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Four competing in tight race for Bonneville County Commissioner, District 3

Four candidates are all in for the Republican primary election for Bonneville County Commissioner, District 3 — Barrett Hillier (top-left) Michelle Mallard (top-right), Debra Haacke (lower-left) and Alan Steel (lower-right).
IDAHO FALLS — The race for Bonneville County Commissioner, District 3 includes four candidates vying to fill Byron Reed’s position. Reed is retiring after two terms as county commissioner. Alan Steel, Debra Haacke, Michelle Mallard and Barrett Hillier are competing to fill his seat.
The race is for a four-year term. All the candidates are Republican. sent the same eight questions to each county candidate. Their responses, listed below, were required to be 250 words or less. is publishing the answers in their entirety, and without any grammatical or style editing.
The primary election is May 21.
Tell us about yourself — include information about your family, career, education, volunteer work and any prior experience in public office.
Steel: This will be my first effort seeking election for public office.
I’m a lifelong resident of the great state of Idaho, except for two years when I served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I attended college in Rexburg to pursue a degree in Business. I’m married to Becky, my sweetheart of 31 years. Together we have three lovely daughters that have each since married, bringing our total to six awesome kids. I am the proud Papa of four grandkids. Being a husband, father, and now grandfather has been the most meaningful part of my life.
I have been a businessman for nearly three decades. After my mission, I saw a need in the area for a lawn mower repair shop and decided to open my own. That is how my first business, PRO Power, began. After running that for a few years, I decided to go into something else I am passionate about and opened Steel Gun and Pawn. I sold PRO Power in 2015 and still currently operate Steel Gun and Pawn.
I was a scoutmaster for Boy Scouts of America for nearly a decade, as well as a leader with the youth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for nearly two decades. I have supported various clubs and organizations, such as Pheasant Forever, Safari Club, Ducks Unlimited, Snake River BMX, Skyline High School, the Bonneville County 4-H program, among others, by providing funds and/or volunteer work.
Mallard: I was born and raised in Bonneville County; my great-grandparents homesteaded just down the road from where I now live. I graduated from Skyline High School and so did my children. I started working in my dad’s auto parts store at the age of 13 and haven’t stopped working since. After we got married, my husband joined the U.S. Army. We were stationed in Colorado and West Germany before returning home. While overseas, I volunteered with the Red Cross. I stayed home raising my three children until they went to school. I then went back to school to finish my undergraduate degree and obtain my law degree at University of Idaho. During this time, I also volunteered at schools and church.
I started my career in public service as a Bonneville County prosecutor, specializing in child sex abuse and domestic violence cases. I was then hired by Tom Moss, the US Attorney for Idaho appointed by George W. Bush, to be a federal prosecutor. I prosecuted child pornography/child sex trafficking cases and criminals who were deported and came back to the United States. I recently “retired” as a Bonneville County Magistrate Judge. Currently, in addition to my full-time job practicing law, I am a member of Rotary, Eagle Rock Inns of Court, and Idaho Women Lawyers; a supporter of the Idaho Falls Symphony, hold a volunteer leadership position in my church, and visit my six grandchildren in Texas and Louisiana as often as possible.
Hillier: I am a lifelong resident of Bonneville County, where my family has deep roots dating back to 1881. They were pioneers in the region, instrumental in building its first roads and canals, and have continued to farm the land for generations. I proudly represent the third generation of my family in law enforcement, serving Idaho Falls and Bonneville County alongside my grandfather and father since the 1950s. In addition to my 20 years in law enforcement, I have also been an entrepreneur, operating a construction business and owning and managing rental properties. I am a dedicated father to four children, all raised here in the community we call home.
