Christensen keeps wildlife, people in mind
Commissioner from Alta seeks 2nd term.
By Cara Froedge, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: October 22, 2008
On Friday morning, Leland Christensen roamed the streets of the Gill Addition neighborhood in east Jackson wearing cowboy boots.
Walking from empty house to empty house, he left cards wedged in front doors or with caretakers. Finally, he found a house with someone home.
“Hi, Leland,” the woman said in a tone that indicated the two knew each other.
He handed her a card.
“I’m running again for county commissioner,” Christensen said. “This is the way I voted, and I’d sure appreciate your vote in November.”
The woman told Christensen he has it, and he moved on to the next house.
Did he know her?
No, he said.
“I get a lot of that,” he said. “It’s a great way to see the people, and it’s a great way to get connected. It’s an in-your-face report card. You find out going door to door if folks appreciate what you’ve been doing.”
If the August primary election is any indication, Teton County residents like the work that Christensen, 49, has been doing during the last four years. He was the top vote-getter of five candidates in the Republican primary, earning 1,744 of the 4,077 votes cast. That’s twice as many as candidate Dennis Triano, who came in second with 837 votes.
“I think they mostly look at land-use issues and votes,” Christensen said.
In recent years, Christensen said, he has distinguished himself as the commissioner who votes against big development and for wildlife.
“When I started, I focused on environment and wildlife and the people who live here,” Christensen said. “I’ve really tried to keep those things in mind with the decisions and votes that come up. ... I look for how to help and ease life for the people who are living here today.”
He voted against expansion of Grand Targhee Resort and against the Osprey Creek development on Moose-Wilson Road. He also voted against Snake River Associates’ expansion of Teton Village.
Though Christensen called for SRA’s reconsideration after the board had voted against it, a move that ultimately led to an approval, he said he felt compelled to give the development another chance before the commissioners. Christensen said he called for the reconsideration because so many voters wanted it, not because the developer asked for it.
So far, Christensen has handed out 1,500 information cards. He’s received just one slammed door.
“A guy opened the door, looked at me and said, ‘I know who you are,’ and shut the door,” Christensen said. “I didn’t get a chance to find out if he had a bad case of acid indigestion or if it was something I’d done.”
The 49-year-old retired sheriff’s deputy has been married to his wife, Anita, for 27 years. They have five children, who range in age from 13 to 26, and three grandchildren.
Though his great-grandfather used to own the land from Alta to Teton Canyon and down to the Teton River, Christensen and his family live on a 7-acre parcel they bought from his father in 1982 for $24,000. A decade after buying and paying off the land, they built a small house there.
While generations of Christensens were born and raised in Alta, Leland Christensen has lived there for 38 years. Before that, he lived in the Alaskan bush for six years and in the South Pacific for two. He’s spent another three years around the Tetons.
Christensen likes to remind people he’s served the community for 24 years, in various civic, government and nonprofit organizations, including the U.S. Army National Guard, Community Counseling Center, Salvation Army, Rotary Club of Jackson Hole and the boards of the Teton County Fair and Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation.
While with the sheriff’s department, Christensen was the jail administrator and worked in investigations and administration. He spent four years as a captain.
This race will be his third for county commissioner.
He lost his first race in 2002 but was elected in 2004.
During the last four years, Christensen has been in Jackson almost every day. He spends about two hours a day commuting.
The $34,000 annual salary is his only job. With the miles and cost of gas, he’s making less than he did at the sheriff’s department. If re-elected, he’ll get a $2,000 raise.
His wife is a teacher in Victor, Idaho, and on weekends she works for Skywest at Jackson Hole Airport.
“We’re actually probably a lot closer to the typical working household,” he said.
That lifestyle, Christensen said, is what drives many of his policies, particularly on taxes.
“When people worry about their taxes and the big bills that come out of the blue, I absolutely appreciate that,” he said.
One of his top issues, listed on those door cards he circulates, is taxes.
Christensen voted against a measure that would have asked voters on the Nov. 4 ballot if they want to increase sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent.
He said he is working to develop plans for scaled-back budgets and more efficient delivery of county services.
“For a lot of people in our community, us included, there’s not a lot of extras at the end of the month,” he said. “So I’m pretty cautious about taxes.”
The best way to deal with increasing property taxes is to reduce the mill levy, he said. Still, Christensen admits the county portion of that levy is just 15 percent, so the only other alternative is to work with the state to lower it.
Other issues important to Christensen include alternative transportation and maintaining a diverse community. Christensen voted for pathways on South Park Loop, Highway 22 and in Grand Teton National Park. He also voted to support connecting Jackson Hole to Star Valley and Teton Valley via START buses.
In terms of maintaining a diverse community, Christensen said he supports and voted for preservation of old-time neighborhoods and appropriately located work-force housing. He wants to focus on work-force zoning, appropriate exactions on new developments and stopping “the sprawl of urbanization.”
Back in the Gill Addition, he turns his attention toward a sprawling house at the top of Saddle Butte.
“I really appreciate that bumper sticker – and I have for years – that says ‘need less,’” Christensen said.
At the same time, he said, owners of those big homes are putting resources and money back into the community and providing jobs.
“I do have quite a few supporters that have ag land or bigger homes,” he said. “I have a lot of supporters that are renting. I’m giving a voice to both of them.”