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"Anything land-use planning in Ravalli County is going to be big, and it's going to continue to be big," says Republican Matt Kanenwisher, who defeated incumbent Democrat Kathleen Driscoll with more than 60 percent of the vote.
The unchecked Republican presence on the new commission is a major concern of Grandstaff's for exactly that reason. In November 2006, voters passed a $10,000 open lands program designed to secure conservation easements on private property in the Bitterroot. The bond has funded five conservation easements in the past two years, yet all three incoming commissioners have publicly voiced opposition to the program.
"Why people would vote for people opposed to this program that was passed by voters in 2006 and has been wildly successful...is beyond me," Grandstaff says. "We had people in the office [Monday] who were scrambling to get their conservation easement completed before Dec. 31. This is like their mother's ranch, and they're really worried. They've done all this work, they've put all this effort into it and they're afraid now that it's just going to get denied. They're not the only ones."
Yet for Grandstaff and others, the real apprehension comes back to Hudson-Smith and her new duties as county treasurer—which include oversight of both the tax office, where she currently works, and the motor vehicle office. The treasurer's estimated annual budget is around $350 million. Grandstaff voices serious reservations about Hudson-Smith's qualifications, and Johnson points out that prior to filing for candidacy, Hudson-Smith had been the subject of disciplinary action within the treasurer's office for rude and borderline insubordinate behavior.
Hudson-Smith acknowledges the disciplinary action, but says the matter was a misunderstanding stemming from tax season in November 2009. And she insists she's experienced enough to take on the treasurer's responsibilities.
"I pretty much know the background, and I just thought I needed a challenge and I thought I had something to offer," Hudson-Smith says.
The shock of Hudson-Smith's victory stems in part from her extremely low-profile campaign. She says she ran only two ads in local newspapers, distributed no signs and offered no speeches. The Ravalli County GOP chairman, Nelson, says he personally invited Hudson-Smith to two separate candidate forums during campaign season. She never showed.
Hudson-Smith says her lack of campaign activity was due to a long list of financial and family difficulties that arose over the course of the year.
"I was pretty quiet about the whole thing," Hudson-Smith says. "I just didn't have the funds to do the campaigning I wanted to. This has been a bad year money-wise for me and my family."
Nelson doesn't share in the concerns over Hudson-Smith's qualifications or her previous disciplinary issues. Instead, he points to her victory over a Democratic incumbent as another example of how unbeatable Ravalli County's Republican ticket truly was.
"I'm certainly not going to say the public wasn't educated when they went out and voted," Nelson says. "I think they were educated to know which party stood for what values, and voted for the Republican Party."
Celebration short-lived for two rookie progressives
by Jessica Mayrer
Democratic candidate for House District 92 Bryce Bennett sipped a Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boy at the Central Bar & Grill in Missoula on election night. As the evening wore on and polling places closed, the 25-year-old breathed a bit easier as he saw his lead over Republican challenger Don Harbaugh grow. When eventually it became clear that he won the race by more than 100 votes, he was exuberant.
"There were some nervous hours," he says. "But we were very excited to come out on top at the end of the night."
However, that excitement was tempered as, one by one, Bennett watched many of his fellow Democratic candidates lose to their Republican counterparts.
"We really thought that we had a lot of great opportunities and some incredible candidates that we thought could do pretty well this year," Bennett says. "Some of the election results were pretty shocking. Butte and some of these reservation seats, some of the more progressive areas, Helena as well—it was pretty startling to see Republican victories in some of the most progressive or, at least, Democratic areas."
Bennett is acutely aware that each Democratic loss will constitute an additional degree of difficulty for progressives heading into Montana's 2011 Legislative Session. Democratic priorities, like boosting school funding, making sure that money continues flowing from state coffers into children's health care and implementing statewide protections for homosexuals will be incredibly challenging, if not impossible, to achieve in light of last Tuesday's election.