The Flathead Valley’s Leading Independent Journal of Observation, Analysis, & Opinion. © James R. Conner.


23 August 2012

Flathead elections that Democrats could win in November

Voting begins in six weeks. In the Flathead, there are just three — possibly four — local contests that Democrats have a fighting chance of winning: House Districts 3 and 4, Senate District 2 (HD-3 and HD-4), and if you like long shots, the Whitefish centered county commissioner district. After Labor Day, I’ll look at each district more closely. Meanwhile, some snapshots of each race:

House District 3, Columbia Falls and the North Fork. Democrat Zac Perry, a local sports standout and educator/businessman is taking a second run at GOP incumbent Jerry O’Neil, a veteran Flathead legislator with libertarian leanings. O’Neil’s record makes him vulnerable, but Perry needs to run a much more aggressive, focused campaign than he did in 2010. Libertarian Shawn Guymon could draw votes from O'Neil.

Advantage: O’Neil, but not by much.

House District 4, Whitefish and adjacent neighborhoods. Incumbent GOP Derek Skees is running for state auditor, so this is an open seat in a district that voted solidly for Democrat Mike Jopek in three straight elections beginning in 2004. Tim Baldwin, a young attorney and newcomer to the Flathead, is the Republican nominee. He faces Democrat Ed Lieser, a well established Whitefish resident and retired U.S. Forest Service careerist who defeated Tom Muri in the primary. Baldwin and Lieser are intelligent, well educated men who sharply differ on public policy and political philosophy.

Advantage: Lieser, but not by much.

Senate District 2 (comprises HD-3 and HD-4). GOP incumbent Ryan Zinke, a shoo-in for re-election had he sought it, opted to run for Lt. Governor as Neil Livingstone’s running mate. They lost. Erstwhile Republican legislator (HD-3) and tea party sympathizer Dee Brown is running against Democrat David Fern, a long time school board member and one of the most serious men in Whitefish. Brown is better known, and the district leans Republican.

Advantage: Brown.

County Commissioner District 1, Whitefish. After Jim Dupont’s death, Republican Cal Scott was appointed interim county commissioner. He won the GOP nomination, receiving a bit more than one out of five votes in an eight-man primary. He’s running against Democrat Gil Jordan, a last minute sacrificial candidate who had no legitimate expectation of winning when he filed. Jordan lost the Democratic primary for SD-2 to Brittany MacLean in 2008 despite being the party leadership’s choice.

In late May, however, the Daily InterLake revealed that three candidates for county commissioner — Scott and the eventual nominees for commissioner district two (Kalispell), Republican Gary Krueger and Democrat Clara L. Mears-LaChappelle — had experienced personal bankruptcies. Krueger’s was a 20-year-old medical bankruptcy, but Scott’s was more recent and he had concealed it from his party (out of shame, I suspect). Jordan intends to make Scott’s financial woes an issue of character. Scott needs to provide voters with a reason to forgive his sins; but are more Republican than Democratic voters in Flathead County, so Scott loses only if he commits a series of major league blunders and comes across as a dangerous fool.

Advantage: Scott.

One district, in my opinion, has moved from a tossup to leaning strongly Republican. House District 8, old Kalispell’s downtown and neighborhoods, was a swing district over the years, with some elections close enough to merit recounts. In 2008, Democrat Cheryl Steenson ousted GOP incumbent Craig Witte (who spent $1,500+ on campaign candy) in a recounted election. She chose to teach English in South America rather than run again. Republican Steve Lavin handily carried HD-8 in the 2010 Democratic debacle, running a smart campaign, going door-to-door with his young daughter. A political natural, he faces Democrat Brittany MacLean in November. She’s on the ballot so that Democrats can vote for a Democrat, but in the absence of a scandal or a Todd Akin magnitude blunder by Lavin, she doesn’t have an ice cube’s chance in a blast furnace.

Democrats have no reasonable expectation of winning any of the other legislative or commissioner districts in the Flathead. Democrats, all well qualified men and women, are on the ballot in these districts, but the demographics of the districts, all suburban-rural, favor Republicans. In these deep red environs, even a GOP candidate caught taking indecent liberties with schoolgirls in the schoolyard at high noon probably would still prevail at the ballot box.