I showed up around 7 PM at the Missoula County Commission appointment meeting tonight and things got started around then. Dave Kendall of the Missoula County Democrats gave a quick summation of what was to take place. I’d say there were about 55 people in the audience.
After the introductions we went right to the various candidates that are trying to fill Bill Carey’s seat. He announced at the end of May that he’d be resigning. This means someone has to be appointed until the 2016 election takes place.
You’ll get a full look at the candidates with the Missoulian’s coverage of events. The 5 candidates are profiled and you can read their campaign pledges.
- Shantelle Gaynor was up first, and she discussed a few things that I didn't catch. She’s been openly campaigning for the seat for some time, and there’s more information in this July 17 Missoulian article.
- Burt Caldwell came next. He mentions how he started getting active with the elect-Obama efforts, and then ran off a whole litany of accomplishments. Caldwell was also in the marines. He wants to help Missoula grow, while also maintaining its character. An interesting note is that Caldwell’s daughter is Lauren Caldwell, who works for the Montana Democratic Legislative Coordinating Committee (MDLCC).
- Fred Rice came next. He was on the Missoula City Council for 9 years, then did some human resource stuff up in Arlee.
- Jim Parker came up next. He’s been here since 1989 and has been involved since then. Parker is the only candidate that says he’s not running in 2016. He mentions that we have superior candidates and he just wants to be a “placeholder” candidate. He wants to “give each of the candidates here the chance to talk to the citizens of Missoula” in the meantime.
- Stacy Rye came up next, and she mentioned her passion for local government. She’s been helping local Democrats for years, and started by campaigning for Ann Richards in Texas. She works in nonprofits, and listed off a wide range of places she’s worked with and helped.
The Question Round: Fairgrounds & Budget
I also wondered about the other county commissioners. There are only three, and one is relatively new. Now two will be. Cola Rowley won her 2014 race against incumbent Vicky Gordon by 1,513 votes, or 52% to 48%. A total of 36,091 people voted in that race. I would assume that this new blood will bring new ideas, and perhaps enough inexperience that little, if anything, will get done. For many Missoula County taxpayers, nothing could be better. After all, these folks are always asking for your money.
Talk progressed with the Missoula County Fairgrounds. Everyone agreed that we could use that huge amount of land better, and the best way to do that was to listen to the Fair Board. Unfortunately, the Fair Board is full of disarray.
After that we headed to the budget. I tried to drown this part out, and looking around the audience helped. I saw Sheriff McDermott, Bill Geer, Willis Curdy, Ellie Hill, Bryce Bennett, and a few other familiar faces at the legislative and local level.
I was drawn back to the question round when Fred Rice mentioned that 70% to 80% of the county budget is personnel costs.
It was 7:30 at this point, and if I had to put money on it, I’d say the odds stood as follows:
- Gaynor: 3-1
- Caldwell: 10-1
- Rice: 10-1
- Parker: 5-1
- Rye: 2-1
Rye was the odd’s on favorite going into this meeting, and had been the earliest candidate to get vocal about wanting this position. As the candidates droned on, I couldn’t help but think people would vote just as they would have had they not heard anything.
That didn’t stop the questioning. Maybe there weren’t a lot of questions, but with 5 candidates, many of them long-winded, it took forever. The talk was often boring, and I didn’t feel like there was anything at all for me to get excited about. If this is all they can put forth, then Democrats in Montana truly do have problems.
The Failure of Montana Democrats
How has Larson done a good job?
He lost a senate seat Dems have held basically forever. He risked MDP’s tax exempt status with his illegal fraud concerning the endorsement of John Lewis (who was overwhelming rejected by the voters for good reason). Dems underperformed in legislative races during the key first cycle after redistricting. Candidate recruitment in 2016 is a complete disaster, with no viable candidates running against either statewide Republican incumbent running for reelection. There’s no excitement for MDP, it’s just a smaller and smaller group of corrupt stooges plundering the grassroots for profit.
Jim Larson has been a disaster as MDP Chair. His overwhelming corruption is why fewer and fewer voters identify as Democrats. There needs to be serious reform of the MDP, which begins by throwing out the bums who illegally bossed the 2014 primary. The culture of corruption under Jim Larson needs to end.
