Usually, political losers congratulate the winner and gracefully step aside. That hasn’t happened in the aftermath of the Flathead County Commissioner race between winning Democrat Joe Brenneman and Republican Denise Cofer. Charges and counter-charges are flying left and right, mainly among divided local Republicans. Cofer claims that Kalispell Republican and retired engineer John Hinchey, a founder of Republicans for the Flathead—a group that supported Brenneman—kicked down a Cofer yard sign and replaced it with a Hinchey sign during the Republican primary.
“That’s the kind of man you’re dealing with, and I use the term ‘man’ loosely,” Cofer says.
Hinchey argues that the sample ballots Cofer’s camp put in local papers before the primary were intentionally misleading, making it look as though Cofer was endorsed by the Republican Party, rather than the Republican Assembly (the self-proclaimed “Republican wing of the Republican party”).
Cofer’s husband, Steve, unleashed a vitriolic opinion piece in local papers last week in which he wrote that Republicans who broke ranks to support Brenneman would face a “bad smell...in their public and private lives for years to come,” and referred to non-Cofer-supporting Republicans as “geldings.”
“Basically, it was a sore loser thing on their part,” Denise Cofer says of Republicans for the Flathead, which included Republicans she defeated in the primary, among others.
Hinchey says his support for Brenneman was based on what’s best for the development of the valley, not sour grapes.
“Isn’t it amazing that we’re still talking about this the month after the election?” Hinchey asks. “It’s like the election that won’t go away. The bottom line is we’re committed to getting the Republican party back into the mainstream, and we felt that Joe Brenneman was closer to a moderate Republican than Denise Cofer.”
Cofer was seen as extreme in Republicans for the Flathead circles due to her affiliation with the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, a group that argues Americans’ rights are granted by a Christian God rather than the U.S. Constitution.