Four months after the June primary whittled the field down to two, Jerry Bennett and Rhoda Cargill are facing off for an open seat on the Lincoln County Commission.
Bennett has served four terms in the Montana House of Representatives as a Republican. Cargill’s only venture into politics was an unsuccessful run for state Senate six years ago; however, she said she is an active member of the local community.
The Lincoln County Commission is non-partisan. The winner will replace Greg Larson, who represents the Troy area.
Bennett emerged from a field of five in the June primary as the favorite with 39 percent of the vote, while Cargill finished second with 17 percent. Besides serving in Helena, Bennett has been on numerous local boards, including president of the Libby Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the local hospital board. Bennett also previously owned a septic business.
“I have a lot of experience in leadership,” Bennett said.
Bennett said that experience and the relationships he’s built in Helena and locally would be invaluable if he were elected to the commission.
As Bennett looks to the future, he said the economy is the biggest issue in Lincoln County, which often has some of the highest unemployment rates in the state. He said it’s important for the commission to play a role in attracting new business to the area, especially at the county-owned business park in Libby. While Bennett said he supports efforts to use Lincoln County’s natural resources, including timber, copper and silver, it’s important to have a diverse economy.
“We can’t just depend on one industry here,” Bennett said. “We need to reinvent Libby and Lincoln County as a whole.”
While many people have suggested tourism is the key to the area’s future, Bennett said that attracting new visitors couldn’t be the only solution.
If elected, Bennett also said he would work hard to unite all three of Lincoln County’s biggest communities, noting that Libby, Eureka and Troy would be stronger if they worked together.
Cargill has said that the fact she has never held elected office is an advantage because she has the ability to look at issues with a fresh perspective. Despite the fact that she’s never held office, Cargill said she is a close observer of state and local politics, and has made trips to Helena to testify at hearings of local importance.
Cargill has family roots in Montana and moved to Lincoln County in 2003. Like Bennett, Cargill said the local economy is the biggest issue facing the area. She said the commission should do more to attract local business. She was critical of the current commission’s decision to work with a Missoula-based marketing firm to help rebrand Lincoln County because she believes that tourism won’t provide enough stable jobs for the area.
“Tourism should be a small part of the economy, but it can never provide people with living wage jobs,” she said.
Cargill said the biggest advantage she has in the race for county commissioner is that she is willing to learn.
“My first day on the job I’d be listening and talking with others,” she said. “Learning is a never-ending thing.”
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