Last week, gay-rights activist Caitlin Copple filed to run for Missoula City Council in Ward 4, challenging incumbent Lyn Hellegaard.
Copple, 27, is an organizer for the Pride Foundation, a nationwide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy group. She was instrumental last year in helping to pass Missoula's antidiscrimination ordinance, which made it illegal to deny housing, employment, or services based on sexual orientation or gender expression.
If elected, Copple would be the first openly gay member to serve on Missoula's lawmaking body.
It's not a coincidence that Copple aims to unseat one of the two council members who voted against Missoula's anti-discrimination ordinance, the state's first. In fact, Hellegaard's "no" vote partly inspired Copple to run. "I feel very passionately about the LGBTQ equality movement," Copple says.
Still, she says, her policy priorities extend well beyond furthering gay rights. She aims to shape a spectrum of issues, from preserving open space to ensuring smart fiscal management and diversifying transportation options.
Hellegaard did not return calls seeking comment on Copple's challenge. She did, however, explain during an antidiscrimination ordinance meeting last year that she thought the law was poorly written and possibly unconstitutional.
In her three years on the council, Hellegaard, the executive director of community affairs for the Missoula Ravalli Transportation Management Association, has established herself as one of its most conservative members.
The Hellegaard-Copple race is just one of six. In Ward 1, aquatics instructor and special education teacher Mary "Maer" Seibert is taking on former Missoula County Democratic Party chair Jason Wiener. In Ward 2, self-professed libertarian Adam Hertz, a mortgage broker, is gunning for progressive incumbent Pam Walzer. In Ward 3, Alex Taft, Sean Ives, and Paul Bohan are all vying for the seat Stacy Rye is vacating. In Ward 5, Mike O' Herron is running against incumbent conservative Renee Mitchell. Also in Ward 5, Montana Department of Transportation engineer Shane Stack and herbalist Peggy Miller are challenging council president Ed Childers.
City officials will decide during the next week whether to hold a primary race in September to narrow the field in the two races with three candidates. The general election is Nov. 8.