a wonderful place to live. Over 1,000 people have moved into Bonneville County in each of the last 3 years. Growth can be really good for our area and we are seeing some of the benefits of that. We’re starting to see new businesses come here, it looks like the INL will continue to expand, great new developments such as Snake River Landing and Jackson Hole Junction are progressing and attracting wonderful new entertainment options for families, and a new auditorium is getting closer to becoming a reality. This is all wonderful, but there are also some growth challenges With more people coming we are starting to see the stress on our roads, intersections, infrastructure, housing markets, and services. Are we behind in some of these areas? Yes. Can we jump on this quickly and start doing something about it? Yes. Some of the issues such as roads can be handled at the local level. Expanding Lincoln Road is a perfect example. Other issues will need to include the state and federal governments as we deal with issues such as the interchange at Highway 20 and I-15. The time to act on these issues is now and we need to be aggressive in our approaches. There is no time to waste.
Loertscher: Growth is a challenge. It should pay for itself by way of increasing the tax base. That increase in tax base should be sufficient to pay for increased county services. Those increased demands should not be put on the backs of existing property taxpayers. It should also be noted that as the county continues to increase taxes the voters are less likely to vote for new school bonds and the potential is to adversely affect education.
The full impact of the pandemic and shutdown has not yet been realized. There will be a downturn in county revenues from other sources such as sales tax from the state, and gas taxes, etc. Careful budgeting and wise use of every dollar is going to be necessary to come through these times.
Walker: The biggest challenge right now is economic recovery. The second key factor is the extreme growth in Bonneville County. This is where an immediate and long term plan for the county are so critical. This is an area of my greatest strength. I am a planner. The area of impact between the City of Idaho Falls and Bonneville County.
How is your experience better suited to dealing with these unique challenges than your competitor?
Belliston: I have been a real estate developer, builder, and excavator for nearly 20 years. I have worked with planning and zoning departments, cities, counties, utilities, and engineers in multiple states and communities. This is my area of expertise I am currently the chairman of the Iona Bonneville Sewer District and was recruited to that board 5 years ago because they recognized that I could help in the planning and providing of sewer services to over 7,700 households in our county. Through my career and service, I have forged relationships with the cities of Idaho Falls, Ammon, Ucon, and Iona as well as the offices and departments in the county. This will allow me to hit the ground running as a commissioner and get to work on growth issues. I also have relationships with many of the local builders, realtors, and developers and many of them are supporting my campaign because they know I am qualified to handle growth problems and will include everyone in coming up with solutions. I also just received the endorsement of the Greater Idaho Falls Association of Realtors and appreciate the confidence that they have in me to bring everyone that I can to the table to update our comprehensive growth plan. I know that I can help our county in this area of concern using my knowledge and experience. My opponents simply do not have experience in these areas like I do.
Loertscher: My previous experience as a Bonneville County Commissioner and having budgeted and putting in place policies to control spending is essential. When property taxes were frozen for two years by the Legislature, we got through those time by evaluating every budget item and expenditure carefully. During that time there was no reduction in personnel and we all pulled together to do the work.
My experience as a legislator is also an asset because of the working relationships I developed there. I will be able to be a persuasive participant in making sure the Legislature does not pass on funding mandates to property taxpayers. This legislative session had a bill come forward to use property taxes to fund the recent initiative passed Medicaid expansion. I was able to make a difference in persuading legislators not to proceed with that idea.
There is no substitute for experience. My budget work at the county and state levels will be invaluable because of the circumstance in which we now find ourselves.
Walker: I have a broad base of experience: business owner, city worker, county elected coroner, team leader, emergency planner, communications specialist, educator, youth volunteer, trainer and instructor, and educational advocate.
I am a bridge builder and have worked with all types of agencies and government officials.
I am a communicator. I am transparent. Look at my campaign: go to Facebook: Elect Jon Walker for Bonneville County Commissioner. Go to electjonwalker.com I have an active social media campaign. I want people to know my beliefs and goals, the sources of my donations, and the sources for my spending. I truly want feedback and input. In the Fire Department and Coroner’s Office, I worked with media outlets to ensure transparent coverage of issues. I am fiscally conservative to the bone. I spend locally as often as humanly possible! I believe that it is extremely important to find ways to do more with less.
Finally, I believe that my long-term planning abilities—inspired by one of my role models, former Mayor Tom Campbell—set me apart in this time of unprecedented growth. I have owned a small business. As a firefighter, I helped establish state and regional plans for disasters and emergencies. As coroner, I took action to ensure that the county planned facilities, funding and protocols based on growth. I worked with local health departments to establish long-term plans. I am a long-term strategic planner.
How will you best represent the views of your constituents – even those with differing political views?
Belliston: If I am elected commissioner, I will be the commissioner for every person in the county, not just for one group or another. I believe that my campaign has been a good example of my leadership style. I started reaching out to people last November as I contemplated making the decision to run for this office. I am not a shy person and I really do appreciate hearing from as many people as possible and so I was scheduling appointments with everyone that I could get in front of. This allowed me to hear a wide range of opinions and experiences from people around the county. Then I announced my candidacy on January 21st and immediately began fundraising. In the course of these meetings, it would often become obvious that the person I was seeking support from had a difference of opinion from someone else who had already committed to supporting me. What I am most proud of is that these people who had differing opinions or backgrounds would both still agree to support me. I was told that after speaking with me, they felt a level of comfort that I am a genuine person who tries to listen, be honest in my answers, and will look at each issue individually, and treat everyone fairly. My phone number has been on all of my campaign literature and many people have called or emailed me about different issues. I welcome that dialogue and that won’t change if I’m elected.
