Like I Was Saying

Loaded Primaries

While incumbents must face off with members of their own party from time to time, drawing three opponents is unusual

By Kellyn Brown

The deadline for filing to run for office has come and gone and, skimming through the list of candidates, there is one obvious trend that stands out this year: contested primaries. Specifically, contested Republican primaries for county, legislative and regional races.

Even a few incumbents are facing challengers with the most high-profile being the race for county commissioner, one of the most powerful positions in the Flathead. Incumbent GOP County Commissioner Pam Holmquist is facing not one, but three challengers from her own party to retain the seat. No Democrat filed for the position. 

While incumbents must face off with members of their own party from time to time, drawing three opponents is unusual. We’ll learn more about what differentiates the challengers Jack Fallon, Brian M. Friess and Jason J. Parce from Holmquist as we get closer to the June primary. 

Elsewhere in the Flathead, incumbent conservative Rep. Braxton Mitchell, of Columbia Falls, is being challenged in his House District 3 primary by Lorena Wood of Kalispell. The winner will face Democrat Andrea Getts in November. 

The races for open legislative seats are also loaded with Republicans. Senate District 4, Senate District 5, House District 5 and House District 7 have each drawn two GOP candidates. House District 9 and House District 11 have each drawn three. And there is a four-way Republican primary in House District 8.

A handful of these legislative races failed to field a Democratic candidate in districts where they would face extremely long odds. Thus, the winner of many of these primaries will determine who we send to Helena or who will serve on the three-person Flathead County Commission. Along with budgeting and guiding the area’s growth, the latter body unilaterally determines who serves on various boards, such as the health board and public library board, which have made plenty of headlines over the last few years. 

The number of Republican candidates running should be encouraging to the party. It is also evidence of the widely varying views among members in a county that the party has long dominated. 

Perhaps no other race has attracted a more diverse slate of GOP candidates than those vying for the No. 5 seat on Montana’s five-member Public Service Commission. The regional seat has attracted three Flathead County residents, including Rep. Derek Skees, of Kalispell; Dr. Ann Bukacek, who previously served on the Flathead City-County Board of Health; and Dean Crabb, of Marion. The PSC, which regulates the state’s investor-owned utility companies, has dealt with several scandals in recent years that involved everything from leaked emails to falsified documents and now faces a multi-million-dollar lawsuit. 

Both Skees and Bukacek are well known among the Flathead’s right flank for their outspoken views. Skees referred to Montana’s constitution as a “socialist rag” because judges have determined its right-to-privacy provision protects abortion rights in the state. Bukacek, meanwhile, has opposed both COVID-19 vaccinations and restrictions while serving on the health board and has criticized other members of the board, which includes Ronalee Skees, Derek’s wife.

For her part, Ronalee Skees is also running for office in House District 11, a seat Derek previously held. And, even though she is the current chair of the Flathead County Republicans, two fellow party members are challenging her in the primary.  

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