Haacke: I am the mother of 5 ambitious, talented children with the last one graduating from SHS this May. Football fields, volleyball gyms, soccer fields, tennis courts and music festivals are places that have occupied my time over the years. My roots run deep in Idaho with my mom being raised up north in Sandpoint and my dad being raised on a dairy farm down south in Franklin. After they married, they raised 6 children on a dairy farm just over the boarder in Cache Valley, Utah. After serving a church mission in Hong Kong, I married my husband, Paul. We graduated from BYU and moved our young family to Shanghai, China. We lived there for several years and then moved to Idaho Falls, in the Osgood area, 17 years ago.
I have my Social Work Degree and have worked with families across eastern Idaho, training and teaching parents on how to problem solve so they are able to reunify their families. I have worked elections, served in the school districts, and worked potato harvest. We are owners of Riverside Ventures that buys, sells, and manages properties. I have served as the PTO president at Westside Elementary and have donated many hours to service in my church organization. Currently, I serve as an elected official on the Bonneville County Library District Board. I have been a trustee for about 5 years. I was a big part of the opening of the Ammon Library branch, the Westside branch and in sustaining the branches in Swan Valley and Iona.
Recently, I have been “job shadowing” our commissioners. I have loved what I’ve learned and am ready for the full-time responsibilities that come with this elected position.
Why are you seeking political office? Briefly explain your political platform.
Mallard: I love Bonneville County and our home here. I want to maintain the traditional Idaho values of community, fiscal conservatism and responsible growth. Our current county commissioners have done a good job of keeping taxes low and staying within budget while accomplishing positive things like creating a new 4H complex to support our kids, families and agricultural roots. It is going to be an increasingly complex problem to maintain their fiscal conservatism while providing the infrastructure needed for our extraordinary growth. I have been successfully managing complex problems for many years.
I also plan to collaborate with other area government leaders. Planning for and managing the extraordinary growth of our community requires every government body and leader working together to maximize our resources and come up with creative solutions to the problems of growth for all of the communities within Bonneville County.
Public safety is also a concern for citizens. I have been a collaborator with law enforcement for my entire legal career. I understand their needs and concerns. As a judge, I worked with Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office in creating an innovative program for the jail that worked with many stakeholders to save costs and protect citizens. I would continue supporting our Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office and providing the resources they need to address the crime that is increasing along with our population.
Hillier: I am running for county commissioner because I have a lifelong commitment to service—through my church, the Boy Scouts of America, and two decades in law enforcement serving Bonneville County. My extensive experience as a business owner and in public safety has equipped me with the necessary skills to manage county budgets effectively, collaborate with planning and zoning departments, and oversee land and residential development projects. My goal is to ensure our community remains a safe and thriving place for families to grow.
Haacke: I need to be in a position where I have a say on protecting our FREEDOMS. I am passionate about protecting our freedom of speech without being censored. I believe that limited and local government is the best so I will be prepared to make decisions based off of what is best for us as Bonneville County residents. I will always fight for our 2nd amendment rights and am a holder of an enhanced concealed weapons permit. I believe in our rights to protect ourselves and our families. I’ll keep our property taxes low, protect personal property rights, and protect religious liberties. I fought for the removal of mandates and in getting our children back into the classrooms. I believe elected officials work for the people and will honor citizens impute and suggestions. I am an advocate for keeping our community FAMILY Friendly. I will do this by managing growth and by monitoring how it impacts our schools, emergency responders, law enforcement work load, infrastructure, and safety. Another key component is to be a good steward of tax dollars. I will understand the needs of each department and help allocate funds where needed to keep our community a safe place to live and raise families. I model FAITH in God and have a love for our country! I believe our founding fathers were inspired and guided as they drafted the Declaration of Independence, fought the Revolutionary war, and adopted the Constitution of the United States. I will rely on this same power that inspires and guides people in leadership of this great country to make the right decisions for their constituents.
Steel: I’m running for this office because, after nearly three decades of owning my own retail businesses, I feel it is time for me to give back to the community that has supported me through these endeavors. In running these businesses, I have gained numerous skills that I feel uniquely qualify me for the position of Bonneville County Commissioner.
