Controversy embroils Rexburg City Council forum

All 9 city council candidates, gathered on stage at the Romance theater on Oct. 26. Photo credit: Abby Jorgensen

Rexburg has seen a sudden controversy surrounding an Oct. 23 city council candidate forum.

The Madison County Republican Women’s Club sponsored a forum for the upcoming city council elections, modeled after the popular game show “Jeopardy!”

Nine candidates were invited, and eight committed to attend. However, on the day of the event, six of those candidates — Greg Blacker, Robert Chambers, Colin Erickson, Crystal Hill, Mikel Walker and Brad Wolfe — withdrew from the event for reasons explained in a press release by Hill and republished by East Idaho News.

The essence of the candidates’ collective statement was concern over an organization — the newly formed “76 Project” that announced it would be co-sponsoring the event after the candidates agreed to attend.

According to the press release, the six candidates “would feel more comfortable to attend the Chamber of Commerce’s non-biased venue for a candidate debate and forum.”

“It was a collective decision,” said Wolfe, an incumbent and candidate for the Rexburg City Council. “Everything may have been fine, but we just felt like collectively, this was something that had an opportunity to not end well.”

Hill served as the spokesperson for the group in the press release. She said she felt some responsibility to alert her fellow candidates and the public about what she described as rumors of “radical extremists.”

“We have a group of unnamed, extremist radicals (in Rexburg), if you will, that are conservative to a point that it’s a little uncomfortable, and I myself am concerned,” Hill said.

Hill was particularly concerned about previous public events, such as the visit to Rexburg by Gov. Brad Little.

“Our concern at the beginning was we have this group of radicals and extremists,” Hill said. “Are they going to come and heckle as they’ve done in the past — with the governor, with our city council? Are they going to threaten? And again, is this the same group?”

Hill also expressed concern that The 76 Project’s candidate forum might be tilted to favor one particular candidate.

“They’re trying to get this particular candidate to come in and create a venue to make him look good, and the rest of us look bad,” Hill said.

Hill and the five other candidates did attend the Chamber of Commerce’s City Council Night on Oct. 26.

City Council candidates Jacob Flamm and Kelly McKamey attended both forums.

The 76 Project

According to its website, The 76 Project is a newly founded group. The first public event it was formally involved in was the Constitution Day Dinner on Sept. 17. Daniel Brigman, founder of The 76 Project, announced the group’s formation as part of his speech on the importance of the Bill of Rights.

The organization’s official website states: “The 76 Project is not a Red group, it‘s not a Blue group … it‘s a RED, WHITE and BLUE organization dedicated to uniting our great communities around the Constitution and moral principles of our Nation’s founding.

Brigman published an article on The 76 Project’s website on Oct. 26 addressing the controversy, titled: “Clearing up Misconceptions from the Candidate Forum, a Message from our Founder.”

It reads, in part: “I will not apologize for any bias or unseemly conduct because there was none. If The 76 Project or myself offended any of the candidates, I sincerely apologize and extend an olive branch to them. If there is something about myself or The 76 Project which makes you uneasy, please let me know. Open communication will only make us better.”

Hill did acknowledge that many of her actions in response to the Oct. 23 candidate forum were speculative.

“Hopefully, my hunch is correct,” Hill concluded. “But if what I’m saying is not true, it has the potential and the power to destroy in negative ways that should not happen. While I want this story to be (published), I want people to dig into it, not just take my word for it, not take anybody else’s word for it. I want people to do their due diligence and dig themselves.”

Brigman also invited Rexburg citizens to look into the matter for themselves and make their own determination about the event and the groups and people behind it.

“The 76 Project is not looking for controversy but a discussion of ideas, a union of common goals and a better place for us all to live,” Brigman wrote in the same article. “We will post the video of the forum in the next couple days and you can better judge for yourselves how it was organized. Our goal was to help the community get to know the candidates through an open discussion. As you watch the video, I think you’ll see we accomplished our goal.”

To learn more about the City Council elections and the candidates who are running, check out these links:

Rexburg City Council Candidate Roundup

Get to know the Rexburg City Council candidates

City of Rexburg 2021 Election Information