Four locals have thrown their names in the hat to fill the open seat of Cache County executive.
The vacancy opened when Craig Buttars resigned to serve as Utah’s interim-Commissioner of Agriculture and Food after Gov. Spencer Cox appointed him in December.
Per county bylaws, the Cache County Republican Party will host its third special election in as many years to see who will be the next executive among applicants Dave Erickson, David Zook, Ladd Kennington and Marc Ensign.
Love of Cache, people
Erickson, who has been a member of the Cache County Council for six years and was re-elected in November, is a fourth-generation farmer on the northern end of the valley.
“The direction the county is going is such a good direction that we need to keep it going that way and we need to keep strengthening it,” Erickson said.“I'm a very comfortable man right now in what I'm doing in life, and this will probably make me very uncomfortable, but that's fine, too. I do not have a passion for the position, but I do have a passion for the people and where we're headed.”
It’s a similar love of the county that inspired Ladd Kennington, a member of the Utah Trucking Association and the Northern Utah Trucking Association, to run for the post.
“We need to keep in mind what matters most,” he said. “We need to go about doing good in our neighborhoods and communities. I love Cache County. I love the people who live here. The county is simply a reflection of its citizens.”
Though not originally from the area, David Zook agreed with the sentiments above, as he and his wife chose to raise their family in Cache County.
“We love Cache Valley; it’s safe, beautiful, filled with incredible people,” said Nibley’s city manager of the last nine years. “I am also running because I feel a responsibility to protect and preserve those things that make Cache Valley a wonderful home. I want to preserve our way of life.”
It’s the same for Marc Ensign, who retired after selling his local auto business. He said the reason he’s chosen to run is simple: “I want to make a difference.”
“I just want to steer the valley so that it remains the kind of place that it was for me, for my children and grandchildren, and many generations to come,” he said. “I feel like we need maybe a different approach, kind of a new skill set, a new set of eyes, someone with a real-world business background, as opposed to someone who's come up through the ranks of government.”
At the forefront of every candidate's mind, one challenge will be the most critical in the long run: managing growth. As Ensign said, “if we don't manage it effectively, all of the other challenges are maybe a little moot.”
“(Even the phrase 'managing') is more of a reactive approach,” he said. Instead, he advocates for more of a growth-steering approach to “getting in front of it in more of a proactive approach, where we determine exactly what we want and where we want it, and how we want it, and then we work to that end.”
While it’s still a top priority for every candidate in the running for the GOP special election at the end of the month, Kennington said the fact that the county has started the process to update the general plan will be instrumental in getting ahead of and planning for growth.
“I think that that is a huge, huge challenge,” he said. “The master plan, which I couldn't agree more with, will be very vital in 5, 10, 30 years. We want to be prepared, not surprised.”
By implementing a plan for growth, the county can also gain control of many of the traffic congestion problems currently seen in the valley, according to Zook, as “growth drives traffic.”
“I have a plan to implement those improvements (suggested by the Cache Metropolitan Planning Organization) faster than what has been the case,” he said. “And that is one of the reasons why I want to run, because I want to fix the traffic problems that are plaguing our valley.”
Issues like housing availability and affordability can be incorporated into plans to bring balance to the market, as long as town, city and county residents can continue to have an equal voice in the process.
Though Cache County’s economy has performed fairly well in the pandemic, with an unemployment rate of 3.2% as of November, continual improvement is also a key factor for the candidates.
“I think that a strong economy is obviously the basis, the foundation, of any successful community,” Ensign said. “And I think we need to continue to pursue economic development.”
Similarly, Erickson said maintaining — and even increasing — economic diversity is crucial.
“I don't want to become just another Silicon Valley,” he said. “I want to make sure that we have strengths all the way from agriculture, through the tech sectors that we have … through to the cultural aspects and the arts … so that there is always something for everybody, and so when hard times come, when one area hurts just a little bit, there's all the other areas to keep it strong.”
This was seen throughout 2020 when Logan and Cache County’s economy was labeled “bulletproof” thanks to job’s diversity and low unemployment, but Erickson added “there have been people that have suffered; there have been areas that suffered while other sectors and areas have been strengthened.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many challenges, but Kennington said “the biggest problem in any family is finances, and I think Cache County certainly falls in that category.”
“Things like (unexpected medical bills and job loss) can come up and are just unexpected costs, so obviously, we need to keep taxes as low as we possibly can,” Kennington said, though he added certain services, like police, firefighters and EMTs are looked at as essential for the average citizen. “We need to make sure they have the supplies that they need to keep us safe and themselves safe.”
Zook said this is where the Cache Executive comes in, because they oversee the whole county’s budget.
“I believe a government organization should be run like a business,” he said. “And that's how I would lead the county, in a way that is efficient, prioritizes customer service and is responsible with the public’s tax dollars.”
The special election to determine who will serve the remaining two years of Craig Buttars’s term will be on Saturday, Jan. 30, at the Cache County Event Center.
Due to virus-mitigation efforts, the event will no longer be open to the public and masks are required for entrance. Only credentialed members of the Cache County Republican Party’s Central Committee and county delegates — somewhere between 700-800 people — will be allowed to vote.
The winner’s name will then be submitted to the Cache County Council for approval within five days. If the council does not make a decision, it will go before the governor.