Such skills are my ability to communicate effectively with my clients and team members. I have learned how to problem solve, and have developed a good listening ear. Therefore, I know I can and will work well with my fellow Bonneville County Commissioners as well as city officials and staff to effectively find solutions that best benefit our community. Financial awareness, especially in budgeting, has been a critical skill I have gained during my time owning multiple small businesses. I have had to maintain the finances of both businesses and make decisions with long term goals in mind, because every dollar truly matters.
My political platform is focused on aiding in the management of our roads and infrastructure to align with the growth we are experiencing, support our law enforcement officers and other first responders that serve our community, and support the agricultural community as well as the 4-H program as my predecessors have.
What areas in your county need immediate improvement? What actions will you take to address those needs?
Hillier: As one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, Bonneville County urgently needs to address its infrastructure to match our community’s growth while adhering to fiscal conservative principles. I will champion the enhancement of roads and essential services through responsible spending and efficient management of resources. Our law enforcement is also at a critical juncture, struggling with the demands of our expanding community. I plan to address these challenges by advocating for smarter budgeting and cost-effective strategies to recruit and retain qualified police officers, ensuring our community remains safe without burdening taxpayers.
Haacke: As you all know, Idaho has been discovered! We need to proactively manage that growth. I will work closely with the planning and zoning department for the county as well as each city planning and zoning department to best determine the infrastructure needs before allowing zoning changes and/or high-density housing. Another issues I’ll keep an eye on is the fact that I don’t want the county to be put in a situation where we could lose great county employees to other employment opportunities because of hourly pay. It costs lots of money to train individuals so we will be better off paying a competitive wage and keeping them with us. According to a letter dated Aug, 31, 2023 sent out to Bonneville taxpayers, there was a “5% cost-of-living increase as well as funding for eligible step increases for Bonneville County employees.” I will monitor needs here and make necessary proposals as needed.
Steel: There are several areas requiring urgent attention. We must tackle the challenges posed by our community’s rapid growth by enhancing infrastructure to accommodate it. Traffic congestion and road conditions are sources of understandable frustration as well. I firmly believe that change extends beyond the confines of the office. I am committed to personally inspecting the roads facing issues by driving them myself to gain firsthand insight into what actions are needed to address the issues effectively. I eagerly anticipate the chance to meet with those esteemed professionals that are heavily involved in this area of development and management to discuss their ideas and express my own as well.
Another pressing matter is the support for our law enforcement. There are many reasons to increase support for our law enforcement officers and, truly, all first responders. One specific example is the rise in crime our area has seen. This alone reinforces the necessity for increased support for our officers. Collaborating with city officials and fellow commissioners, my aim is to address these issues collectively, confident that through teamwork, viable solutions can be found.
Mallard: Roads and law enforcement have immediate needs in the county. Because the county has maximum reserves for operating expenses, they are able to meet the current needs of Road and Bridge with a $20,000,000 appropriation for FY2023 from cash reserves. The county was able to commit $2,000,000 to law enforcement, much of that directly for the benefit of employees. I would continue the current practice of rotating cash reserves to the areas that have the highest priority needs. That will shift on a year-to-year basis as each area has their needs met and other needs arise. These important, shifting and competing needs are why it is important to have someone in office with experience in how county government is run and how to make difficult decisions with limited resources.
By meeting with and listening to all county elected officials and department heads, the areas with the highest priority needs can be determined on a year-by-year basis. Constituent input is also important and valued in deciding where taxpayer funds are allocated. Having been a county employee and elected official for two decades, I already have a thorough understanding of the needs of law enforcement and courts. I look forward with pleasure to expanding my already fundamental knowledge of the other county departments such as Elections, Road and Bridge, Parks and Recreation and Waterways.
What are the greatest long-term challenges facing people in your county? What is your plan to meet those challenges?
