Five Republicans and One Democrat File for County Commission

By Beacon Staff

EDITOR’S NOTE: The interviews for this article were conducted before Jim Dupont passed away on March 19.

The 2012 election season is ramping up, and the District 3 seat on the Flathead County Commission is up for grabs without an incumbent running for reelection. And now that the March 12 filing deadline has come and gone, the race for one of the most influential county positions is taking shape.

The Flathead County Commission is a three-member board that serves as the legislative and administrative arms of the county’s government. Each commissioner serves a six-year term, and each term is staggered so there is only one seat up for election at a time.

With Clara Mears-LaChapelle as the only Democrat to file for the District 3 seat, the primary election, which takes place on June 5, will be a GOP showdown featuring five candidates vying for the position.

It’s a relatively high number of candidates this time around, Commissioner Jim Dupont noted. The 2010 election, which Commissioner Pam Holmquist won, had three Republican candidates and one Democrat, by comparison.

“I think it’s a good thing; it gives people more choices of who to vote for,” Dupont said. “People should have a variety of folks to pick from.”

Commissioner Dale Lauman, a Republican, currently holds the District 3 seat, but decided not to seek reelection. The five Republicans looking to replace Lauman are Bob Herron, Terry Kramer, Gary Krueger, Mike Schlegel and Gerald “Jay” Scott.

Holmquist, who began her term on Jan. 1, 2011, said the number of candidates does not surprise her, since the race does not include an incumbent. But there’s also more political energy in the air, she said, since this year features so many major elections.

“They’re always interesting,” Holmquist said. “I am just glad that I’m not running again for a few more years.”

A couple of the candidates have called Holmquist to seek advice on how to mitigate the taxing nature of campaigns, she said, but she, like Dupont, will not officially endorse before the GOP primary.

According to the Flathead County Election Department, all of the candidates for the District 3 seat come from Kalispell. Most of the Republicans own or run their own businesses, including Herron, who has owned Bob Herron Insurance in Kalispell since 1976.

Kramer started Kramer Enterprises, a commercial and residential builder and development company, in 2003. Krueger, who has served on several county boards, owns and operates a business in the farming, construction and trucking industries.

Schlegel filed as a candidate on March 6, and is the president of Schlegel and Sons Contractors, Inc. And Scott worked as the Flathead County Fairgrounds manager for 12 years.

With the primary election in June, the Republican candidates will likely take part in several public forums during their campaigns, according to Flathead County Republican Party Chairwoman Sandy Welch.

Her organization will not endorse a specific candidate for the primaries, Welch said. Instead, hosting forums will allow the public to get to know the contenders.

“As Republicans, we believe that our candidates should be putting forth their views so that the voters have a choice of who is going to represent them and the best candidate will win the primary,” Welch said last week.

Welch was also not surprised by the number of GOP candidates for the commission seat. She said the Republican Party is “very energized” right now and optimistic about how the public receives its message.

The Glacier Country Pachyderm Club will hear from the Republican county commission candidates on March 23, according to club President Mark Johnson. The public is invited to attend the speeches, which will begin at noon at the Red Lion Hotel in Kalispell and end at 1 p.m.

With filing closed and the campaign season about to kick into high gear, Dupont said he hopes whoever ends up filling Lauman’s seat is in it because they want to make a positive difference in the valley, and he is confident in the voters to choose well.

“I love the way the system works,” he said. “I like to see people interested and know they are running because they want to make a change. I may not agree with everything they say, but that’s the American way.”