Missoula City Councilwoman Cynthia Wolken is already knocking on doors and introducing herself to constituents in advance of this November's municipal elections. "People are busy," says the representative, who last week registered as a candidate in Ward 2. "A lot of people don't even know that I'm their city councilperson."
The city council selected the soft-spoken attorney to replace Roy Houseman, who left unexpectedly to take another job in January. When the governing body picked her from a list of candidates vying for the gig, Wolken was hardly a household name. Yet, despite her relative anonymity, she's been shaping policy in Montana for years.
Her résumé reads like a list of progressive pursuits. As chair of the Montana Human Rights Network Board of Directors, she works to advance gay rights. Through her employment with the Center for Rural Affairs, she's pushing to ensure that federal health care reform mandates take root in Montana. Wolken is also an unapologetic supporter of legalizing marijuana for adults and is employed as a lobbyist by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
"I have a pretty good libertarian streak," she says. "I really don't feel like it's anyone's business, if you're not hurting yourself, what you're doing inside your house."
That streak shapes her work on council. Last month Wolken backed a less stringent version of Councilman Dave Strohmaier's social host ordinance, which proposed fining and jailing adults who host underage individuals that consume alcohol in private settings.
Missoula City Councilwoman Pam Walzer appreciates the fact that Wolken looks out for personal freedoms. Yet Walzer also says her new colleague appreciates the value of crafting laws to curb destructive behavior. "I know she has the balance," Walzer says.
As of Tuesday, no one else had filed to run against Wolken. Hers is one of seven seats that will be contested in November. Candidates have until June 30 to file.
Wolken says if she's elected to serve a full term, transportation issues will be a priority. She and Walzer are both excited to see plans for a new roundabout at Spruce and Scott streets come to fruition. Wolken also aims to help find ways to improve gridlock at the I-90 interchange at Grant Creek.
Wolken says she'll continue zeroing in on legislative priorities as she knocks on doors and hears from locals. "I have a lot of faith in democracy," she says. "I'd like to engage it as long as I can."