Haacke: As I’ve listened to Bonneville residents share their thoughts about this question, the main issue that is brought up is our growth. Our growth needs to be proactively managed. The impact of all different areas, as mentioned above, needs to be considered. We’ll need a short-term and long-term growth plan for our county and revisit and update this plan semi-annually so that all departments and elected officials are on the same page.
Steel: Again, growth is a main concern for our area. We need to address the infrastructure needs of our area to accommodate that expansion. I believe that, through working together as county commissioners, city officials, and industry experts, we can devise plans to enhance traffic flow and address necessary road repairs.
We hear the word “growth” thrown around a lot, especially during times of elections. While there are challenges accompanying increased demand on our community due to expansion, I also feel it is important to recognize the benefit growth brings. New individuals enrich our area, bringing with them new businesses, culinary delights, and lasting friendships, just to name a few. Navigating the growth in our region necessitates a balanced approach: welcoming newcomers while ensuring we prioritize the well-being of long-standing residents, like myself, whose roots span generations in this county.
Mallard: As everyone in the area knows, exploding growth in the last decade has changed the face of our home. There is no evidence that this growth is going to disappear. We have to manage it while protecting private property rights and preserving the traditional values that define us.
My plan to manage growth is to build relationships with other government leaders in our area such as those in Idaho Falls, Ammon, Ucon, Iona, sewer districts, Idaho Transportation Department, Bingham County, Jefferson County and other stakeholders. Those relationships can help us as we constantly evaluate, and if necessary, update planning and zoning regulations and areas of impact. This is a dynamic growth situation where nimble planning and solutions are going to be required. I already have relationships with many of those leaders because of my many years of public service as a Bonneville County elected official. I look forward to meeting and working with many more people committed to creating the infrastructure that is invisible to many but important to all of us.
Hillier: The greatest long-term challenge in Bonneville County is our rapid growth. To address this, I will collaborate closely with fellow county commissioners and local governments to ensure that we are not only solving today’s issues but also anticipating the challenges of the next decade. My goal is to implement proactive measures that guide our expansion in a way that minimizes future costs to taxpayers. By planning wisely now, we can avoid expensive solutions later, ensuring sustainable development that benefits our entire community.
How will you best represent the views of your constituents – even those with differing political views? How will you communicate directly with constituents?
Steel: My first priority will be to attentively listen to the ideas and concerns of our community members, consistently striving to assist them in every possible manner. Serving the people in our community is my primary goal. I firmly believe that we all share common aspirations for our county: strength in community, sustainable development, and safety.
Although I recognize that not everyone may agree with my stance on certain matters, I firmly believe in the value of constructive dialogue to explore diverse perspectives and ideas. As an elected representative, I understand that the community has entrusted me with their voices, and I am committed to ensuring that those voices are heard. I am dedicated to serving the people in our community, and as such, I will make myself readily accessible to address any concerns or ideas that constituents may wish to discuss. It is my duty to be responsive and attentive to the needs and aspirations of those I represent.
Mallard: The position of county commissioner requires you to balance many competing needs. To do that, you must listen to everyone who has a stake in the community to understand what their needs are. Politics should have very little to do with building infrastructure, responsible growth, and keeping communities safe. I also believe that listening to others who don’t think the same way you do is the best way to find creative, collaborative solutions to problems.
I have spent the last decade and thousands of hours listening carefully to the people who appeared in my courtroom. Then I had to make the hard decisions that were required. In making these hard decisions, I was seldom appealed. When I was appealed, my decisions were affirmed. I was accountable to the voters of Bonneville County in three different elections where I received a greater than 80% approval vote. I know how to listen to constituents and make the difficult decisions. You can’t always make everybody happy, but you can explain your decisions and make sure everyone is heard.
We are fortunate to still live in a small community. I would maintain an open-door policy and be very pleased to hear input from citizens, our most valuable source of information.
