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Elections

House District 8: South Kalispell’s Four-way Republican Primary

A former one-term legislator takes on three political newcomers in a crowded race for an open seat that mirrors statewide trends in the GOP

By Tristan Scott
A voter drops their ballot into a collection box at The Flathead County Elections Department on Oct. 22, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Because Republicans have held a solid majority in the Montana Legislature for more than a decade, and because Flathead County is tinged a deep shade of red, GOP primaries play an outsized role here in determining how next year’s legislative session plays out.

But even though crowded primaries are nothing new here, they have risen to new heights this midterm election cycle as 31 out of the 100 House races and 26 Senate races statewide feature two or more Republicans competing in the June 7 primary, eight of which are in the Flathead — yet none more crowded than the four-way primary for House District 8.

At stake in House District 8, the legislative district spanning south Kalispell, is an open seat that Rep. John Fuller is vacating to run for the state Senate. Prior to Fuller’s two terms in the House during the 2019 and 2021 legislative sessions the seat was held by Republican Rep. Steve Lavin for four terms beginning in 2011. It’s a Republican stronghold, so it’s not surprising there are no Democrats running for the district, although Libertarian Sid Daoud’s candidacy means there will be a runoff in the general election.

Voters casting ballots in the June primary for HD 8, therefore, must decide which Republican candidate best fits their preference for political representation in the state House.

The Republican candidates for HD 8 are: Terry Falk, a longtime real estate loan professional in Kalispell, where he’s lived for 42 years; Mark Twichel, who works as a CDL truck driving instructor at Flathead Valley Community College and for Harlow Bus Services; David Dunn, a former one-term representative in House District 9 who served in the 2019 Montana Legislature and owns and operates a small organic farm in Kalispell; and Lynne Ogden-Rider, a sixth grade math teacher at Kalispell Middle School and the district 1 chair of the Montana Federation of Public Employees.

Looking ahead to the 2023 legislative session, Falk, 60, said he’d gear his priorities toward making “government effective and efficient in order to keep voters’ and citizens’ tax burden minimized.”

“Government overspending of our tax revenue that we send to them needs to stop,” Falk said. “I firmly believe we can meet all of our commitments to our citizens and make government more efficient at the same time. This has been my track record in my professional career as well.”

Falk said he’d also push for a stronger emphasis on teaching “financial literacy” in public schools as a core subject, starting as early as fourth grade.

“The vast majority of our children graduate high school without an understanding of micro and macroeconomics and while they might be prepared for the academic rigors of college they’re not prepared for the financial rigors of basic and future decision making,” according to Falk. “How to use debt correctly, whether to buy a home in the future or be a renter, how to get ahead, how to change their economic future if interested, and how helping the world and their neighbor does not need to be mutually exclusive from financial success.”

The unprecedented pace of growth in the Flathead Valley also figured prominently into Falk’s campaign platform, including the strain of “ever-increasing property taxes.”

“We in the Flathead have been discovered. I understand why people would like to move to the Flathead but the challenges with the traffic, restaurant lines, overflowing parks, but most of all the ever-increasing property tax. We must tackle this issue at the state level as well as the county level.”

Twichel, 55, has dedicated himself to volunteer civic service through the years, including serving on the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce and as a School District 5 trustee, but this marks his first time running for the Legislature. He said he’s visited more than 2,700 homes and spoken with residents throughout the district, where citizens’ concerns center on protecting the rights of unborn children and guarding their Second Amendment rights, both of which Twichel said he’d uphold. 

He’s also heard from numerous families struggling with housing security and childcare, which he said he believes could be alleviated “by reducing government regulations on contractors and childcare facilities.”

“If elected, I will work tirelessly to ensure the priorities of HD 8 constituents
are heard in Helena and in addition to the priorities outlined, I will work to uphold the Montana values that make Kalispell a great place to live. This includes keeping government small, limiting regulation, and protecting our God-given rights and constitutional freedoms. I believe this also means advocating for a conservative balanced budget,” he said.

Dunn, 34, said his working knowledge of the legislative process gives him an advantage, and pointed to his conservative voting record and preference for the “blunt truth as opposed to wishy-washy political correctness” as two assets. He identified rampant inflation as fueling the frustrations of constituents, the roots of which he traces back to the government’s coronavirus response in 2020, which he said “did real damage to our economy, specifically small businesses.”

After speaking with voters about their frustration over property taxes, Dunn said he would work on an income tax credit for taxpayers “that eases our collective property tax burden.”

“Montana state revenues from income taxes were at a surplus last I heard, while our county is under increasing pressures and needs. We need to work on ways to keep our state government lean while sending more funds back to our county government,” Dunn said. 

Ogden-Rider said she lived in Kalispell’s Northridge neighborhood, in the heart of House District 8, for over 20 years and it is “near and dear to my heart.” Constituents in her district have identified inflation and financial insecurity as their top concerns, which Ogden-Rider said she’d work to address by focusing on expanding small business and trade opportunities in the Flathead Valley.

“We need to open trade and create marketplaces for competition to bring down prices in Montana,” according to Ogden-Rider. “A start is opening our oil pipelines and keeping the drilling and production of oil and gas operations regulated by Montana. Federal intervention has failed throughout history.”

Primary election ballots were mailed to voters on the absentee list on May 13 and must be received by election officials by the time the polls close at 8 p.m. on Election Day June 7.

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