Throw the bum out!
- There’s no excitement;
- It’s just a smaller and smaller group;
- Fewer and fewer voters identify as Democrats;
- There needs to be serious reform;
- The culture of corruption…needs to end.
I think just about all of those apply to the Missoula County Commission, and I’d like to go over some of those.
- Excitement: I doubt 20% of Missoula County residents know who their county commissioners are or what they do. The Commission might as well change its name to “boring.”
- Small Group: There’s only three of these people, and instead of ending their terms as they should, the step down so a “puppet” can be chosen, the better to both win the next election and give someone for the other two commissioners to kick around and feel superior to.
- Fewer Democratic Voters: We saw in 2014 that 60,000 of Missoula County residents stayed home and didn’t vote. And why should they vote? Nothing ever changes.
- Serious Reform: People want reform, hell, they just want the people on the Missoula County Commission to do what they ask. But time and time again, the Commission has ignored them.
- Culture of Corruption: It’s hard not to think we’ve got corruption on our hands. First you have the step-down appointments, and then you’ve got terrible dealings with business people and the county fair. Many people advising the Commission quit in frustration.
So those are some problems, not all, but a few. I doubt anything will be different when the new person comes on board.
Now, I don’t live in the county, per se, so I don’t care about this. I also don’t pay property taxes, so keeping those taxes high is good for me. After all, anything to keep that income tax down is what I want. But those property owners sure as hell don’t think like that – they just want to see property tax hikes come to an end.
Will that happen? It’s highly unlikely.
At 7:40 the question round was still going on. I began to reassess my earlier odds-on-favorites. For one thing, Jim Parker sure spoke passionately. The room was filled with his voice, the microphone barely able to contain it. He wanted to do some work, just like he’d done with his private business, one that’s been running since 1999.
Alas, I’m not sure Missoula County Democrats are interested in people that know how to make money, they want people that know how to apply for money. There’s a big difference. In the former you find out what people want and try to deliver so you get paid, in the other you effectively beg the federal or state government for operating money.
Jim Parker is good at working for money, while people like Rye and Gaynor are good at applying for it. That’s why those two are likely to get chosen – they know how to bring home the bacon. Missoula, like much of Montana, is dependent on federal subsidies, or transfer payments.
The Jail & Natural Resources
Caldwell mentioned that no matter what we do, it’s going to cost money. He said building a jail is not the answer. Caldwell thinks social programs that reduce crime is the answer.
When it came to resources, Gaynor mentioned the power of regulation to protect land. Caldwell said we needed more water in the river, and that promoting our outdoor trails was also something to be done. Rice kept on bringing up Lewis and Clark County and Yellowstone County and maybe a few others. I wondered what the hell he was doing in Missoula. Maybe he's talking about surrounding areas...I dunno.
Parker talked about finding money to maintain our environment. That was a common theme – finding money. No one really offered any solutions for doing that, however. Rye mentioned that the Parks and Trails bond needed to be doled out equitably.
Students & Books
- Gaynor: Epic Measures
- Caldwell: Shadows of the Vineyard
- Rice: Ken Kesey short story book, Bob Dylan Letters, L&C County Growth Policy Manual
- Parker: This Changes Everything
- Rye: Hillary
The question of what we can do to help students and the economic development they bring was brought up. Rye said we have to keep catering to them and we need to build housing. Parker said much the same, adding in transportation and livable wages. Rice began to lose stamina on this question, and I felt he wasn’t alone – a quick look around the audience showed that attention spans were flagging.
It was 7:55 and if someone said, “let’s go home,” I feel no one would have objected. Thankfully closing remarks came, and people began to perk up. There was hope!
A short break for 5 minutes was called before the voting was to take place. People began to get up and mingle about.
I would not be voting in the committee member election, for I’m not a member of any committee or precinct or any of the rest of it. Like most Montana citizens, I have no idea how that works or what it’s about. It’s a lot easier for me to turn on the TV or kick back a few beers with friends. Why would I want to go to the trouble of getting involved with politics in Missoula?
