Bennett, Cargill to Face Off in Fall Commission Race

Political newcomer and former representative vie for seat in Lincoln County

By Justin Franz

Jerry Bennett and Rhoda Cargill emerged from a field of five candidates on June 7 and will now face off in the fall for the chance to represent Troy and the surrounding area on the Lincoln County Commission.

Bennett scored 39 percent of the vote and Cargill garnered 17 percent of the vote, beating former Commissioner Lawrence Dolezal by just 12 votes. Libby City Manager Jim Hammons had 15 percent of the vote and former Troy Mayor Anthony Brown got 10 percent.

Lincoln County’s commission is non-partisan so the primary determines the top two candidates who will run in the fall.

Bennett and Cargill are vying to fill the seat being vacated by current Commissioner Greg Larson, who announced earlier this year that he would not seek a second term. Larson was appointed to the commission in 2014 after his predecessor, Ron Downey, stepped aside for health reasons.

Prior to running for the commission, Bennett served in the Montana House of Representatives for eight years. During the campaign he said the connections he made in Helena would be a valuable resource for Lincoln County in the future.

Cargill has never held elected office and her only foray into politics before was an unsuccessful run for state Senate six years ago. Despite losing that race, Cargill said she remains an engaged citizen who frequently attends public meetings around the county. The morning after the primary, she said she was ready to bring a new perspective to the commission. Her top priority would be making government more efficient while maintaining services and not raising taxes.

Bennett has said he wants to help spur economic growth in the county and rebuild infrastructure. He said one of his priorities as commissioner would be to help the county attract new businesses to the area that, in turn, would result in increased tax revenues.

The winner of the general election will join Mark Peck and Mike Cole on the three-person commission.

Whoever wins will help guide Lincoln County through a critical period in the community’s history. This year, the Environmental Protection Agency is entering the final stages of its decade-long Superfund cleanup of Libby and the surrounding area that was contaminated from decades of asbestos mining. The county is also looking toward a future where the timber is no longer the area’s predominate industry. The decline of logging has had an impact on how much money the county receives from the federal government via the Secure Rural Schools program.

Many in the county are split about what would lead to a more prosperous future. Some say the county should double down on its efforts to force the federal government to change environmental rules that hamper the natural resource extraction industry. Others say the county should change course and bank on its natural beauty to attract visitors. Whoever wins a seat on the county commission this fall will have an outsized role in determining what direction the county takes.