Archive for October 16th, 2007

by Pete Talbot

With mail-in ballots arriving any day, it’s time for Pete’s predictable picks. Let’s make it interesting, though, and go backwards from Ward Six to Ward One.

Ward Six is easy. A vigorous nod goes to incumbent Ed Childers. This is not because Ed is a progressive (I’ve disagreed with him on some key issues) but because he’s an active Democrat. He was also elected council president by a majority of council so he has respect from both sides of the aisle.

Ed incurred the wrath of conservatives this year by not supporting the mandatory recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at each council meeting. This legislation is often advanced by conservatives around election time to make some candidates look unpatriotic. Ed’s not against the Pledge of Allegiance, he often opens meetings with it. He’s against codifying the recitation of it into law.

His challenger, Lewie Schneller is a shining example of why the Missoula County Democrats endorsed candidates in this election. Though he claims he’s a Democrat, he shuns Missoula’s current Democratic Party. He and Ward Two candidate Don Nicholson call themselves “Labor Democrats” although the folks I know down at the Union Hall say they’ve never laid eyes on these guys.

Lewie is also one of the candidates who believes that city government has become “supersized” and that the budget is “ballooning” exponentially. Now I don’t like paying taxes anymore than the next guy but I learned something interesting the other day. When you pay your property taxes only 25-26 percent ends up in the city coffers. The rest goes to the county and to the schools. So I think the city is doing a decent job managing its money. As for the budget “ballooning,” well, so is the city. Should the budget reflect the need for additional firefighters, cops, roads, maintenance, etc.? Lewie thinks not.

Then there’s Picnicgate, where Lewie’s picture showed up on the local GOP blogs as a special guest at the Republican picnic. That photo has since been deleted from those sites.

Ward Five needs a Democratic win. Outgoing Alderman Jack Reidy, although no progressive, usually voted as a Democrat. Christine Prescott will best fill this seat. Christine is a trial lawyer and a minister — both occupations should serve her well on council.

The fact that Carol Minjares over at Missoulapolis (she’s also the Missoula County Republican’s Second Vice-Chair) wrote a glowing post about Prescott’s opponent, Renee Mitchell, should be enough to convince Democrats to vote for Prescott.

But there’s more: Mitchell came to city government on a single issue: Planned Neighborhood Clusters (PNC’s). It’s not that she’s opposed to infill; just not in her neighborhood.

She also wants to see fiscal responsibility (who doesn’t?) but then says of the Hillview Way project that she’d “be looking for ways the city could finance the cost.” Huh?

Ward Four:
I’m leaning toward Jerry Ballas, and I never thought I’d be saying that. If most of the conservative Republicans are supporting his opponent, Lynn Hellegaard, then he must be doing something right, occasionally. It’s a shame that Ward Four doesn’t have a Democrat in the race.

Ward Three is an easy pick, too. Incumbent Stacy Rye is the logical choice. She’s contributed a lot in her first term, particularly on quality of life issues like improving our urban forests and our city-wide trail system. She has worked on the public/private partnerships that brought us the Madison Street underpass, Mobash skatepark and the aquatics facilities. She’s currently working on the old Champion mill site redevelopment.

Stacy has the vision needed to confront the long-term growth, transportation and affordable housing issues facing Missoula.

Her challenger, Doug Harrison, served for an unmemorable 12 years on council as a Republican. He ran in the ‘80s in part to keep an eye on Mountain Water Co. interests (where he works) during its transition from a municipally owned water provider to its current privately owned status. He ran in Ward Four back then but since redistricting he’s now in Ward Three — and he doesn’t represent Ward Three’s constituency.

Ward Two is another easy pick. It’s time to put incumbent Don Nicholson out to pasture. Don doesn’t like voting yes – he’s voted no more than any other councilman in recent history – that is unless it’s a pet project like a trail system or improved intersections in his own Grant Creek.

He says that “making concessions isn’t the easiest thing in the world for him to do …” and he’s, supposedly, the “moderate” or “mainstream” candidate, according to the conservative blogs.

Vote for Pam Walzer in Ward Two. She served admirably on the City Government Review Committee, which had a contentious minority and more than a few nasty gadflies attending those meetings.

Voters in Ward One are fortunate. Unlike Ward Four’s Republican contest, Ward One has two Democrats running. This was the hardest pick for me but Jason Wiener deserves your vote. Jason actually likes going to meetings and has paid his dues at neighborhood councils, all sorts of committees and at city council. Jason has also received endorsements from current Ward One council members and other local Democratic Party officials.

Justin Armintrout, his opponent, has made some questionable comments: he opposes impact fees, says OPG (that’s the department that oversees development, zoning, subdivisions and the like) is over funded. However, I’ve met Justin and like where he stands on a lot of issues. Ward One could certainly do worse and I hope he stays involved in local politics.

But he says “ he sees himself as independent” and that “he gets his support from both Democrats and Republicans.” I’m also seeing some of Armintrout’s yard signs showing up in distinctly Republican yards.

Here’s the deal, in case you haven’t figured it out already. I want to see strong Democrats on city council pushing a progressive agenda.

The conservative bloggers and pundits are so afraid Missoula is going to become another Boulder, Colo., or Portland, Ore., or Berkley, Calif. I don’t want to see that either – too many people in those cities. I wouldn’t mind having their economies and low unemployment, high wages, vibrant downtowns, lots of entrepreneurial start-ups, etc. The biggest problem in those towns is a lack of affordable housing because so many people want to live in those places. Plus they have the arts, recreation, diversity – there’s nothing wrong with being a progressive city. I guess the conservatives prefer towns like Rock Springs, Wyo., or Twin Falls, Idaho, or Colorado Springs.

There are myriad, critical issues facing Missoula. What’s our town going to be like ten or twenty years down the road? The old status quo approach to Missoula’s growth, infrastructure, affordable housing, et al., just isn’t going to cut it. We need innovative, forward-thinking people on council.

So there you go – four easy picks, one thoughtful endorsement and one lukewarm leaning. Don’t forget to mail in your ballot.

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