New Commissioners Ready to Work

By Beacon Staff

With the elections over and the campaigning at an end, it’s now time for the Flathead’s new county commissioners to get to work. And that’s what Cal Scott and Gary Krueger are intent on doing, they said, after a day or two of rest.

Flathead County voters overwhelmingly elected the two Republican candidates during last week’s general election. Krueger cruised to victory over Democratic candidate Clara Mears-LaChappelle in the race for the commission’s District 3, 27,436 votes to 12,763, or nearly 68 percent of the vote.

Scott defeated Democratic challenger Gil Jordan for the District 1 seat, but the race was closer than the District 3 contest, with Scott taking 55 percent of the ballots with 21,827 votes compared to Jordan’s 17,481.

The Flathead County Commission is typically a GOP-dominated board; all three sitting commissioners are Republicans. Commissioner Dale Lauman, who is the current District 3 seat-holder, has the most experience on the board but did not seek reelection this year.

Lauman’s seat was the only one scheduled for reelection, since the commissioners work on a rotational election cycle, with a different chair up for vote every two years. But the District 1 seat opened up unexpectedly in March, after then-Commissioner Jim Dupont passed away.

Scott was eventually selected as the interim commissioner in April. But even with those extra months of experience, the commission will have fewer than four years of combined experience in January, with Pam Holmquist – elected in 2010 – holding seniority.

It’s an aspect of the board’s makeup that Krueger is keeping an eye on.

“I’ve got to make sure that I’m ready because we do have a board with not a lot of years of experience,” Krueger said last week.

Krueger ran his campaign on the basis of bolstering Flathead’s appeal to businesses through modifying the county’s regulations and economic policies. Two days after the election results declared him the winner, Krueger said he’s hoping to have enough work done in this area that the commission can vote on something by June.

“If we’re going to be business friendly we’ve got to speed up,” Krueger said.

The June deadline would ideally make the county more business-friendly in time for the building and construction season, Krueger said.

In the meantime, Krueger said he plans on studying the county’s budget situation, because he would like to be prepared for possible funding changes handed down by the federal and state governments next year.

He said he’s glad the election is over and is thankful for everyone who came out to vote. There should be some adjustments made to voter registration, Krueger added, because voters shouldn’t have to stand in line for hours to cast a ballot.

But even if the campaign was long and tiring, Krueger said he enjoyed it, and wanted to thank his contributors.

“I’m really happy today that I can look back today and say I ran a clean campaign,” Krueger said.

For Scott, the win on Nov. 7 means he can be more focused on the role he’s been in since April.

“Now I can continue to do the job I was appointed for without politics and election distraction,” Scott said.

He characterized the campaign for the District 1 seat as “nasty,” and said he tried to do his job as the interim commissioner to the best of his ability and let the voters decide if they liked his work.

Scott said he intends to stick to his financial philosophy that if an item does not offer a financial, health or safety return on its investment, it should be removed from the county budget.

“If it’s not economical I can’t advocate it,” Scott said.

And with the 2013 Montana Legislature beginning in January, Scott said he also has the commission’s relative lack of experience in mind, and has already been planning for the legislative session.

Scott said the county should have a strong presence in Helena, not only in front of lawmakers, but in front of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation as well. If there’s a Flathead County interest, Scott said he plans on making sure it’s well-represented.

“I’m definitely going to be very active,” Scott said.

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