Uncommon Ground

Local Stability

The few places left where people still matter in policymaking and where politicians listen to locals are city councils

By Mike Jopek

Dave Wanzenried was chosen by Democrats during caucuses to be the next Speaker of the Montana House. Butte Democrat Jim Keane and the Montana Republicans had alternate plans in early 2005, electing Gary Matthews from Miles City to lead the divided chamber.

Far-right Republicans encouraged by moderate Keane created a coalition government in the state House which produced many good policies for the people of Montana. Republicans in the U.S. House seemingly insist that any bipartisan approach to governing is undemocratic.

For over three weeks the U.S. House shut down as Republicans like Matt Rosendale and Ryan Zinke argued on who should lead the chamber. The quarreling duo showed little interest in governing, favoring a loud, do-nothing House.

I served in two of Montana’s three evenly split state Houses where each party managed equal numbers of members in the chamber. An astounding amount of good policy developed during those cooperative years as members worked together for the betterment of the people living back in our hometowns. Politicians choosing a do-it-alone approach, no matter how loud or cruel the rhetoric, didn’t fare well.

Montanans don’t see cooperation from today’s U.S. House where Republicans hold a small majority, or from the state House where Republicans rule with a supermajority grip. Those glory days of cooperation and bipartisanship live in memories.

The few places left where people still matter in policymaking and where politicians listen to locals are city councils. Kalispell Councilor Ryan Hunter has consistently advocated for things that matter to people, downtown businesses, and community. Hunter advances practical progress like pedestrian friendly development where locals can live, and responsible city budgets that support first responders.

Hunter helped reduce Kalispell property taxes even as lawmakers increased the state portion by historic amounts. It’s unsettling that supermajority Republicans who run the state Legislature chose to dramaticaly increase home taxes even as Montana enjoyed historic budget surpluses.

Whitefish Councilors Frank Sweeney and Steve Qunell advocate for a livable community where locals can raise families, work a decent job, and enjoy the great outdoors that envelopes our small mountain town.

Both Sweeney and Qunell are frugal stewards of public dollars, use the local trails, ski the hill, and frequent downtown merchants. They’ve work hard to keep our town a place to live, listening to locals and small business owners, assuring room for old-timers and newcomers.

Mail ballots arrived. If you want a local government which is attentive to the needs of citizens on a multitude of issues like streets, sidewalks, trails, parks or housing then there are no better leaders than Ryan Hunter of Kalispell, and Frank Sweeney and Steve Qunell of Whitefish. These three long-term locals have a proven leadership style which listens to people who live in our towns.

Neither Kalispell nor Whitefish needs the ugly infighting or political intransigence that overran the state and national Houses of politics to permeate into local governing. Trust in people with proven track records of working together. Townspeople deserve leaders who listen, don’t bicker much, and get stuff done. Leadership matters.

Only way to stop the madness that has overtaken our political Houses is to vote. Sure, I get it, there’s plenty to holler about, way too much chaos and hurt. Yet fanatics repeatedly yelling about single issues don’t have time to listen. If townsfolks want livable cities where locals get along and treat fellow citizens with respect, then reelect some proven leaders.

It’s no accident that places like Whitefish and Kalispell are towns where people want to live. It’s taken decades of dedication by good local people to assure that our towns remain livable, our neighborhoods strong, and our public lands open. Past votes, much like next week’s election, offer locals success and stability in a chaotic world.

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