There are a lot of issues facing Lincoln County, but the biggest is its identity, according to newly elected Commissioner Mike Cole.
Cole beat Steve Curtis to represent District 3, which encompasses the northern part of the county, from the Canadian border south to the Libby Dam. Cole defeated Curtis by just 132 votes. He is replacing Marianne Roose, who has represented the Eureka area for more than 15 years.
Cole owns and operates the Montana Market in downtown Eureka. He’s also chairman of the Lincoln County Fair and is heavily involved with the local rodeo. Cole said his business experience will be helpful in trying to balance budgets at the county level, but the biggest issue is attracting new business to the remote corner of Montana. In recent decades, mining and logging has significantly decreased in the area.
“Our big challenge will be trying to find a new identity, because we’ve lost our identity as an industrial center,” he said. “That’s the million dollar question.”
Cole said he is a big supporter of logging and mining, including the Montanore mine project, so long as steps are taken to protect the environment and water resources. He also said efforts must be made to increase Lincoln County’s tourism economy and extend it from a few short months in the summer to a year-round industry. Cole said his experiencing heading up the county fair and rodeos in Eureka could help steward that expansion.
Although he doesn’t take office until Jan. 1, Cole has been meeting with Lincoln County’s two other commissioners: Tony Berget, who represents the Libby area, and Ron Downey, who covers the Troy area. Berget said Cole’s experience owning a small business would be invaluable as the county faces stiff budget cuts in the coming year.
Berget added that the race to represent District 3 was a win-win for the voters of Lincoln County, because both Cole and Curtis were qualified to take office.
“Lincoln County is really lucky to have such good candidates running for office,” Berget said. “And I mean that.”
Cole said he has always been involved in the community and thought that running for county commission would be another way to help out. He also said having a store in downtown Eureka means he will be accessible to everyone, although he insists that working for the county will be his first priority.
“I think I have a good reputation up here and I’m always talking to people,” he said. “I’m excited about (taking office) and I have a lot of optimism.”
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