Loertscher: I have worked well with people of different views and welcome differing points of view before making decisions. During my time as chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, I presided over some of the most difficult hearings ever held in the legislature. All had a chance to be heard with no hard time limits. I have received letters of appreciation from both sides of the debate.
Just because I may not agree with someone, does not give the right to be rude or condescending. I will always listen, no matter how much I may disagree.
Walker: I am dedicated to representing the many diverse views of the people of Bonneville County. I will continue social media activities to increase transparency and facilitate discussions. I have learned a lot about issues that concern people in the county that I don’t think are on the radar for the commissioner’s office. I believe that listening to the people is one of the most important things that an elected official can do. Diversity is what makes us great.
I have had a lot of experience working with individuals with differing political views. As coroner and as a firefighter, I worked on a number of boards at the state level. I also married into a politically diverse family! I love them all and love to hear their important ideas and opinions. I think listening increases understanding and knowledge. I listen to people, even if I don’t agree with them, and try to find common ground and common understanding.
I believe that people are inherently good and that they are passionate about things that are important to them. Understanding how people view the issues and how they believe the issues affect them is an important part of making good governing decisions.
How do you plan to improve relationships with other elected officials in your county and with state legislative officials?
Belliston: Well first of all, as I have already mentioned, I have met with just about every elected official that has anything to do with Bonneville County at a county, city, or state level and all of them have a tremendous amount of respect for all three of our commissioners. They are all great men and I would be honored to serve with and learn from all of them. There are some issues with the City of Idaho Falls and I have already discussed some of these with Mayor Casper and Michelle Ziel-Dingman. These are very sharp women that I respect. We will not always see eye to eye, but I have no doubt that we can work together and disagree at times without being disagreeable. Mike Moyle, Idaho House Majority Leader, made a comment that disturbed me when he said that he wanted to come up with a property tax solution for our past legislative session, but he could not get county commissioners to come to the table. I can assure you that if I am elected, I will be at the table. I have no problem going to Boise if necessary. One of the greatest experiences I’ve had during my campaign is getting to know our local state elected officials. Many of them have reached out to me and given me their support. They are wonderful and talented people and I look forward to working closely with them on issues that involve our county.
Loertscher: I have always had a good working relationship with other elected officials and have worked closely with many of them. I will continue to take the time necessary to work with city officials and I currently have worked well with the current county elected officials on many levels.
I still maintain my contacts with State elected officials including legislators I have worked with in the past. This is one of my strongest points. I spend a great deal of time maintaining discussions with legislators. They know me and know that I will always be straight forward in discussions with them. I don’t just complain about matters, I give them possible solutions.
Walker: Throughout my career I have worked with elected officials in our county, surrounding counties, and at the state level. I have a track record of working well with others and getting things done. I plan to continue to have honest and sincere conversations with our officials. I already have a good working relationship with many of our governing officials.
What are your views regarding the role of the media in covering your county? How can you best work with local reporters to ensure coverage of the issues?
Belliston: Well, as a member of the media in this community, I have a great understanding and respect for what they do. I believe that there should be an open and respectful relationship between the media and the commissioner’s office. Our county currently does not have a public information director to interface with the media and community. I have talked to the commissioners about filling that role myself if I am elected. I believe that it is important to keep our citizens informed with what’s going on and the media can play a huge role in that. I have a background in television and radio and am comfortable with the media. I would also like to involve students from our local colleges and universities to help me in this area by providing internships in the county where they could help with some of these public information responsibilities. It would be good for the county and it would be good for the students as well. As a commissioner, I will be accessible to the media. I would like to thank Eastidahonews.com for providing the opportunity for me to answer these questions. I think that Nate Eaton and his staff do a wonderful job and I check their website multiple times a day.
Loertscher: I miss the days when the media seemed to be more involved in coverage of county business. I have always considered it my responsibility to explain matters to the press so that they are fully informed on what we might be trying to accomplish. I have always been open with the media and welcome their covering of government business.
I will make sure that the press is informed of important decisions and make every effort to get them to be present for those discussions. We have an open meeting law in Idaho and I will make every effort to make sure the press is kept up to date on agendas in an effort to encourage public involvement in county business.
Walker: Media is one of the single most important entities in sharing information in our society.
I believe that the media plays a critical role in keeping the public informed about the issues in the county. The media is influential and our local media have proven to be very active in keeping our county informed on important issues. I am very comfortable reaching out to our media and inviting them in on key issues. Information sharing is vital to governing and making good decisions. My door is always open, and I will reach out to the media and share information! I love technology and how it is so easy to share information. I use technology daily and see so many possibilities to share meaningful conversations before making decisions. In this age, we really have multiple ways to communicate with one another!
When I was with the Idaho Falls Fire Department, and as County Coroner, I worked closely with the regional media. We invited them to participate in training activities so that they understood why we do things we do on a scene.