Boise City Councilman TJ Thomson had recently turned in the paperwork necessary to embark on the next chapter of his political career when he sat down to talk about his big decision.
"Yes, I've just filed to officially run for Ada County Commissioner," said Thomson, a two-term city councilman. Before talking about his campaign priorities, he explained the No. 1 reason for seeking the county seat—and it's personal
"I've thought about running for county commissioner for some time," Thomson said. "I have a very forgiving wife, Alisha, and we are still new parents, but at the end of the day, they're why I'm in the race. Our child came from nothing but gave us everything."
Thomson beamed as he talked about his daughter, Sena, born in Ethiopia. After waiting three years for an international adoption, Thomson and his wife were finally able to bring Sena home to Idaho in 2015. In keeping with the theme of change, Thomson will now compete to become an Ada County Commissioner.
Councilman, I must admit that I wouldn't have been surprised to see your political future at the Idaho Statehouse or continuing at Boise City Hall, but your announcement to run for county commissioner caught more than a few people off guard.
I'm passionate about local government and I want to be where the rubber meets the road. I've been a part of significant change for the city of Boise: a decrease in crime rates, low unemployment, an environment where businesses can thrive and protection of the environment.
Have you agreed or disagreed with most of the recent decisions of Ada County commissioners?
I think the current commission has the best interests of citizens in mind. I hold them in high esteem. That said, I would say I don't agree with everything they've done.
What might you do differently?
No. 1, the county has a unique tool to help businesses thrive: property tax relief for new or expanding businesses. But as it stands now, most businesses have to knock on the door of county and ask how they can take advantage of that. Simplot or Micron may know how to jump through those hoops, but smaller companies don't.
Are you saying Ada County does not have an economic revitalization plan that specifically uses the tool of property tax relief?
That's right. Our cities are working hard, but they need a partner and Ada County can be the center of that economic hub. My next issue concerns the importance of local control, and the best example of that is the Ada County Courthouse.
And the county has been tangled in legal battles for years with a number of cities that haven't paid for Ada County court services.
It's time to get out of those legal battles.
To be clear, are you saying cities shouldn't have to pay for court services?
That's correct. Cities are already paying for the court services through Ada County taxes and should not be charged a second time through city taxes. In effect, the county is asking some citizens to pay more in taxes than others, for the same service. This is unfair and is costly to taxpayers. The county is already collecting taxes for these services, but is singling out certain cities to pay more. Even worse, some cities may choose to break from the county, as a result, and spend millions to build their own courthouse. I want to unify the court system and get us out of the legal battles costing taxpayers.
Doesn't Ada County need that revenue stream?
Right now, it's a cash cow. Right now, the city of Boise is the only one paying for those court services—they're paying more than $1 million per year.
That's real money. Once again, are you saying Ada County doesn't need that revenue?
I'm saying that the courthouse was never intended to be a cash cow for Ada County. I don't believe the county is relying on that money. Plus, there's a lot of potential in finding taxpayer savings and reducing costs.
Tell us where we can shrink country government.
Animal control, planning and zoning, standardizing fire and building codes, energy audits. We should be looking for a number of savings opportunities.
You've been able to run as an incumbent in the city of Boise with a good amount of success. Are you prepared to press the reset button of your political career?
I believe that if we look at the issues I'm fighting for, citizens will look beyond party politics. I think the post of county commissioner is unique for my skill sets, interests and passion.