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How to Survive an Election Year, Part II

Many of you are worried about how to make it in northwest Montana, where housing prices are skyrocketing yet wages don’t sufficiently cover the cost of living

By Maggie Doherty

Last week you turned in ballots for local school and emergency services levies and voted on individuals to serve on public school boards and this week you’ll find another ballot in your mailbox. Don’t worry, you haven’t turned into Bill Murray’s character from the ‘90s film “Groundhog Day.” With no disrespect to the legendary comedian, it’s just primary election season. I’ll bet Murray is an active voter, just like you.

Montana’s primary election day is less than a month away and the general election, which includes the presidential race if you haven’t (somehow) heard, is five months away. Across the Flathead Valley candidate signs are sprouting in yards alongside the tulips and daffodils. Campaign messages are filtering their way through any form of media you consume, even via text message. It may have already felt like an exhausting election year and we’re about halfway through. Many of you have had to make difficult decisions about levies, which increase your property tax rate after the state’s supermajority Republican Party failed to adjust for the tax hikes. Many of you are worried about how to make it in northwest Montana, where housing prices are skyrocketing yet wages don’t sufficiently cover the cost of living.

So, it’s understandable that you’re already fed up with all the campaign and vague ballot language. Locally, we’re embroiled in cultural politics that’s shifting the blame off the government to provide services to help educate our students, treat our most vulnerable, and create affordable housing measures alongside maintaining roads and providing emergency services commensurate to the population it supports. Instead of helping our communities by shoring up funds to support the schools or to ensure that local fire and ambulance departments are well staffed, our state Legislature has shucked the burden of responsibility and are pointing fingers at local non-profit groups who are stepping in to help with a myriad of crises that plague our valley.

Last week, many of you attended the Kalispell City Council meeting to talk about the homelessness crisis and the impact the low-barrier shelter has on our community. Across the Flathead an ugly perfect storm of a lack of access to affordable housing and critical mental health and substance abuse services has contributed to the rise of individuals who are unhoused and in desperate need of shelter, medical treatment, and stability. The Flathead Warming Shelter saw the stark need and has stepped in. There are many service-based organizations run by your friends and neighbors across this generous valley. These groups are comprised of citizens who donate their time and money to help feed, clothe, educate, and treat those who have fallen on hard times. So many of these people have lost their Medicaid coverage thanks to a debacle at the state level. America is one of the wealthiest nations on the planet and yet we have little to no structure to provide basic needs to our citizens. All too often we see elected leaders point fingers instead of funding parks and plows and they are too quick to spread hateful rhetoric.

Exhausting, isn’t it? Yet we must come to the polls once again in early June to have a say in who will govern us and determine those who will do the hard work of governance or who simply occupies the space to spout off lies. We deserve adequate funding for emergency services and schools, and the ability to have our most vulnerable on Medicaid. The spell of Groundhog Day doesn’t end until Murray’s character takes a different tack. Our elected officials should know we’re coming with a different approach because, right now, the situation isn’t working.