Thomson campaign tests GOP dominance of Ada County commission

TJ Thomson
TJ Thomson

Rick Visser thinks TJ Thomson is trying to hide the “D” next to his name.

“During the primary and the general election campaign, I’ve never seen one ad, one sign, one mailer saying that he’s a Democrat,” Visser, the Republican who’s running against Thomson for a seat on the Ada County commission, said Thursday.

He’s being secretive and not being open. And transparency is defined as being open and not secretive.

Rick Visser

“That’s silly,” Thomson said. “I think people will know pretty quick as soon as they go into the voting booth because I’m listed as a Democrat on the ballot.”

Visser said: “Hopefully people will see it there.”

Ada County Board of Commissioners elections haven’t been friendly to Democrats recently. If he wins, Thomson would be the first in 10 years. The last one, Paul Woods, squeaked by his Republican opponent in 2006 in a three-way race that featured Independent Sharon Ullman. Two years later, Ullman ran as a Republican and defeated Woods.

Thomson has been politically active since he was a teenager in Idaho Falls handing out homemade brochures for Michael Dukakis’ presidential bid in 1988. He was instrumental in getting Barack Obama to visit Idaho in 2008.

But Thomson said he’s also worked on Republican campaigns, including that of former Ada County Commissioner Vern Bisterfeldt. Unlike many Democrats, Thomson is an outspoken gun rights advocate. In 2015, from his seat on the Boise City Council, he pushed a change in city law to clarify that carrying guns in parks or for self-defense isn’t a crime. One of his campaign fliers features a picture of him aiming a rifle. Through the flier, Thomson pledges to protect the Second Amendment.

“I don’t view the world through a partisan lens,” he said.

The role of the county commissioner is to manage our county government, maintain services and plan for the future, not hash out partisan battles. I intend to represent all the citizens equally.

TJ Thomson


To the extent it matters, Thomson has built a huge fundraising advantage over Visser.

As of Oct. 23, he had raised more than $150,000 in the race to replace retiring Ada County Commissioner Rick Yzaguirre, according to campaign finance reports.

That’s more than 10 times the $12,000 Visser reported raising for the same race.

Despite the gap in numbers, both candidates say they’ve campaigned in similar ways — a combination of old and new methods. Visser and Thomson said they’re engaging in time-honored practices such as knocking on doors, making calls and deploying volunteers.

“We’re going to go right up to 8 p.m. on election night,” Visser said.

The candidates also are taking some new-school approaches, such as using social media — primarily Facebook — to reach out and communicate with voters.

Both are putting a lot of resources into fliers they mail to homes across the county, but they’re not buying TV, radio or newspaper ads.

“That’s out of our budget,” Visser said.

Thomson said he thinks direct mail and social media are more effective.


Visser and Thomson both cite transparency as reasons voters should get behind them.

Besides his scolding of Thomson’s campaign, Visser said the commission needs to do a better job of involving the public. He wants to use social media, mailers and meetings in parks and other gathering places to talk to constituents about what’s on their minds and things going on in county government.

Thomson wants to create an ethics committee similar to the one the city of Boise established after scandal toppled former Mayor Brent Coles’ administration. He said he’ll use his experience in the private sector to enhance transparency in the county.

“To question me — I’m talking about my opponent — on transparency is baffling because I’ve spent my entire career as an auditor, seeking out fraud, waste and abuse,” he said.

Both candidates say they’ll be careful with spending. Thomson said he’s against tapping into tax increases that previous commissioners passed up, and he’d oppose increases in impact fees charged to real estate developers.

Visser, a retired attorney, said “efficient use of taxpayers’ money” is the way to make sure taxes don’t get out of control.

“We have to look at projects and say, ‘Is it practical or is it extravagant?’ ” he said. “I would go across the board. I’m an average, middle-income Ada County resident and I don’t spend extravagantly. I spend practically.”

Meet the candidates

TJ Thomson (D)

Age: 42

Family: Alisha Thomson, wife; Sena Thomson, daughter

Political experience: Boise City Council since 2010

Campaign website: www.TJ4Ada.com, www.facebook.com/TJ4Ada

Rick Visser (R)

Age: 64

Family: Julie Jensen, wife; Jeremy, Summer and Erika, children; one granddaughter

Political experience: Worked for Idaho Supreme Court for 5 years. Authored a new DNA Access bill that became law

Campaign website: www.voterickvisser.com

About the race

Term: Four years

Salary: $102,364

Ada County is Idaho’s most-populous county. The three-member County Commission is its most powerful governing body.

Population: 434,211

2017 budget: $231.4 million