A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

24 January 2018 — 0905 mst

Flathead filings: GOP county commissioner primary now a 3-way race

Filings chart

County commissioner. Ronalee Skees, who lost to Frank Garner in the 2014 House District 7 Republican Primary, has filed for the Flathead County Commission seat now occupied by Republican Gary Krueger. She joins Jay Scott, the former fair manager who lost the nomination to Krueger in 2014, and termed out Rep. Randy Brodehl (R-Evergreen), once a Kalispell fire chief. Skees, the youngest of the three candidates, is married to Rep. Derek Skees, who represents HD-11.


Cal Beringer, Brian Henio, and Jordan White, have filed for the Republican nomination for Flathead County Sheriff. Beringer and White, former members of the sheriff’s department, filed on 11 January. Henio, still a member of the department, filed after incumbent sheriff Chuck Curry announced his retirement. Keith Stahlberg, also a member of the department, filed a C-1 for the position last summer, and has a fully developed website for his candidacy, but has yet to file.

The candidates’ websites suggest the major campaign issues will be who will buy the most radios, who will build the biggest jail, and who will make the most arrests for drug offenses.

Beringer and Stahlberg completed courses and programs in law enforcement following their graduation from high school. White was home-schooled G4–12, and has attended law enforcement schools. Heino has not yet released his biography. A frustrating search of the Montana Constitution and Montana Codes Annotated revealed a statutory requirement that deputy sheriffs must have a high school education and graduate from the Montana law enforcement academy, but I could not find a minimum requirement for sheriff.

By contrast, Kalispell, on the hunt for a new chief of police, wants:

  1. Graduation from a college or university with an Bachelor’s degree in police science, law enforcement, criminal justice, public administration or a closely related field;

  2. Seven (7) years of experience in police work, five (5) years of which must have been equivalent to police sergeant or higher;

  3. Completion of the basic law enforcement training academy or equivalent, or;

  4. Equivalent combination of education and experience;

  5. Additional consideration may be given for Police Officer Standard and Training Certification obtained by candidate.

Chiefs of police usually are chosen on the basis of professional skills and experience, are continuously accountable to the government that hired them, and can be dismissed on short notice if necessary. Sheriffs have greater job security.

The position of county sheriff dates back centuries. They are chosen not on the basis of professional skills and credentials, but on the basis of their skills as politicians. They’re directly accountable to the people who hire them — to the voters — but only during an election cycle. The system can give us rogues like John Hanlin and Joe Arpaio. Between elections, sheriffs are essentially unremovable no matter how incompetent, feckless, or criminal, their conduct.

In the Flathead, Cal Beringer’s involvement with the Islamophobic group ACT for America will cause human rights activists to wonder whether he would work with ICE to violate the constitutional rights of prisoners, and if he would, how enthusiastically he would help ICE.

This could be one of the most interesting elections for sheriff in recent Montana history. Covering it thoroughly will be a challenge for both blogs and the commercial news media.