Editorial board presents a balanced slate for Missoula votersThe endorsements you're about to read are the result of hours of interviews and countless discussions. We tried to put aside our personal political preferences and ask of each other, "Who will be best for the city?"
With a little reflection, we found that most of these candidates have similar values and almost identical hopes for the future of Missoula. They all want streets safe for cars, bikes and pedestrians. They all want a houses that their kids can afford. They all want clean air and good water.
Missoula is at a crossroads as the city government prepares to craft growth management, subdivision, sewer and water plans that will help the city handle its increasing population in a manner that conserves the quality of life here.
With a lot of cooperation and respect for one another, council members can accomplish what they need to do. With these thoughts in mind, we whole-heartedly recommend the following slate of candidates for your vote.
Since stepping into Dan Kemmis' rather large shoes two years ago, Mayor Mike Kadas has distinguished himself as a pragmatic leader. Although some complain that his style derives from a wheeler-dealer, backroom-based style more appropriate to big city or national politics, Kadas staunchly defends his approach, accurately pointing out that by tapping into the most concerned constituencies, the city government is able to identify the best possible solutions to many problems.
Kadas' history in the state legislature gave him many of the skills he needs to build bridges between different interest groups. And his reliance on creative devices -- such as his tendency to promote financial incentives over administrative caveat -- shows that the current mayor recognizes that within the political, social and legal landscape, Missoula must come up with solutions that encourage those in the private sector to figure out ways to make growth palatable to the citizenry.
One only need to look at last winter's snowstorms -- when the city contracted out to get the streets cleared -- to recognize that Kadas, under pressure, is a politician who acts deftly when confronted with a crisis. And, looking at the years ahead, there's no doubt that growth in Missoula is leading to a storm of different proportions. Still, Kadas remains optimistic and upbeat about the future and maintaining the quality of life that has made Missoula such a fine place to live lo these many years. Sorry Mr. Childers, we like Mike.
Ward 1 sits at the heart of the city, sprawling from the Rattlesnake across downtown into the Southside. It needs a representative who can balance the not-always-complementary demands of a constituency comprised both of business interests and working-class concerns.
Dave Harmon, a New Party member, says he's walked the ward twice already and intends to do it again if he's elected. While New Party candidates sometimes have a disturbing tendency to parrot the party line, Harmon seems like someone who'll listen and make his own decisions.
In an interview with the Independent, Harmon said all the right things about alternative transportation and affordable housing; the city needs to take a more aggressive approach to growth management than his opponent advocates. Things like the Delineated Urban Services Area are worth consideration and cautious approval. But ultimately, it is Harmon's willingness to reach out to conservative groups like the Pachyderm Club that impressed us most.
Carolyn Overman, his opponent, strikes us as a reasonable person who might be a good representative for the ward, but her opposition to expanding alternative transportation, especially bike and pedestrian trails, makes it hard for us to support her. No matter which candidate wins, a willingness to bend from preconceived politics in response to the needs of the constituents will be the most important quality for Ward 1's representative.
Jamie Carpenter reminds us a little of Linda Tracy when she first ran for council four years ago. Then, Tracy was short on experience, without a good handle on the details of day-to-day city politics. But what she had was enthusiasm and a strong commitment to her ward. Now, that dedication has made her one of the best reps on council.
Tracy is the sort of politico who gives "policy wonk" a good name. She'll talk with relish about the details of transportation plans, about the ways to go about replacing aging infrastructure. Tracy's positions are well-informed and thoughtful, but she never lets her own opinion get in the way of listening to others and incorporating their concerns into her policy making.
Carpenter shows none of Tracy's openness. We simply find no reason to give Carpenter our support over Missoula's most adept council member. A strong vote for Tracy.
After two hours of interviews and deliberations, this one is a toss-up. Lou Ann Crowley espouses many of the positions we agree with here at the Independent. She's a strong advocate for investing in the alternative transportation infrastructure that will make our streets safer. But, as seen in her recent vote against a resolution adopting the recommendations of the housing subcommittee, Crowley also has a tendency toward the NIMBYism that has plagued Ward 3 representation over the last few years.
Bob Luceno is also a mixed bag. As a council rep from 1989-91, he supported the pesticide notification ordinance. He also pushed for an unneeded anti-porn law. But he was the only conservative candidate we interviewed who indicated a willingness to compromise on the Delineated Urban Services Area -- a growth management tool that could serve Missoulians well.
Both Crowley and Luceno have much to offer as public servants, but whoever is elected needs to make sure he or she represents all the constituents living in Ward 3 -- not just those in his or her social circle.
While both Paula Hofmann and Myrt Charney are informed about the issues facing Missoula, Charney's solution-oriented approach and past political experience simply make him a better candidate in a race that otherwise would be a tough call. The fact that this self-described "fiscally conservative" Democrat has found support from long-standing Missoula politicos on both sides of the aisle -- and his narrow loss in the last election -- reflects the fact that he's in tune with an important local constituency.
On the other hand, while Hofmann's progressive stance is appealing -- she has spoken out in favor of alternative transportation, for instance -- she lacks a definitive sense of which way to go when it comes to controlling growth. And, seeing as how candidates one and all have expressed a sense that the city's in crisis, it makes more sense to vote for someone who has some hands-on experience and more concrete ideas about how to run the city.
That's why Charney, former mayor of the Borough of Juneau, Alaska, and state budget director of the last frontier from 1971-75, gets our vote.
This race is uncontested, but even if it weren't a foregone conclusion, Ward 5 voters could feel good about pulling the lever for Reidy. The conservative Democrat enjoys a well-earned reputation for telling it like it is and maintaining his political independence on a sometimes polarized council.
In a brief talk with the Independent, Reidy said he hopes to act as a bridge builder on the new council; his small-c conservatism, which seems to spring from old-school Democratic values, leaves him in a good position to work with whichever factions rise to prominence.
Craig Sweet is a strong advocate for sensible urban planning. He's a stickler for the fine print, and when developers come before council asking for variances from the city's zoning laws, he's one of the loudest voices on the side of the taxpayer.
At the same time, Sweet is more of a bridge-burner than a consensus-builder. As council president, he refuses to recognize the backlash he and others have created by being what many have called "obstructionist." The level of civility and quality of discourse at this crucial stage in Missoula's life are nearly as important as the conclusions reached. Sweet has not shown the leadership it takes to be council president, and if re-elected, he should graciously step aside from that post.
Sweet's opponent, Tracey Turek, had few solutions to Missoula's growth problems other than her opposition to the Delineated Urban Services Area. With time, she might make a fine representative. But there's no point in gambling when Ward 6 residents have a solid choice in Sweet.