Legislative Primaries in the Flathead

Only two local legislative primary races will have consequences in the June 5 primary election

By Tristan Scott
Reps. Mike Cuffe, left, and Frank Garner discuss a bill on the House floor on April 25, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Although this year’s slate of candidates for congressional and county offices have a lot on the line leading up to the June 5 primary election, just two state legislative primary races will have consequences when voters turn out next month.

In House District 7, a contested primary race is underway for Kalispell’s old downtown district between incumbent Republican Rep. Frank Garner and Robert Welzel, a former Marine aviator who now flies civilian cargo jets. Both are on the hunt for the Republican nomination to represent a district that Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock carried by a plurality in 2016.

The winner of the GOP primary will square off against Democrat James Cossitt in November.

Garner, the former Kalispell police chief, is seeking re-election to a third two-year term. He defeated county commission candidate Ronalee Skees in the 2014 GOP primary and was not challenged in 2016.

His two terms in office have been characterized by political pragmatism and working across the aisle to pass tough and sometimes unpopular legislation.

Garner has also been subject to criticism by the conservative sect of the GOP, most recently because he carried a bill that raised the state’s gas tax in order to pay for road improvements and improve safety.

His website, frankgarner.org, highlights his record in public service and leadership, as well as his service in Afghanistan as a police advisor with the Afghan National Police Force.

Welzel’s campaign website, welzelformontana.com, highlights his 26-year Marine Corps career, and advocates for less government and fewer taxes.

In House District 9, which includes Evergreen, Republicans David Dunn and Warren A. Illi are vying for the seat currently held by Randy Brodehl, who can’t run again because of term limits, and who is instead running for a seat on the Flathead County Commission.

The winner of the race for House District 9 will face Democrat Robert Peterson.

Other legislative races to be decided in the general election include:

  • Senate District 4 — Incumbent Republican Mark Blasdel faces a challenge by Democrat Diane Taylor-Mahnke.

  • Senate District 5 — Incumbent Republican Bob Keenan faces Democratic challenger Jennifer Allen.

  • House District 3 — Incumbent Democrat Zac Perry faces Republican Jerry O’Neil in a rematch, joined by Libertarian challenger Shawn Leslie Guymon.

  • House District 4 — Incumbent Republican Matt Regier faces Democratic challenger Kwen Shirley.

  • House District 5 — Incumbent Democrat Dave Fern faces Libertarian challenger Cindy Dyson.

  • House District 6 — Incumbent Republican Carl Glimm faces Democratic challenger Mary Custer.

  • House District 8 — Libertarian Sid Daoud and Republican John Fuller have filed for the seat held by Republican Steve Lavin, who is not seeking re-election.

  • House District 10 — Incumbent Republican Mark Noland faces Libertarian Bill Jones.

  • House District 11 — Incumbent Republican Derek Skees faces a challenge by Democrat JoBeth Blair.