18-10-19 pizza and politics 17 willy

Mick Halverson

Mick Halverson grew up around his parents’ kitchen table. Each night, he’d sit down with his mother, father and five siblings, and they’d talk about their day—what went right, what went wrong and, always, what they were going to do about it tomorrow.

“They wouldn’t have whining at their table,” Halverson said. “They’d ask me the same question--‘What are you going to do to effect change?’ And if you started down that same lane, waffling or making excuses, you’d be excused, whether you’d eaten or not.

“That was pounded into us.”

Halverson, now 67, proudly shows signs of that upbringing in Mackay. And, after nearly 50 years in the Wood River Valley, he hopes to bring that same attitude to a Blaine County commission he thinks has lost sight of its priorities.

On Nov. 6, the Picabo Republican will run against Democrat Dick Fosbury and independent Debra Hall for the south county’s District 1 seat on the board, his first try at elected office. Halverson’s a businessman, and building on his no-nonsense background, he honed his principles over 30 years running a plumbing company in Bellevue, the first and only job he’s ever had.

Twenty years retired, he initially didn’t want the commissioner’s post to be his second.

His friends did, however, and they pushed harder with each passing election.

“When they started feeding my own words back to me, I said, ‘OK. If you can get me elected, I’ll run,” Halverson remembers.

He filed his candidacy the last day he could, and has been committed to the race ever since.

On the trail, some of those words have become his preferred chorus: “Government should run more like an independent business.”

Halverson calls himself “conservative,” rather than “a conservative.” It’s a delicate distinction, one that speaks to his reluctance to embrace party identity in a hyperpartisan political climate. He’s a Republican, tentatively, and much of his platform—from streamlining county ordinances, to “trimming the fat” out of the budget and salaries, to his skepticism toward perceived governmental overreach—hews closely to established GOP doctrine.

But ideology has never appealed to Halverson as much as outcomes, which he says demand an inclusive, pragmatic approach.

“All of the challenges we face in this valley we face in common,” he said. “We need to develop a conversation, not an argument. The truth is always in the middle. Seek it.”

In Blaine County, arguments are more often split by place than by party.

“A lot of people, when they look down the valley, they’re really looking down on the valley,” he said. “Each area here has become its own fiefdom. Ketchum doesn’t want to listen to Hailey, Hailey doesn’t want to listen to Bellevue, Bellevue doesn’t want to listen to Carey. But knock on any issue, and you see it affects everybody.”

Chief among them: housing. Halverson, who served six years on the Bellevue Planning and Zoning Commission and owns a dozen rental units around the town, says the county can help on affordable housing, if it takes a clearer, more flexible approach to the problem.

He’s come before the county for land-use issues of his own, and says the first step is cleaning up the language of ordinances so developers can see a clear goal line.

“Anybody should be able to pick up any given ordinance, read it and immediately know what to do,” he said.

That applies to text amendments, too, which he says should be the favored approach to finding “quick, simple” solutions that work rather than lofty overhauls.

And the law needs to be applied equally and impartially in hearings: “It’s not a popularity contest.”

“There are a lot of ways to beat this,” he said. “We need trailer courts, rentals, single-family homes, duplexes.

“Progress is coming to this valley. We need to be willing to change. There’s a saying in business—lead, follow or get out of the way. So, let’s go out and meet people where they are. Let’s take an extra step, and try to help. It’s about accomplishing the job. To me, that’s leadership. That’s what public service means.”

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