Chicken Guts

It’s sometimes a good idea to poke around to find political clues

By Dave Skinner

Well, ballots are out for city elections this year. Did you choose wisely yet?

Getting any kind of “read” on council candidates, as in left, right or crazy, can be like picking through chicken guts. Municipal races are officially “nonpartisan,” so, like “nonpartisan” judicial races, this election can present opportunities for some seriously partisan shenanigans.

Therefore, it’s sometimes a good idea to poke around to find political clues, such as campaign finance databases, letters to the editor, past alliances and memberships.

While I used to live in Whitefish, I gratefully escaped into the county some time ago. Fiscal sanity and limited government in the People’s Republic of Aspen North are lost causes, so I’ll defer to Mike Jopek, my partner in punditry here at the Flathead Beacon. He has commented on Whitefish’s council election. Consider his suggestions and act accordingly, please.

In Kalispell, there’s only one contested race: Ward Three, primarily the southern part of “townsite Kalispell” between Woodland and Meridian.

Now running to be elected in his own right, appointee Rod Kuntz was picked by the council in a “top-three” vote to replace retiring Randy Kenyon last year. It so happens Kuntz supported Karlene Osorio-Khor in her 2013 race against Atkinson, but now Osorio-Khor is running against Kuntz – the main bone of contention appears to be parking, or the lack of it, around Flathead High School.

Also in the Ward Three race is Christopher Cunningham, who works at the county library in Kalispell. Unlike most political candidates, Cunningham is open with his political worldview. I’m looking forward to learning how many “market socialists” live in Ward Three, and whether or not former allies Kuntz and Osorio-Khor will cannibalize each other for the “capitalist” vote.

Columbia Falls is actually considering more candidates than available seats – a nice switch from worrying that nobody would step up. Hey, keeping the potholes filled and the plumbing hooked up is boring, boring, boring – and doing a good job of it thankless, thankless, thankless. Sleepy small town politics can get too sleepy.

Overall, Columbia Falls appears to face a choice of “old versus new,” between those who would prefer to “keep it real” in Columbia Falls, and those seeking to “reinvent” the city – kinda like the City Formerly Known as Whitefish.

The traditionalists are represented by long-time incumbent councilor Doug Karper, and Columbia Falls native John Piper, who signed up for the election when it looked like there would be a shortage of bodies. Piper has said he feels it is important to keep traditional industries intact and to maintain affordable housing.

I’m not sure where to place Tyler Lee Furry, who calls himself a Libertarian. From Plains, he’s now a graphic designer and web developer for the Zane Ray Group in Whitefish. He says he wants to “help keep Columbia Falls a cool Montana town where we can still have an industry and service-based economy and people can afford to live here.”

Council incumbent Darin Fisher is a trails manager for the Forest Service, which sent him here in 2009. Originally from Ohio, he operates a fledgling microbrewery with his wife Carla, who can apply her experience managing Montana Coffee Traders, which in turn offers coffee lovers a “progressive” ambiance with their brew.

As for Frederick “Erick” Robbins, he’s been a local real-estate agent since about 2003. While that sends one signal, another comes from an April 2010 group letter to the trustees of Flathead Electric Cooperative. Posted to the Montana Conservation Voters website, the letter came from those “disappointed in the role our cooperative has taken in opposing comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation that would put a cap on carbon.” Notables signing along with Robbins were: Whitefish mayor John Muhlfeld, Citizens for a Better Flathead’s Mayre Flowers, plus environmentalists Dave Hadden and Keith Hammer. Further, Robbins endorsed current Columbia Falls legislator Zac Perry in the 2012 election.

Like I said, trying to figure out who’s running for what, and why, in these down-ballot, off-year elections is like poking around in chicken guts. Aren’t you glad I did it so you won’t have to?

CORRECTION: This column has been corrected to reflect that Rod Kuntz, not Jim Kuntz, was appointed to replace the retiring councilman Randy Kenyon, not Jim Atkinson.