Hillier: As your elected representative, I am committed to serving all constituents, respecting a wide range of views. My office will maintain an open door policy, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to communicate with me directly. I pledge to regularly update the community on key issues and our progress in addressing them. Transparency is vital—I will make it a priority to keep the public well-informed and involved in the decision-making process. This open communication will help us build a stronger, more unified community.
Haacke I believe in healthy civil dialog with those who see things differently. I will highly encourage people to reach out and visit face to face. I will have an open-door policy were anyone is able to visit in the county commissioner’s office. I want it to be a place where people can come and sit in on public meetings and feel comfortable voicing their opinions. Having a back-and-forth conversation about difficult subjects or issues usually brings about the best solutions. There is usually more than one right way to accomplish tasks at hand so I would want different opinions shared. Please explore and see what information is missing from this site that you would like to see included. I have found this to be a very informative and transparent site. This in another avenue I will use to communicate with constituents.
What parts of the county budget could use more funding? Where are places in the budget where cuts could be made?
Mallard: County commissioners have recently reinvigorated the process of appropriating cash reserves at the end of each fiscal year. What this means is that any departments or offices that are frugal in their spending and come in under budget for the year can take their turn in accessing cash reserves for priority needs that can’t be met in their annual budgets. With the participation of elected officials and department heads, needs can be identified and prioritized and tax dollars maximized. The “use it or lose it” mindset has been replaced by incentives to save where possible because your department can benefit from those savings. With this process, departments choose their own cuts and manage their spending in order to “save up” cash reserves that can then be deployed for chosen projects.
Again, law enforcement and infrastructure are current priorities not just in the cash reserves but in the annual budget as well. In recent years, some ground has been made up in funding for law enforcement and infrastructure. But there is still room for improvement in funding these areas.
Hillier: The sheriff’s office urgently requires increased funding to offer competitive wages. We are currently investing significant resources in training officers who then leave for better-paying positions at agencies like the Idaho Falls Police. This turnover is not only costly but also undermines our ability to maintain a strong law enforcement presence. To address this, we need to reallocate funds within our budget to improve officer salaries, thereby retaining talent and stopping the financial drain caused by high turnover rates. This strategic investment saves money in the long run and ensures our community’s safety.
Haacke: I am currently familiarizing myself with these numbers. The current commissioners are very good about meeting regularly with department heads to get updates on projects, talk about issues, and ask if they are staying inside of their submitted budgets. There are road projects, fair projects, emergency preparedness ideas that I’ve observed being talked about. A dollar amount is researched for these projects so all are aware of the cost. We are in a healthy financial state as a county because of smart planning and I will continue down this same path.
Steel: After reflecting on the budget, I am impressed by the effective management exhibited by our current county commissioners. I would like to take the time once in office to review and study the budget more in depth in order to provide input on where cuts could be made. I know that my extensive experience as a business owner will provide me with unique input about where we can allocate funds even more efficiently. I do believe that there should be an increase in the budget to provide for more deputies on our roads who can help keep our county safe.
What is the role of local media in your community? How can county officials work to have a better relationship with the media?
Hillier: Local media, including East Idaho News, Local News 8, and the Post Register, play a critical role in informing our community. These outlets have been instrumental in building trust by delivering reliable and timely information to Bonneville County residents. As county officials, it is essential that we maintain an open and transparent relationship with these media organizations. By ensuring they have access to the latest updates and facilitating open lines of communication, we can support their mission to educate and inform the public. This collaboration not only enhances transparency but also strengthens community engagement and trust.
Haacke: I’ll govern with integrity and be transparent with decisions I make and nothing will need to be hidden from public view. So, with that being said, I welcome local media and encourage wise, honest, and unbiased reporting. Reporting the facts, researching important issues that impact our local citizens and sharing the commissioners’ opinions about these issues is very important.
Steel: I firmly believe that local media plays a vital role across several critical domains. It plays a pivotal role in keeping residents informed about local events, developments, and issues directly affecting their lives. This is achieved through holding government officials accountable for their decisions and actions; sharing residents’ perspectives, concerns, and achievements; and educating the public on a range of public policies and resources. In doing so, local media empowers residents to make informed decisions, contributing to the vibrancy and engagement of our community.
