The race is on

An Independent guide to the June election in Missoula County


Missoula County voters won’t have many choices to make this year. With the filing period ending March 21, there are only two contested races slated for the June 4 primary, and not many more for the November general election. Republican Barbara Evans is running unopposed for her fifth term as county commissioner. Democratic incumbents Vickie Zeier, the clerk and recorder, Fred Van Valkenburg, the county attorney, and Rachel Vielleux, the superintendent of schools, are all running unopposed as well. Democrat Barbara Berens is the lone candidate to succeed County Auditor Susan Reed (also a Democrat), who is not running again. There are uncontested races for all of Missoula’s state Senate seats and all but three House races. Here is a look at this year’s contested races:

Missoula County Sheriff
The race to succeed Doug Chase as Missoula County Sheriff involves three Democrats with a combined 75 years of experience in the sheriff’s department. There are no Republicans running, so the primary will decide the next sheriff.

Detective Specialist Two Dave Fowlkes has the most political experience of the three, having held positions with the union trades and labor council and the local Democratic party. A Billings native, Fowlkes served in the Navy in Vietnam. Upon returning to the United States, he studied computer programming in Great Falls, did some military reserve duty, and worked several different jobs. He went into law enforcement in 1976 and has held numerous posts in the department, from animal control to the crimes against persons unit. Fowlkes, 50, now oversees fugitive warrants and extraditions. He has been instrumental in setting up a system of coordinating prisoner transfers between states. He has held nearly every office in the police union, and is active in several veteran’s groups.

Fowlkes also has several decorations that date back to a 1993 encounter with a mentally disturbed Ukrainian immigrant wanted for assaulting his landlord. After a high-speed chase, the man turned on Fowlkes with his rifle.

“He fired a thirty-ought-six through my windshield and I got splattered with glass and lead, it struck my arm and my face,” Fowlkes says. The suspect eventually gave himself up after a long standoff. Fowlkes was awarded the Purple Heart medal, and the next year was named Officer of the Year by the Montana Peace Officers Association.

“I enjoy what I do and work hard at what I do,” Fowlkes says. As sheriff, he says he would focus on handling an increasing prison load and would consider incarceration alternatives like work release programs. The department’s response to annexation and the expansion of the city is also a top priority for him.

“We want to definitely look at where we’re going to be sitting with manpower in future years,” Fowlkes says. “As we get spread out further and further that’s going to be a major issue, but we want to make sure our response time is still adequate and the public gets what they’re paying for in terms of police protection.”

The highest ranking candidate is Undersheriff Mike McMeekin. McMeekin grew up as “a smelter town kid” in East Helena, and went on to serve in the Air Force in Vietnam. After he got out of the service, McMeekin went to work for the state Board of Crime Control on a grant. He worked in Lincoln County from 1972 until he moved to Missoula in 1979. Since then, McMeekin, 54, has worked as a patrol officer, detective, training officer, assistant patrol commander, jail administrator, and currently as undersheriff.

One of the biggest challenges facing the force in the coming years, he says, will be staffing and keeping quality people in high level positions “Fourteen of our senior people could retire today, and that’s a lot of senior management eligible to be gone,” McMeekin says. “The challenge of preparing some of the younger people for management and executive positions is huge.”

The coroner operation is getting busier and more complex as the county population grows and ages, McMeekin says, adding that it is important to remember the men are running for the combined office of Sheriff/Coroner.

Finally, he says, accommodating the department’s needs without large spending increases will take “prudent fiscal management.” McMeekin says Missoula is a welcoming atmosphere for law enforcement.

“After Sept. 11, they ask how things have changed,” he says. “I say that for us they really haven’t. People were friendly to us before.” Finding one representative story from his years on the force is difficult, he says.

“Every cop that you ever meet is gonna write a book,” McMeekin says. “There’s certainly been a lot of times when you’ve been scared to death, a lot of them when you cry with the families of the victims, and then a lot of them that have been hilarious with the things that happen to us. But we get to be involved in things and meet people who otherwise we wouldn’t get to meet, and we truly make a difference. That’s what keeps us doing what we’re doing.”

The final candidate, Administrative Captain Don Morman, has a distinction few can match: He has played football with University of Montana Grizzly coach Joe Glenn.

A South Dakota native, Morman went to the University of South Dakota on a football scholarship. He played on the same team as Glenn in 1969 before transferring to Carroll College in Helena. After graduation, Morman, 52, worked for sheriff’s departments in Lewis & Clark and Phillips counties. He arrived in Missoula in 1975, starting at the sheriff’s department as a radio dispatcher. He went on to serve in numerous jobs from patrol officer to detective to narcotics officer to patrol captain.

