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By Beacon Staff

This June 5, casting an informed vote (the only vote you should make, dang it) will be hard work.

Here in the Flathead, 14 Republicans are vying for two open Commissioner seats. Statewide are numerous contested GOP legislative primaries, and piled on top are seven Republican governor candidates to pick through.

Democrats will be not-so-busy picking their favorite of seven candidates for the U.S. House race.

Then there’s the four other statewide races, plus the Public Service Commission.

Trickiest of all, as usual, will be picking the “nonpartisan” Montana Supreme Court candidates. Heard of any? Can you name any right now? Do you have any idea what judicial philosophy they might bring to the Court? Then you better clip and save:

Until last Thursday, there were five candidates for two seats, with the top two in each race advancing to November: For Justice seat No. 5, there’s Elizabeth Best, Laurie McKinnon and Ed Sheehy.

Elizabeth Best of Cascade began lawyering for the Army, later entering private practice in Montana with her husband, Michael Best. Along with Mr. Best, Mrs. Best has routinely made political contributions, all to Democrats. Lately, she has made three separate $250 contributions to progressive U.S. House candidate Franke Wilmer (D).

Donors with known politics include Montana Conservation Voters, Franke Wilmer (see above), and Jim Jensen of the Montana Environmental Information Center.

Best of all, Best was one of six attorneys who prepared a global-warming lawsuit (Barhaugh et al v State) brought by “parents,” unanimously rejected by the current Supreme Court.

Laurie McKinnon of Choteau is a sitting district judge, the one who ruled the company wanting to build the Montana-Alberta Tie Line (MATL) powerline had no right to condemn private property. The Legislature then had to change the law.

McKinnon has no history of political contributions, state or federal, nor has she posted any fundraising results so far. However, the leftist Montana Cowgirl blog was up in arms recently over a McKinnon fundraising letter signed by Nels Swandal, a conservative district judge from Wilsall who lost his 2010 race for the Supreme Court.

Ed (Edmund F.) Sheehy is a nephew of former 13-year Montana justice John C. Sheehy. He’s worked “primarily as a trial lawyer,” according to the Sidney Herald, and is now a public defender in the major crimes unit for the state of Montana. Sheehy often makes small political donations to state and federal candidates, all Democrats with one Republican exception, plus “nonpartisan” Supreme Court candidates including current Justices Brian Morris, Patricia Cotter, Beth Baker and Mike McGrath.

Ed and John Sheehy are both featured in YouTube videos posted by “mtabco,” the Montana Abolition Coalition, testifying against Montana’s death penalty. When defending Tyler Miller, who shot and killed Jaimi Hurlbert and Alyssa Burkett two Christmases ago, Sheehy argued Montana’s death penalty statutes are unconstitutional.

In the Justice No. 6 race, Hertha L. Lund withdrew against incumbent Brian Morris, ending what might have been an interesting contest. With no “political” history, Lund is nonetheless best-known for representing the property rights of farmer landowners against eminent domain claims, specifically those of MATL in Judge Laurie McKinnon’s court.

Incumbent Justice Brian Morris therefore seems assured of eight more years. A football star and graduate of Stanford Law, Morris clerked for conservative William Rehnquist of the U.S. Supreme Court. In Montana, he was appointed state solicitor by then-Attorney General Mike McGrath (D, now Montana Chief Justice), and was endorsed by Montana Conservation Voters in his first Supremes race (2004).

Morris has made no political contributions I could find. His current contributors are, as is usual for judicial races, mostly Montana lawyers with business before the courts, including several members of the well-known, staunchly-Democratic Blewett family of Great Falls.

Why am I telling you all this? Because under Montana Code Annotated 13-14-212, if the incumbent is the only candidate in the general election, voters still must decide if he or she should “be retained in office for another term.” So, you’ll still have a decision to make.

Whether you are liberal, conservative, or independent, I hope these tidbits help you decide wisely.

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