By Web Master, 3-23-12
A record number of Montanans have filed for higher office in 2012 and while that bodes well for democracy, it could also make for some messy primary races. Among legislative contests, several local Republicans are vying for the same seats, some of which are in conservative districts where the primaries may be more hard-fought than the general elections.
In Senate District 3, which stretches from the northwest part of the county to the area between Evergreen and Columbia Falls, Bruce Tutvedt faces two GOP challengers who will likely make the case that they are the more conservative alternative to the so-called establishment candidate. Tutvedt was the second-ranking Republican in the Senate in 2011 and, if reelected, is in line for a leadership position.
First he faces Jayson Peters, the general manager of Sykes’, which is owned by Ray Thompson, the former owner of Semitool (now Applied Materials) who has long been active in Republican circles. Tutvedt is also being challenged by Rollan Roberts II, who is backed by Flathead pastor Chuck Baldwin, who previously ran for president and was on a Republican ticket for lieutenant governor before withdrawing from the race.
For Tutvedt’s part, he easily won his Senate seat in 2008 with 58 percent of the vote. But Baldwin has already been hyper-critical of him on his website, saying “the incumbent is the personification of the word RINO,” which, of course, is an acronym tossed around a lot these days and means “Republican in Name Only.”
The argument pitting the establishment vs. outsider in primary elections is now well worn, but it may be a harder sell here. For one, it’s a bit more difficult to refer to Montana state lawmakers as elitist, since they are citizen legislators, meet for just 90 days every two years and get paid roughly $10 an hour. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how it unfolds.
Speaking of Baldwin, his son and Kalispell attorney Tim Baldwin is running as a Republican for Whitefish’s House District 4, which is being vacated by Rep. Derek Skees, who is running for state auditor. Baldwin turned some heads last year when he and others affiliated with tea-party political groups challenged the Flathead Valley Community College incumbent trustees. Some local Republicans were critical of their motives and all the incumbents retained their seats. Also running in District 4 on the GOP side is Walter Keathley, who briefly ran for Kalispell City Council in 2011 before withdrawing his name due to an unforeseen health issue. Two Democrats, Ed Lieser and Tom Muri (both of Whitefish), are also vying for the seat.
Then there are races that have drawn multiple experienced lawmakers from the same party. Sen. Ryan Zinke has vacated his Senate District 2 seat, which extends from Whitefish up the canyon to Marias Pass, to run for lieutenant governor on Neil Livingstone’s ticket. Former Rep. Dee Brown and current Rep. Bill Beck are both running in the primary. They are joined by Republican Suzanne Brooks, who previously challenged for the seat.
In the Polson area, incumbent Republican Sen. Carmine Mowbray has to defend her seat in the primary against Rep. Janna Taylor in District 6. Michael Larson is also running on the GOP side.
When asked, Republican Party leaders, who have far more contested primaries than Democrats, say that the crowded fields make for better general election candidates. And interest in running for office is almost always higher during a presidential election year. Still, in many cases, the June election may be as intriguing as the one in November.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Since this column was written, Walter Keathley's name was removed from the ballot.
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