House District 11: Three Republicans Seek Seat Vacated by Rep. Derek Skees

There are no Democrats running for the House District 11 seat, which will be decided by the primary election June 7

By Mike Kordenbrock
The Montana State Capitol building in Helena. Beacon file photo

Devon Decker, Ronalee Skees, and Tanner Smith are all competing in the House District 11 Republican primary to fill the seat vacated by Rep. Derek Skees.

Decker is a welder who described “election integrity” as the primary reason he is running for office. He said he has been involved with a group called the Montana Election Integrity Project but can’t discuss its findings because he’s under a non-disclosure agreement. Decker said he wants to get rid of electronic voting machines.

Ronalee Skees is a member of the Flathead City-County Board of Health, where she chairs the budget and finance committee. She currently works as a journal clerk for the Montana House of Representatives and is the chair of the Flathead County Republican Central Committee. Skees said her priorities include addressing property tax relief, creating legislative fixes to allow for more local control of recreational marijuana implementation, giving families more control of their child’s education, and “election integrity.” 

Tanner Smith owns Tanner J. Smith Construction and is a trustee for the Somers/Lakeside school board. Smith said the main reason he chose to run for office is because of his frustration over the presence of recreational marijuana dispensaries in his district and his desire to further regulate them. He also identified as legislative priorities the need for better strategies to stop wildfires, better property tax policies that don’t place an unfair burden on the elderly, and a tougher approach to dealing with criminals.

Smith, who owns Tanner J. Smith Construction, said he was driven to run for the legislature due to the presence of dispensaries in his district, including in one case near a school. According to Smith, the legalization of recreational marijuana was not supported by most of the voters in his district. House District 11 voted 3,578 to 3,083 against I-190, the initiative to legalize recreational marijuana. He said he has talked recently with county commissioners about a law that would require 1,000-foot setbacks for dispensaries.

Ronalee Skees pushed back on the efforts of her opponents to lump her and her husband together politically, as both Decker and Smith have used Derek Skees’ voting record against her. Ronalee Skees described her husband as “the energy guy,” and that she sees herself as a community-based solutions person. She said they don’t always agree with each other, either. 

“In my house I’m not only invited to have my own opinion, I’m expected to defend my opinion, and I can do that. And that I think is what makes the Derek and Ronalee Skees marriage one of those that is solid, in who we are, and our respect for each other.”

On the topic of property taxes, Skees said she doesn’t think it addresses government spending to cap property taxes at the 2019 level with small annual increases, and that a deep dive into government spending needs to take place for long-term property tax relief.

On the same issue, Smith said that he approaches it as a compassionate conservative, and that it has sickened him to see instances in which elderly people lose their homes through tax liens. He said he would support a proposal to freeze property taxes if a property has been in a family for 30 years. 

On the topic of abortion, all three candidates said they did not support abortion rights, but that they believed in exceptions if a mother’s life is at risk. Smith added that he’s also open to exceptions in certain instances, like in cases of incest. 

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