Come January, Park County commissioner Tim French will be out of politics – for a time.
The longest serving commissioner in Park County history, French said he wants to take some time to enjoy life with his family on his ranch outside of Powell rather than run for a record-sixth term.
But after 18 years in the county seat, French said he’s already thinking about 2020 and Cheyenne.
Hank Coe, who also has a storied Park County political tenure representing State Senate District 18 since 1989, has announced he’s retiring when his term ends in 2020, and French said he’s ready for the next rung up the political ladder.
“I’ve had people over the last few years asking me to run for the legislature,” French said. “If the people elected me it would be a new challenge – but I’m a quick learner,” he added.
French was in a reflective, rather than a predictive mood however when he spoke with the Enterprise Tuesday.
In his very first meeting as a commissioner in 2000, French recalled being asked how he would vote on an issue and freezing “like a deer in the headlights.”
He wasn’t ready, and he called the moment a “wake up call.”
“You’re involved with some major things and you’ve got to make some decisions on major issues here, and you darn-well better be prepared,” he said he learned from that encounter.
French said he did his homework from that day on.
The farmer soon realized the job was never ending – and he liked it that way.
He described numerous five-minute shopping trips that turned into hours-long listening sessions with his constituents. “Everybody that sees me [in the store] goes ‘Oh, Tim, you got a minute? I’ve got to talk to you about this or that,’” French said. “That’s my responsibility, so I’d sit there [in the store] until people stop coming through the door.”
The responsibilities trailed him outside of commercial establishments, as well.
“If I’m on the tractor I’m thinking about some county issue that’s coming up. If I’m driving down the road I think ‘the edge of this road is starting to crumble – I need to get with [the] road and bridge [department],” French said.
As a commissioner, he summed up, “You’re always eyeballing stuff you’re responsible for.”
Among his proudest accomplishments, French said, were the formation of the county’s IT department, the construction of the new Cody Library, and the County Annex grounds nearby, which he called “Central Park West.”
At times, the frustrations of office made him think, “Gosh, I’ve got to get back to the farm.”
But more often he said he found service and the loyalty of his supporters a reward and a source of pride.
“Now that I’ve decided I’m not running again I think there will be a lot of people jumping in [the race] – which is good,” he said.
So far, incumbent Joe Tilden, Lloyd Thiel, Pat Stuart and Dossie Overfield have declared their candidacies. Like every other commissioner and elected county official, they are all Republicans.
French said he never gives endorsements, but he hopes the next commissioner will have an agricultural background, and he had some advice.
“If you’re going to run you better be devoted to representing everybody,” French said. “You’re a county commissioner all waking hours.”