Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper certainly seems like a politician who knows where she is going – and she wants to lead her eastern Idaho city there.
In a recent interview with Idaho Politics Weekly, Casper says she plans on running for a third, four-year term in 2021.
Beyond that, “I don’t rule anything out” as far as higher office goes – maybe even something on the state level or Congress.
For now, that is just idle talk, however.
Casper, 56, has work to do.
Among other accomplishments – she has a B.A., an M.A. (from BYU Provo) and a PhD (from liberal-leaning U.C. Berkley, no less) – Casper is a leader in eastern Idaho’s important nuclear industry, which provides many jobs.
Idaho Falls is a key member of the association of municipal power agencies that is working to construct a small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) project at Idaho National Laboratory (INL).
The Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP), owned by Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, by the next mid-decade should be providing clean, carbon-free electricity to more than 30 cities in the Mountain West, including Idaho Falls.
The CFPP would be the first SMR project in the country and will help assure Idaho Falls’ and INL’s leadership in nuclear research and technology – and will provide a lot of high-paying jobs. Casper has been an enthusiastic supporter of the CFPP and Idaho’s nuclear industry, giving speeches at seminars and various meetings.
“My desire is to get things done,” Casper said.
And for now that is working on the local government level where, with the help of the community she can see achievable results.
Casper defined her politics as “mainstream,” or reasonable Republican – “middle of the road, but not a moderate.”
But partisan politics really don’t play a part in her leading Idaho Falls. Partisanship “must be in the back street or you can’t succeed” in city government.
“Mine is a non-partisan office; we deliver services” and that is not done in either a Republican or Democratic method.
Although she takes pride in being fiscally conservative, she recognizes “that we spend (taxpayer) monies,” and you can’t be an archconservative, no-tax, no-spend politician and achieve what constituents want, either.
But, “There is room for a fiscal (conservative) philosophy in setting budgets.”
You still must reasonably maintain streets and sewers so as not to have to replace them – at a much higher cost – earlier than otherwise need be, she said.
Idaho Falls may be considered small by some standards – it has 61,000 folks in the city itself, 133,000 in the metro complex. The city is the fourth largest in Idaho, the others being in the Boise area.
Idaho Falls is growing. And quickly.
“I’m all about growth,” said Casper. She doesn’t fear it. In fact, it must come if eastern Idaho is to be a place where her four children, and other citizen’s children, can find good, family-sustaining jobs, and stay in the area with successful, meaningful careers.
Casper knows a bit about that herself.
She and her family lived in various places in the west before moving to Idaho Falls in 1999, her ex-husband’s home town.
As a divorced mother with a PhD in political science and experience campaigning, she had to bring some money in.
So, set up her own political/government consulting firm, as well as working as a teacher/adjunct professor at the local community college.
When friends suggested she run for mayor in 2013 she at first declined.
But then she thought: If I lose, I’d have great on-hands teaching lesson for my political science students. If I won, then a whole new life experience opens up for me.
She won in what many saw as an upset victory in 2013, and grabbed a crushing re-election win in 2017.
While many officeholders say they seek re-election because they have major initiatives yet to be finished, Casper doesn’t look toward her 2021 re-election in those terms.
“I’m a long-view person. What we need to do in Idaho Falls (and eastern Idaho) is manage growth in the long, long term” -- not just another four or six years.
City government processes and institutions set up now will, she hopes, go on well after she leaves City Hall, no matter when that is.
“I’m not looking at the opening of a little restaurant” in the city, as nice as that may be, as economic development.
“We need more high paying quality jobs, a way to manage new jobs and provide education on through a career.”
“All of our kids need that kind of a future here.”