The names of three Republicans and one Democrat who want to replace outgoing Flathead County Commissioner Phil Mitchell will appear on primary ballots mailed out this week.
Tony Brockman, Eliot Adams and Brad Abell are facing each other in the Republican primary, while Kristen Larson is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.
The four candidates have varying flagship issues — from housing to economic development — but nearly all of those have taken a backseat to coronavirus, which has upended nearly every facet of daily life. Ahead of the election — all ballots are due back June 2 — each candidate discussed why they wanted to be one of three commissioners and what they could do to help the community recover following the virus.
Brockman was born and raised in Kalispell, and his family owns and operates a local masonry business. He is a Flathead High School and University of Montana graduate and is also a member of the Flathead County Economic Development Authority Board and an Evergreen Rural Fire District trustee.
Brockman said the pandemic is a reminder of the importance of diversifying the Flathead’s economy, noting that it’s problematic to put so many eggs in one basket (in this case, tourism and hospitality, which has been heavily impacted by the virus). Brockman said his time on the economic development authority board promoting the valley for tech and manufacturing jobs gives him relevant experience.
Adams works in construction and owns a number of rental properties. He is also a member of the Flathead County Planning Board. Adams said helping the county recover from the pandemic is only one of the most pressing issues facing the county. Along with the economy, Adams worries about the passage of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes water compact, which he is against, and the need for a new jail in the community.
Adams said his experience on the planning board makes him a strong candidate because he believes the Flathead’s historic growth will continue once the pandemic has passed.
Abell has worked for Plum Creek Timber Company and Weyerhaeuser for nearly 30 years and owns rental units. While there are many issues facing the valley, he said the one that concerns him the most is the area’s lack of affordable housing. He said increasing property taxes or other fees are a burden on homeowners and renters alike, pushing out working-class people.
“I want my children and grandchildren to be able to afford to live in the valley,” he said. “A lot of people are getting pushed out.”
During interviews with the Beacon, all of the candidates were asked what they thought of the current controversy surrounding Dr. Annie Bukacek, a vaccination skeptic on the Flathead City-County Health Board who has recently been critical of the government response to COVID-19. Abell said he “wasn’t a fan” of Bukacek but that she was just one vote on the board. Brockman said it was unfortunate that the controversy surrounding Bukacek has become such a distraction and that community boards should be unified. Adams said as far as he can tell, Bukacek has not done anything that warrants removal from the board.
Larson, the Democratic candidate, said that Bukacek should be removed from the board. “Division will not strengthen us,” she said.
Larson said she grew up in a household with parents from both political parties and that she believes she can find common ground with all people. Larson grew up in Kalispell, lives in Whitefish and owns Glacier Lanes & Casino in Columbia Falls. She said she wants to help the community flourish while also running a tight fiscal ship, which she said she has experience with running a business.
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