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Redistricting reshapes local House and Senate races

by KRISTI NIEMEYER
Hagadone News Network | January 10, 2024 12:00 AM

Thinking of running for elected office? Filing opens Jan. 11 for a slew of county and state positions.

At the state level, a shuffle of legislative districts caused by the most recent round of redistricting will pit some old allies against one another while potentially opening up new opportunities for Democrats in a few of Lake County’s Republican-dominated districts.

Tracy Sharp, chair of the Lake County Republican Central Committee, decries the new boundaries as “the creation of an affirmative action program for people who cannot win elections.”

Craig McClure, former head of Lake County Democrats, views the more competitive districts – especially the new Senate District 46 and House District 91 – as a potential plus for his party. “Where candidates have to work for votes, that’s a good thing for the voters,” he said.

Reshaping Senate Districts

Sen. Greg Hertz, who represents SD 6, finds himself in the newly shaped SD 7, which now extends from east of Polson to the Idaho border, and includes parts of Sanders County. It also encompasses portions of senate districts represented by Republican Senators Dan Salomon of Ronan and Bob Brown, Trout Creek.

In an email, Hertz said the new district is made up of approximately 35% of his old SD 6, 50% of Sen. Brown's SD 7 and 15% of Sen. Salomon's former SD 47.

Salomon says he’s bowing out of the race, having served eight years in the Senate, which leaves Hertz and Brown competing against one another in the June primary. 

“After 14 years in the Legislature and being termed out, this seems like a great time to retire,” Salomon said.

“Lake County got whittled up badly in the redistricting process,” he added. “Greg and Bob will probably have to run against each other now. They are both excellent Senators and this is very unfortunate.”

“Since Senator Brown and I have been in the Legislature since 2015 and 2013 respectively the voters will have a hard decision as to who they will support since we both have very similar voting records,” Hertz wrote.

Sen. Mark Noland will complete his term in office representing SD 6, which now includes both the east and west shores of Flathead Lake, Bigfork and Swan Lake. Incumbent Susan Webber finishes up her term in SD 8, which continues to encompass parts of the Flathead and Blackfeet reservations and includes the communities of Pablo and St. Ignatius.

The new SD 46 includes Charlo, Dixon, Ravalli and Arlee, and also drops further south to include parts of Missoula’s Rattlesnake area.

Sharp views this new district as more evidence of the Redistricting and Apportionment Committee “putting their leftist-dominated thumb on the scale.”

“As if Missoula has anything in common with the ranchers and irrigators in Lake County,” he added.

McClure, on the other hand, hopes Democrats will be more competitive there. “Certainly, Arlee has been a Democratic powerhouse in Lake County,” he said.

House Districts also get makeover

House Districts were reconfigured too. HD 12, currently represented by Linda Reksten and including Polson and much of the east and west side of Flathead Lake, is now District 13, and extends south to Round Butte Road in Ronan, north to the top of Jette Hill, and east into a sliver of Sanders County.

Reksten said she plans to file for the new district, which would mark her third term in the House. “I have a lot more experience with the way the Capital works,” she wrote. “However, there is so much more to be done regarding our taxes – especially property taxes.”

She also sits on the Education Interim Committee, where she says “we hope to craft legislation to build upon the 2023 session especially in the area of Proficiency Based Learning.”

Democrat Shirley Azzopardi, a retired educator who lives on Carbine Road between Polson and Ronan, says she also plans to file for that seat. Azzopardi ran unsuccessfully in HD 93 in 2022, losing to incumbent Joe Read.

If Read runs again, he’d compete in the new HD 91, which includes much of Ronan, and then jaunts south to Evaro, embracing Charlo, Ravalli, Arlee and Dixon. The Leader reached out to Read about whether he’s planning to run in the new district, but hadn’t heard back by deadline.

Meanwhile, former Tribal Chairman Shelly Fyant of Arlee has filed her intention to run in HD 91 with the Commissioner of Political Practices – the first step in being able to raise money for a campaign.

HD 15, currently represented by Marvin Weatherwax, continues to span both the Flathead and Blackfeet reservations. No word on whether the incumbent plans to run again.

Lake County’s other northern district, HD 10, represented by Bob Keenan of Bigfork, is now HD 12, and includes both sides of Flathead Lake, with Dayton and Lake Mary Ronan to the west, Bigfork and Swan Lake to the east, and Finley Point to the south.

Filing deadline is 5 p.m. March 11 (April 1 for write-in candidates) and legislative candidates must file with the Montana Secretary of State (sosmt.gov).

Lake County has openings too

At the county level, several positions are open: Clerk of District Court (held by incumbent Lyn Fricker); County Commissioner, District 3 (incumbent Gale Decker); and two seats on the Lake County Conservation District (currently held by Zoe Lilja and Curtis Rosman).

Decker announced in December that he plans to file for his third six-year term as commissioner.

The positions of Clerk and Recorder, now held by appointee Kendra Steele, and Treasurer/Assessor, held by appointee Erika Jennison, will also appear on the ballot.

Both of the 20th District Court judges face reelection. The seat currently held by Deborah “Kim” Christopher expires in 2025, as does that of Molly Owen, who was appointed by the governor to replace retired Judge Jim Manley, and now must run for office to complete his term, which ends in 2026.

The filing deadline is 5 p.m. March 11, and April 1 for write-in candidates. 

The filing period for special purpose districts – including those representing rural fire districts, water and sewer districts and irrigation districts – closes Feb. 12, with a write-in deadline of March 4.

File with the Lake County Election Administrator for county or special district openings, or visit www.lakemt.gov/170/Elections.

School boards also have openings, with a filing deadline of March 28. School clerks can provide info on those positions.

    Map shows boundaries of Montana House districts located in Lake County. (Devin Kamarainen, Lake County GIS Technician)
 
 
    Map shows boundaries of redrawn senate districts in Lake County. (Devin Kamarainen, Lake County GIS Technician)
 
 


www.lakemt.gov/170/Elections