Reality Check

Crowded Primaries Create Winners Out of Would-Be Losers

If the far right is paying attention, they will wise up and ensure all races in the next primary election are two-candidate contests

By Tammi Fisher

The primary election of 2022 was fascinating. By passing glance, the “winners” and “losers” seem obvious. But judging the primary election results without researching the data provides a false impression. For example, in the Flathead County Commission race, while Pam Holmquist crawled across the finish line, she garnered a mere one-third of the vote. The calculations indicate that only 2,000-2,400 Democrat-affiliated voters “crossed over” in the primary to vote a Republican ballot, so this primary was still a very strong Republican-engaged primary. The vast majority of primary voters sought to replace Holmquist with another candidate. It appears her win is attributable only to the fact that three other candidates crowded the race. Had the race been between just two candidates, Holmquist likely would not have prevailed. 

Likewise, in the race for the House District that encompasses Evergreen, David August was the turd in Constance Neuman’s proverbial punchbowl. Both August and Neumann are further right of Tony Brockman, and it was due to a crowded race that Brockman crossed the finish line. Brockman should enjoy his two years in the Legislature, because if the far right is paying attention, they will wise up and ensure all races in the next election are two-candidate races.

Derek Skees narrowly lost his attempt to obtain a Public Service Commission seat to a political newcomer, but long-time activist, Annie Bukacek. Bukacek represents the far right as well, with longstanding statewide support from the Montana Pro-Life Network and the Liberty Coalition. As pleased as many of us are that Skees lost, the success of Bukacek represent a lunge further to the right. And, of course, it also represents that once again, a candidate with zero relevant experience for the job is likely to obtain a seat on the Public Service Commission. 

The races without a surprise result were those where the candidates had significant community involvement and were embraced by the community. Courtenay Sprunger was strongly endorsed by longtime public servant and current office holder, Frank Garner. Tanner Smith roller skated across the finish line, handily beating perpetual candidate Ronalee Skees. Her resounding loss makes it clear that the Flathead County Republican Central Committee – of which she is chair – has zero credibility and relevance in local elections.

The data indicates that Flathead County – save for Whitefish and a couple areas of Kalispell – is veering further right. Without a strong Democratic Party with loads of money and a strong message, the primary results will carry through the general election. And with respect to the most impactful position in the county, we are going to be governed by a commissioner who two-thirds of Flathead County Republicans rejected at the polls. 

Tammi Fisher is an attorney, former mayor of Kalispell and host of Montana Values Podcast.

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