In 2000 he became the administrative captain, a position akin to a business manager. Morman has pulled in numerous large grants, including a recent $718,000 federal grant to install mobile data computers in patrol cars. In addition to his business experience, Morman believes his proven communication skills are his best asset. He cites his record as patrol captain in which he never received a single grievance.

Morman says staffing shortages and the detention center reaching capacity are the biggest challenges facing the next sheriff. He says he would promote innovative fiscal programs like impact fees and an aggressive collection program for tax delinquents. He would also push for more community-oriented policing.

One of Morman’s favorite stories is about a case he worked on as a detective in the 1980s. An armed robbery was reported at a truck stop in Lolo, and the next week a nearby gas station was robbed at the same time. The next Thursday the same gas station was reported robbed, again at the same time, although officers who were in Lolo on lookout did not see anything. Sensing it was a JDLR situation (“Just Don’t Look Right”), Morman got the clerk at the gas station to confess to the crimes. After robbing the station, the man admitted that he went and applied for a job there to try to cover it up. He later admitted to several other armed robberies and a major arson.

“He went to jail for 40 years but got out on probation,” Morman says. “He came back and said he was out and he was clean and he thanked me.”

House District 63
The general election contest for this southwest Missoula legislative district pits two-term incumbent Republican Dick Haines against novice Democrat Judith B. Smith.

Haines, a retired Forest Service engineer, says the work of a state legislator does not get put on hold when there is not a legislative session. This year, Haines has been working with the state economic czar to secure money for low-income housing. Haines wants to promote Missoula as a center of medical research, and he is seeking state recognition for a Glacial Lake Missoula visitor center.

The Democratic challenger, Judith B. Smith, is a retired teacher and school administrator. Smith lived most of her life in Gary, Ind., although her family roots go back to eastern Montana. (She is named after the Judith Basin.)

“I’m very concerned about the crisis in funding for the schools,” Smith says. “I would hope there would be a way that we could lessen the impact on the property owners. But it’s difficult, the budget in this state is pretty tight. If elected that is my main focus.”

Since moving to Montana, Smith has volunteered at her grandchildren’s school and has served on the board of the Clark Fork Coalition and the Five Valleys Audubon.

House District 70
For the house district that encompasses northwest Missoula County, incumbent Democrat Holly Raser faces off against Republican Tyler Jourdonnais.

Raser, a teacher at Target Range School, is running for her second term. She says her experience dealing with education and health care issues in the last legislative session have prepared her for future challenges.

“There were so many of us first-term people last time,” Raser says. “I think we all floundered around and spent a lot of time learning how it all works, and now that I understand how it works I think I can be effective in actually making some changes.”

Raser has been active in the off-season in issues like the Mullan Road Sewer Project. She is traveling to Washington, D.C. next week with Commissioner Barbara Evans and Mullan Road resident Diane Beck to meet with Montana’s congressional delegation about funding.

Raser’s challenger is real estate appraiser Tyler Jourdonnais. A native of Great Falls, Jourdonnais moved to Missoula four and a half years ago. Education funding and affordable health care are the most important issues facing the state, he says.

“We’re strapped with a tax system that is in a lot of respects above our means,” he says. “And that relates to education and a great many other things.”

Jourdonnais has coached high school swimming, and he and his wife run a teen dance club every Friday at the Elks Lodge. “A large part of my life has been mentoring youth,” he says. House District 71
The only Republican primary contest is in this house district shared between Missoula County and Mineral County. Incumbent Sylvia Bookout-Reinicke faces Nine Mile resident H.R. Kenck, and the winner will face Democrat Patrick Hayes in the general election.

Bookout-Reinicke is running for her fourth term. Under term limit laws, it would be her last. A Kansas native, Bookout-Reinicke is a retired saleswoman. She says education funding is a top issue, and she hopes President Bush’s education budget will reduce the strain on local school districts.

Bookout-Reinicke’s challenger in the primary is a retired RC Cola Company operating manager, H.R. Kenck. Kenck was active in national Reform Party politics when Ross Perot was a candidate, but he returned to the Republican Party several years ago. Kenck also says education is his focus issue. He supports programs like school vouchers.

“If we open education to the marketplace, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the whole educational culture will change. We’ll see advances and have a chance at having a world class system,” he says.


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