At the stroke of 10 a.m., the political season in the Flathead officially kicked off this morning, with candidates for several elected offices climbing the stairs of the old county building to file.
Former Flathead County Sheriff Jim Dupont filed to run as a Republican for county commissioner. He will be challenging Gary Hall, a first-term Republican, whose term expires at the end of 2008. Dupont, who served as sheriff for 16 years and deputy sheriff and coroner for 19 years, said that after managing a budget within the county, he would like to see the commission rearrange some of its budget priorities and focus mainly on public safety, health and roads.
“Sometimes I don’t see these being addressed as they should be,” Dupont said. If the county can’t devote sufficient funding to those issues he added, “we shouldn’t be funding much after that.” Mentioning over-trafficked roads like Reserve Drive and Whitefish Stage Road, Dupont said the county must devote more attention to road improvements before approving large developments.
Scott Reichner of Bigfork filed for state House District 9 as a Republican. Reichner, a father of eight and the owner of Flathead Mortgage Inc., said he is excited at the opportunity to serve in government. “I believe in conservative values, morally and fiscally,” he added. The current officeholder, Republican Bill Jones, has decided not to run for re-election and is considering running for the state senate as an independent in the future.
Keith Regier of Kalispell filed for state House District 5 as a Republican. The current officeholder, Republican George Everett has said he will not run for re-election. “Government needs to help people be self-sufficient, not be the sufficiency,” Regier, who owns a sod company, said. “The Flathead needs a voice in Helena and I’d like to be that voice.”
Later in the day, Flathead Valley Community College adjunct professor Cheryl Steenson announced she would run as a Democrat for House District 8, challenging Republican incumbent Craig Witte. “Partisan politics are affecting everyone,” Steenson said in a news release. “The people of Kalispell deserve a candidate that will work tirelessly for the benefit of both public education systems and for low-income families and seniors. Sometimes this means compromise.”
Witte was at the county building this morning filing for re-election. The owner of the Perkins restaurant in Kalispell, Witte said he was undeterred by the bitter partisanship of the 2007 Legislature, and didn’t miss a chance to lambaste Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer for hiring several Democratic state lawmakers for state jobs. “The Legislature is the oversight for all those state departments,” Witte said. “When they’re employed by that department, it tends to be similar to the fox guarding the henhouse.” As long as that practice continues, he added, he anticipates the political tone in Helena to remain contentious.
Candidates have until March 20 to file for elected office, so there will be many more aspiring elected officials throwing their hat into the ring in coming weeks. For now, most candidates said they are going to wait a few weeks and assess the competition before determining what kind of campaign to run.
Buckle your seatbelts, it’s going to be a wild year.
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