Fuller, 24, a frugal candidate with big ideas
Huidekoper descendant brings family heritage, worker view to politics.
By Cara Froedge, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
October 15, 2008
Claire Fuller looked both ways before she crossed the street.
To the right, a semitruck appeared to be driving fast across the Fish Creek bridge into Wilson. Fuller stepped onto Highway 22, walking slowly.
“This is one of my strategies to get people to slow down in Wilson,” the 24-year-old said Monday morning. “We do have a crosswalk, but the flags you carry across the street have been missing for quite awhile.”
Well, that’s one way to do it.
Another is getting elected to the Teton County Board of Commissioners.
Fuller, 24, is the youngest of four candidates vying for two seats on the board.
The Democrat is running against Democratic two-term incumbent Andy Schwartz, 57; incumbent Republican Leland Christensen, 49; and Republican Dennis Triano, 62.
Fuller isn’t scared to jump into things, whether it’s oncoming traffic or a political campaign against men twice her age.
“When there was an opening on the Planning Commission, I did think about applying,” she said. “But I didn’t get any farther.”
Running for county commissioner “is definitely sort of jumping in at the top level, diving in head first,” she said.
“This is the most effective way of getting there or starting to create change.”
Fuller may be known more as the granddaughter of Virginia Huidekoper and daughter of Robbie and Zaidee Fuller.
Yet, since she filed for the county race in May she had been creating her own legacy.
The 2006 graduate of Northern Arizona University came in second in the August Democratic primary with 1,008 votes. She trailed Schwartz by 170 votes and beat Brian Grubb by 419.
Fuller grew up in a home in Mosquito Creek. She attended Wilson Elementary School, where she was student council treasurer, and spent weekends in the outdoors. On Saturday mornings, she could be found camping or climbing mountains with her family rather than watching cartoons.
The Fullers had only NBC and PBS on their television.
“I feel like I missed out on pop culture as a kid,” she said. “But I feel like I am better for it.”
For example, Fuller first learned about the Super Bowl in sixth grade. Her older brother, Nate, thought the Super Bowl was a weekly event, just like Monday Night Football, she said.
The daughter of an orchestra teacher, she learned to play piano and viola and was reared on classical records and the Beatles.
Her father, who invented Croakies sunglass straps and is an avalanche safety instructor, was probably the person who first took her backcountry skiing at an age she can’t even recall, Fuller said.
She graduated from Jackson Hole High School in 2002. When she returned to Jackson in 2007, it looked different.
“I would literally get lost and disoriented in my hometown,” she said.
In the time she was gone, developers built Smith’s, Four Seasons Resort and Jackson Hole Golf & Tennis. Snake River Associates had broken ground on Shooting Star, and new, urban-style buildings were being erected in downtown Jackson.
“Things were just going crazy,” she said.
Fuller soon realized that Jackson Hole would not be the place in which she grew up if some changes weren’t made. Like most candidates this election season, the shortage of affordable housing is one of her top priorities.
Fuller said she cares about the affordable housing issue because she wants to share this “fantastic place” with others and preserve a diverse community, one that has always encouraged hippies and cowboys and millionaires to live on the same street.
She believes Teton County and the town of Jackson should increase mitigation and exaction rates and update policies so the affordable housing shortfall isn’t worsened with new development. Affordable housing will then be a finite problem that can be addressed, she said.
If elected, Fuller would promote more affordable ownership opportunities as well as rentals, and she’d push for them to be built in small phases in nodes such as Teton Village, town or near High School Road so new homes and residents don’t overwhelm roads and schools.
Though, finding affordable housing is something that Fuller will never have to worry about. She lives in a two-story house behind the Wilson post office that her father built for her grandfather, Jim, in the 1980s. Her parents have about 120 acres, while her grandmother has a little bit less than that.
The majority of the land her family owns has been placed under a conservation easement.
“I am incredibly fortunate,” Fuller said. “In a lot of ways, I don’t have to worry about finding a place to live because I have so much family here. But that doesn’t give me the right to ignore everybody else’s plight.”
She pays rent to her parents, the cost of which covers the property taxes, insurance and utilities.
On the second floor, she and her boyfriend of four years share about 400 square feet composed of a living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. Without a dryer, clothes hang from lines strewn through the staircase leading to a first-floor garage, which contains a half-dozen pairs of skis and a 1908 Steinway that she inherited from her great-great-grandmother. Bikes are scattered out front in the snow.
Almost every day this summer, Fuller biked to Teton Village, where she works the same job she held as a senior in high school, baking breads and desserts for the Mangy Moose, Calico and Rocky Mountain Oyster.
Though Fuller could put her geology degree to use working in the oil and gas industry in Pinedale – and make a lot of money while she’s at it – she said she has no interest working in the industry.
“I don’t think I’ve ever made more than $12,000 in any single year,” she said. “I live very frugally.”
Sometimes, for extra money, she delivers firewood and shovels snow.
She scrimps by growing her own vegetables and herbs and helps her parents raise and butcher chickens at her childhood home.
She even bought a share of a cow from a friend last year.
Fuller rarely spends money going out to bars or buying a ski pass. Instead, you’ll find her at home playing her viola, backcountry skiing, reading, listening to her record collection or doing a crossword puzzle.
The only new clothes she buys are socks.
“Browse N’ Buy has everything I need at highly reduced prices,” Fuller said.
If elected, her annual income would triple.
Still, “it’s not a livable wage in a Teton County,” she said.
Because of the low pay, Fuller said she thinks the office is self-limiting.
The only people who can afford to hold the job are independently wealthy, have successful businesses or make money off real estate pursuits, she said.
Fuller said she’s the voice of an under-represented group, people who “work 40 hours a week just to make ends meet.”
If she was a commissioner during the last four years, Fuller said she would have voted against SRA’s expansion of Teton Village, against Grand Targhee Resort’s expansion and against Osprey Creek. She would have voted for the moratorium on large residential developments until the Jackson/Teton County comprehensive plan is revised.
She still would like a moratorium on commercial development, which she sees as driving the affordable housing shortage.
Erasing resort zoning from land development regulations also is a priority. A new resort, she said, is only three votes away.
She’d also like to reduce light pollution in the valley and create a Teton Pass fund that could support programs such as a shuttle up the mountain for recreationists or a county liaison like the U.S. Forest Service position.
If elected, she’d focus on smart development patterns, which means building commercial and residential properties close to transit and existing infrastructure.
Somewhere, she said, “that would not impact open space and wildlife.”
Another issue that she’d like to focus on is alternative transportation, including expanding START transit service and pathways throughout the valley. She’d “really love” to have a stop in Wilson, she said.
Fuller then told a story about a silver fox that was living outside the Willowbrook neighborhood this summer. She passed it every day on her bike ride to work. One day, Fuller saw it dead in the road after it had been hit by a car.
“It was really frustrating,” she said. “It’s sort of a poignant reminder that as much as we try to lessen our impact, we always are going to have an impact.”