It’s forum time! 

Candidates get ready to run

Summertime: season of barbecues, river dunkings and candidate forums.

As the local Sept. 13 primary election hurtles toward us—followed by the Nov. 8 general election—candidates are warming up their vocal cords and citizens are perking up their ears. It won’t be long until Missoula has a new mayor and half a new City Council. And long after the rivers freeze over and the barbecue begins gathering dust in the garage, new local representatives will take office and start making decisions.

The ballot this time around will be short and sweet. Local offices up for grabs include mayor, Council and municipal judge. There may also be a bond on the ballot to fund the upgrading of two fire stations and the creation of a new fire station in the Miller Creek area, though an Aug. 8 public hearing and subsequent Council approval of the proposal must come first.

A notably large pool of mayoral candidates has already begun courting the hearts and minds of Missoulians as Mayor Mike Kadas prepares to depart after eight years at the helm. Four of the six candidates to replace him—John Engen, Lou Ann Crowley, Jerry Ballas and Clayton Floyd—currently sit on the Council. Geoff Badenoch, who ran the Missoula Redevelopment Agency for two decades, and John D’Orazi, a used-car salesman, round out the batch. Council’s six wards have drawn a total of 13 candidates: Cass Chinske and Dave Strohmaier in Ward 1; Myrt Charney, John Couch and John Hendrickson in Ward 2; Lee Clemmensen and Bob Jaffe in Ward 3; Tim Lovely and Jon Wilkins in Ward 4; Dick Haines and Mark Fitzgerald in Ward 5; Jeffrey-James Jalvorson and Marilyn Marler in Ward 6. Municipal Judge Don Louden won’t face much of a race; he’s unchallenged.

Forums aiming to gauge the opinions, savvy and know-how of candidates began popping up in mid-July. With at least a dozen scheduled in upcoming weeks, there’s no shortage of opportunities for voters to get to know their would-be representatives. Still more are in the works and will likely be timed to fall between the primary election, which will narrow all races to the top two vote-getters, and the general election. And while the agendas and formats may vary from forum to forum, the issue of growth (along with corollary issues like traffic, sprawl and zoning) seems to be the incumbent theme. Other questions—Why are you running? How would your approach be different from your predecessor’s? What’s the first thing you’d do upon taking office?—aim to reveal the candidates’ goals and characteristics.

By election time, Missoula will be online with the brand-new statewide voter database as one of three pilot counties. Missoula County Election Administrator Vickie Zeier recently spent five days testing the new system in Helena. The system is designed to unify voter information from Montana’s 56 counties and their independent records. Though it’s a major change, she says, it won’t mean anything new for voters; they’ll still sign a printout at their polling places before receiving a ballot. “Really, I don’t expect a lot of users to even know there’s been a change,” Zeier says. The statewide transition, prompted by the federal Help America Vote Act requiring every state to have a unified voter database by January 2006, is scheduled to be complete by mid-December. The purpose, Zeier says, is to ensure that people are not registered and voting in multiple counties.

More than 49,000 Missoulians are eligible to vote in the November election—10,000 more than the 2003 election—according to Debbe Merseal, Missoula County’s chief deputy clerk and recorder. Just over 27 percent of Missoulians voted the last time around, which was up from 10 percent in 2001 but down from 40 percent in 1999.

Though voters historically turn out in fewer numbers during years lacking federal elections, candidates and forum organizers say who gets in and who doesn’t will impact how Missoula approaches critical issues like growth and business development, preservation of open space and expansion of local sewer, to name just a few examples.

Upcoming candidate forums:

Who: All mayoral candidates
When: July 26, noon–1 p.m.
Where: UM College of Technology Dining Hall
Sponsor: Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce

Who: Ward 3, 4 candidates When: July 29, 12 p.m.–1:15 p.m.
Where: Jokers Wild, 4829 N. Reserve St.
Sponsor: Five Valley Pachyderm Club
Who: Ward 5, 6 candidates
When: Aug. 5, 12 p.m.–1:15 p.m.
Where: Jokers Wild, 4829 N. Reserve St.
Sponsor: Five Valley Pachyderm Club

Who: Mayoral candidates Ballas, Crowley and D’Orazi
When: Aug. 12, 12 p.m.–1:15 p.m.
Where: Jokers Wild, 4829 N. Reserve St.
Sponsor: Five Valley Pachyderm Club

Who: All mayoral candidates When: Aug. 24, 6:30–9 p.m.
Where: Pope John XXIII Catholic church, 1475 Eaton St.
Sponsor: Franklin to the Fort and Southgate Triangle Neighborhood Councils

Who: All mayoral candidates
When: Aug. 26, 3–5 p.m.
Where: Senior Citizens Center, 705 S. Higgins Ave.
Sponsor: Senior Citizens Center, League of Women Voters

Who: All mayoral candidates
When: Sept. 8, 7–9 p.m.
Where: MCPS Business Building, 915 South Ave. W. Sponsor: League of Women Voters
*Will be broadcast live on MCAT

Who: All mayoral candidates When: Oct. 21, 11:30 a.m.–1 p.m. Where: Governor’s Room of the Florence Hotel Sponsor: City Club Missoula

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