While the June primary in Lincoln County features a gamut of races, the two attracting the most attention are for county commission and sheriff. The top two men in each race will move on to the general election in November.
Unlike other counties, Lincoln County has nonpartisan local elections.
In the District One commissioner race, incumbent Tony Berget faces off against two newcomers, Russell Bache and Mark Peck. Meanwhile, in the sheriff’s race, incumbent Roby Bowe is taking on William Clark and Duane Rhodes.
Berget has served on the commission for six years and before that was mayor of Libby for 11 years. He said his experience and relationships are why he should be reelected as the county’s most tenured commissioner. Berget acknowledges that he has made unpopular decisions, especially regarding budget cuts, but for good reason.
“I don’t want to be the guy at the helm when we go into the red,” he said.
All three candidates for commission say the economy is one of the biggest issues facing the county, which consistently has the highest unemployment in the state. Bache was raised in Libby and retired from the Navy in 1998. He moved back to the area in 2008. He said he would create a task force to look at job creation in the area and said his military experience shows he can lead.
Peck, also a Libby native, was in the Air Force for 20 years and was Flathead County’s Emergency Services Director from 2006 to 2010. Since then he has served as a unit manager for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. Peck said his experience at the DNRC will help him work more effectively with federal agencies.
In the race for sheriff, Bowe has a simple argument for his reelection, “I’ve lived in this county all my life and I already know the ins and outs.”
Bowe has been with the department for 24 years and was elected in 2011.
One of the candidates trying to unseat Bowe works for him. Rhodes has been with the sheriff’s office for 15 years and is currently a detective focusing on sex crimes. Rhodes said he disagrees with how things are run in the department and said Bowe is often distracted by his other job as a backcountry outfitter. Rhodes said an issue that has often cropped up is inadequate prosecutions because the department does not have a close relationship with the county attorney, something he wants to improve.
Rhodes acknowledges that challenging his boss for the same job has split the department.
“If I didn’t feel so strongly about the direction of the department then I wouldn’t put the department through this,” he said. “Everyone needs to pull their own weight and I don’t think it’s happening right now.
Clark is aiming for the sheriff’s office for other reasons. He said the biggest threat to the department is the “federalization” of local law enforcement. Clark is a retired police chief who worked in Washington and California starting in the 1970s. He was also a member of a SWAT team and ran a jail before becoming a port commissioner in eastern Washington in the early 2000s. He purchased land in Lincoln County in 1999 and moved to the area fulltime in 2012. Clark said he would refuse federal funding and look for other ways to support the department.
“I want to turn back the clock to when we were peace officers and stop the federalization of law enforcement,” he said.
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