Uncommon Ground

Your Time

Columbia Falls, Kalispell and Whitefish need young, fresh locals to run for office

By Mike Jopek

Thursday is Earth Day. Let’s hear it for our planet, what a beauty. There’s no place we’d rather live than here in the Flathead, a place of clean water, open public lands and a great quality of life.

Tomorrow is the first day to file for city council elections, the most important races across our valley and state. Places like Columbia Falls are exploding with growth and face big issues like old infrastructure and little worker housing. 

If anyone in Columbia Falls wants to see the near future, look toward Whitefish, which invested heavily into infrastructure to try to keep up with the demands of a tourism economy.

Columbia Falls, Kalispell and Whitefish need young, fresh locals to run for office and direct the bursting growth, preserve our quality of life, and steer our economy to help workers, and keep the outdoors, small businesses and schools open. 

There’s plenty to be concerned about in Montana. Our Legislature fell off their horse, enjoying a play day in an ideological world, trying to make us politically look like neighboring states while local workers struggle to raise a family, run a business, or pay the bills in a bustling Flathead during the pandemic. 

State Republicans are on the precipice of ending the construction of worker housing in our town. It’s outrageous. Our town worked hard over many years on a local solution that was put together by the business community.

Our valley, our state is shaken by a market explosion in housing that skyrocketed home prices and rent for workers. Towns like Columbia Falls and Kalispell are facing the same worker housing shortage which plagues Whitefish. Local wages can’t compete with out-of-state cash when it comes to buying a home. 

Longtime businesses like Montana Coffee Traders in Kalispell closed indefinitely due to lack of available workers. Helena doesn’t much care, and the state Legislature is obsessed, trying to win a culture war they invented. They seem in it for themselves. Instead of helping out local towns, they’re hurting us by tearing down housing opportunities. 

In Kalispell, Councilor Ryan Hunter is doing a good job listening while keeping the community and his constituents well-informed in our fast-growing valley. Go online to watch some of the community interviews, which Hunter has done with local leaders throughout the pandemic.

Young mom Leanette Kearns is running for the local school board in Whitefish. School elections are in two weeks and conducted via mail-in ballot. It’s exciting to see local people getting involved to help assure our kids and schools prosper. This is democracy in action.

On her public Facebook page Kearns wrote, “I’m running for our school board because, like you, I care deeply about the quality of the education our children receive. I know that excellent schools don’t magically happen. They require hard work, dedicated staff, and strong leadership. As your school board trustee, I will roll up my sleeves, put in the hours, do my homework, and bring my skills, perspective, and experiences to the table in service of our students.”

My friends, our towns and schools will be as great and kind as the people who lead us forward. I believe in you, in our ability to find common solutions to make our towns and schools better for today and the next generation. People hold the keys to our success with how we engage in democracy. This is your time.

The “bat-crap crazy” that was popular a decade ago in Helena has again infected lawmakers. Nonsense won’t make our local communities safer, earn more money for teachers, educate local kids, or afford workers a place to live. The time to organize and vote for local school board and city council races throughout the valley is now. Do your part for your hometowns.

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