To promote a better relationship with the media, transparency and accessibility need to be prioritized. This can be achieved through providing the media with information in a timely manner and being willing to meet with them in order to conduct interviews.
Mallard: Local media keeps people accountable for their actions. Their spotlight can throw needed attention on both the positive and negative actions of local officials. It is also an important source of information for citizens to access to inform themselves about their local governments. I love East Idaho News and their online format and I have been reading the Post Register since I was 8 years old. Local news coverage may well be why I’ve always been involved in public service.
As an elected official, I never turned down an ask from a reporter for an interview. I think it is important to have positive trusting relationships between media and local officials. I know personally many of the local reporters and have found them all to be fair and trustworthy in their coverage of local news. I have worked with local media for many years. We are still a small town. As an elected official I would have an open-door policy for both citizens and members of the media.
Voter turnout and participation continues to be low in Idaho. What efforts can be made to stimulate greater voter involvement in elections and government?
Haacke: I asked our county clerk this question and her answer was brilliant…she said “…it’s more important to have educated voters…” so, I feel the question should be, what efforts can be made to educate our population about candidates running for offices? It is said that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”! This means we need to keep a careful watch out for those we elect. We need to make sure those we choose will govern by listening to “We the people”. We need to study the constitution and elect those who will make decisions based on those constitutional vales set forth in that divinely inspired work. I am guilty of being complacent and trusting in our elected officials to do the right thing. I was nudged pretty good 4 years ago when I witnessed our freedoms being taken from us. I was a busy mom and now that our youngest is off to college, its my turn now to be involved in an elected position and govern with that same power that inspired our forefathers.
A couple of other ideas would be to use the internet to get to know candidates (voter apps with messages from candidates) having more town hall meeting with introductions and open forums for questions. Also making election days a holiday or ½ work day could be beneficial.
Steel: I am an advocate for increased community awareness regarding electoral processes. This can be achieved through expanded advertising efforts, implemented earlier to ensure ample time for circulation of materials and information. Traditional advertising methods may not reach everyone, so diversifying approaches such as radio advertisements, signage, mailers, and other accessible channels is crucial to success. By enhancing awareness, we can encourage greater voter engagement in elections and governance. I firmly believe that individuals are eager to exercise their right to vote, yet may occasionally lack information on when and where they can participate.
Mallard: Efforts to restrict the vote to ever smaller groups of Idahoans must be countered. Caucuses mean my son serving in the military could not vote in the presidential primary. Why should those sacrificing the most for our freedoms be prevented from exercising their right to vote? Abraham Lincoln said, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” That means all the people, not just the few that agree exactly with all your positions. Community blossoms when we listen to and try to understand each other.
Barriers to registration and party affiliation are meant to prevent ever more people from voting. Go out and exercise your precious right to vote. Every voice and every vote matters. Attend local planning and zoning meetings. Drop in on county commission or city council meetings. Ask around about the candidates; we are still a small town, someone you know probably knows at least one of the candidates. Make an appointment to talk to a public official. Talk to them when you see them, they are public servants and are obliged to listen to your concerns. Stay informed through your local media. Know that your community is what you make it and go out and participate. There is room for all.
Hillier: Voter turnout is vital, especially when elections in Idaho can hinge on just a few votes. To encourage greater involvement, it’s crucial we help voters understand the importance of each ballot cast. We need to actively educate and engage with them, ensuring they are familiar with the candidates and issues. Additionally, reinforcing trust in our local election processes is essential. We will continue to support the county’s excellent efforts to maintain secure and transparent elections, affirming that voting is not only safe but fundamental. By promoting these values, we can inspire more residents to participate actively in shaping their government.
The post Four competing in tight race for Bonneville County Commissioner, District 3 appeared first on East Idaho News.

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