Flathead Primaries Taking Shape

Races for county commissioner, sheriff emerge as most crowded leading up to June election

By Tristan Scott

Although this year’s slate of candidates for legislative and county offices won’t be pegged down until the March 12 filing deadlines, the field is beginning to take shape in Flathead County moving toward the June 5 open primary election.

Candidates have filed for all local house and senate districts in the state legislative primary, though so far only one – the contested primary race for Kalispell’s House District 7 between incumbent Republican Frank Garner and Robert Welzel – has any implications in June.

By contrast, the candidates vying for county office seats will face crowded and cutthroat primary races, particularly those in the hunt for county commissioner and sheriff.

The three-way race for the Flathead County Commissioner seat currently held by Republican incumbent Gary Krueger took a turn this week when Kalispell’s Ronalee Skees, who Garner edged out in the 2014 Republican primary for House District 7, filed for the Republican nomination. She joins Jay Scott, the former fair manager and unsuccessful commissioner candidate in 2014, when he lost to Krueger, and Rep. Randy Brodehl, a termed-out Republican who since 2011 has represented House District 9 in Evergreen.

It’s been two weeks since candidates began filing for public office, and so far Krueger has not entered the race for re-election.

Skees is currently a board member of the Flathead City-County Board of Health and Kalispell City Planning and Zoning Commission. She’s also a member of the steering committee for an Age Friendly Flathead, Chair for the Flathead County Republicans and past Congressional Ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Association.

In the race for Flathead County Sheriff, at least three candidates are vying to replace retiring Sheriff Chuck Curry, including his former undersheriff, Jordan White, as well as Calvin Beringer, who also previously worked for the county law enforcement agency.

Brian Heino, a current member of the sheriff’s department, filed once Curry announced his intention to retire at the end of 2018.

The three candidates officially filed to run for sheriff as Republicans.

Republican Keith Stahlberg has also announced plans to run for the county’s top law enforcement office and is expected to file this week.

Curry said he is glad to see a large field of candidates taking shape and is confident the new sheriff will inherit a well-organized and transparent sheriff’s office at the end of the year.

Deputy Flathead County Attorney Travis Ahner filed to run as a Republican to replace Ed Corrigan, who has not filed for re-election.

Other candidates who filed for elected office in Flathead County include William Managhan, Paul Sullivan and Eric Hummel for justice of the peace; Debbie Pierson for clerk and recorder; and Adele Krantz for treasurer.

In the state Senate, Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka, the termed-out representative of House District 2 since 2011, has filed to run for Senate District 1.

Mark Blasdel, R-Kalispell, has filed for re-election to Senate District 4, while Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork, will run again in Senate District 5, where he’ll face a challenge from Democrat Jennifer Allen in the General Election in November.