Most people think that, for there were only 50 people at the meeting. I’d say the average age of the attendees was 40-years of age if not older. Lots of gray hair, lots more men than women, and lots of people that make their living from other people’s taxes.
Again, what is there to get excited about? Even if you’re not young, and perhaps middle-aged and a homeowner, what is there to get excited about? If you asked me, I’d say absolutely nothing.
Voting Takes Place
Before voting took place, Bernie Sanders was brought up, and the un-endorsed folks…I’m not sure – the issue was swept under the rug. Some kind of vote took place to strike the whole conversation from the minutes, or official record of the meeting.
After that we did introductions, nearly an hour and fifteen minutes into the meeting. Every single person had a title or was a committee member or something. I just said my name – in a group full of titles, having the fewest can often provide you the biggest benefit.
They sure seemed to have brought most of the people out of the woodwork for this meeting. Just about every precinct area that was filled was there.
It took about 10 minutes to get through all that, and then ballot voting took place, as I guess feelings had been hurt in the past with the non-secret ballots. Candidates were nominated and then seconded.
I thought voting would take place, but you have to realize, we’re dealing with Democrats – there was still a lot of hot air that had to be let loose. People supporting the candidates then stood up and spoke in favor of their picks. One person mentioned how they wanted to see how the candidates were different, which I guess we hadn’t discovered up to that point. Another said how choosing someone that’s not running in 2016 puts us at a disadvantage. I was sensing a strong Parker-Rye runoff developing, yet most people were already turning in their ballots, and they were being counted.
Most people that got up spoke in support of Rye. Unfortunately, we had to take a short break to count the ballots. It was 8:30 at that point. I thought I might have been home by 8:30, but I don’t know what I was thinking. Obviously I wasn’t.
We had results at that point, and the winners were:
- Stacey Rye;
- Jim Parker;
- Shantelle Gaynor.
And at that point we headed to some other issues. Most people, however, left.
Other Issues & Conclusion
- Ward 1: Heidi West
- Ward 3: Gwen Jones
- Ward 5: Julie Armstrong
- Ward 6: Michelle Cares
For Wards 2 and 4, there are two candidates and the party is remaining neutral since there’s a primary. Well, sort of. At the meeting tonight, the question was to reconsider that selection. The main question was, is the person Democratic enough? The issue is who has access to the database of Democratic voters. Another issue is how many Democrats can be alienated by the party when they’re not endorsed. That’s why many want to endorse all the candidates.
Where are you supposed to learn about this stuff that was discussed tonight, or the procedures involved? I have no idea. If I was a new resident to Misoula, I have no idea. I take a rather pessimistic outlook when it comes to Missoula Democrats because they’ve shown time and time again that they can’t excite voters. Yeah, maybe I am going off of 2014, but any look at voter turnout rates in Montana will tell you the same thing.
There was little to get excited about tonight, and by 8:45 all I wanted to do was leave. The meeting was boring! There’s nothing exciting, no issues being discussed, just procedure. Wow, let me blow off my regular Tuesday night for that.
Missoula Democrats will be quick to tell you to stay home then, if that’s your attitude. They don’t need you, that’s the attitude I get from this group. It’s inclusive, full of people that have been around for years if not decades. What incentive is there for someone new to join that system?
At some points the people would come to debating blows, usually over who could talk or ask a question. It was pretty boring. And in that regard, a low turnout environment is good for Missoula. It keeps this group in power, or at least in power in their meetings. I don’t think they have a lot of power other than that.
It took until 8:50 to even get to that one issue, which should be easy. But it’s not – when you get to a group like this, nothing’s easy. Everything requires procedure, the antithesis of passion. It’s not procedure that Missoula needs, it’s passion.
You’ll get none of that from Missoula Democrats. They saved the map of empty precinct seats for last, and didn’t even talk about it. That’s the most important thing, in my opinion, but not to these guys. To them it’s the sound of their own voice. I was not impressed, and I don’t think voters will be either, whether it’s this year or the next.
There’s nothing to get excited about.