Let's get ready to rumble 

The Indy sizes up the candidates in the key June 8 primary races.

Outdoor festivals, warmer weather (we think, eventually), 10 p.m. sunsets, even longer lines at the Big Dipper—and primary elections! That's right, dutiful local electorate, it must be June in Missoula, and we've come prepared with an obnoxiously long, mildly informative, occasionally quippy guide to the 2010 primary races that actually matter.

How did we determine which races actually matter? We focused on the four Missoula contests believed to be the most competitive—Senate District 48, House District 94, Missoula County Sheriff and, of course, the four-person Democratic race for U.S. House of Representatives. We didn't cover the Republican primary for Congress here because we've already written about A.J. Otjen and Mark French, and their efforts to knock off incumbent Denny Rehberg, in the weeks leading up to the election (check out www.missoulanews.com for those stories).

Lastly, and most importantly, make sure to vote on Tuesday, June 8. You can visit the Office of Elections website (www.co.missoula.mt.us/election) or call 406-258-4751 to find your polling place, check your voter registration status and find additional information.

U.S. Representative, Democratic primary

Who wants to run against a millionaire?

Why it matters: A cynic might say it matters because someone has to have the honor of getting trounced by well-funded Republican incumbent Denny Rehberg in November. A more optimistic Democrat would argue that Rehberg is just as vulnerable as any incumbent this year—especially considering his involvement with a late-night boat crash on Flathead Lake last summer—and that this race offers the most compelling Rehberg opponents in years.

Either way, this race matters because Democrats are desperate to find a viable candidate to challenge the incumbent, and that never-ending search has produced this primary election's most wide-open competition.

Name: Tyler Gernant

Age: 27

Home: Missoula

Relevant experience: Worked for Sen. Max Baucus, U.S. Rep. Brian Baird and John Edwards' presidential campaign. Also co-founder of the Rural Advocacy League.

Occupation: Small-business attorney with Bjornson Law Offices.

Why proponents back him: Fourth generation Montanan whose polished campaign and thorough grasp of the issues belie his young age.

Why skeptics balk: The age thing. If elected, Gernant would be the so-called "Baby of the House." Current youngster Aaron Schock, R-Illinois, just turned 29.

Website: www.tylergernant.com

Gernant, in his own words:

I had a lot of friends from here in Montana who lost their jobs and ended up having to leave the state to find work. A few of the businesses I've represented as a lawyer have had to close their doors and lay off their employees as a result of what I view as systemic failures within our government. I really felt there was a lot we had to be doing to foster small business development in Montana.

Clean energy is something that could bring a lot of high-paying jobs to Montana, and we weren't doing enough about that at a federal level. Over the next 10 years, it could bring 13,000 high-paying jobs to the state and bring in over a half-a-billion dollars to our economy.

I've talked about giving small businesses a tax credit for hiring new employees. The last time we did something like that in the late '70s, it brought about a huge surge in job growth. That'd be a good start.

When community banks are hurting, they're not lending money to the small businesses in Montana that create jobs. That's what I saw with some of my clients, where all of a sudden they couldn't qualify for loans that they had no trouble qualifying for in the 10 years prior. We need to make sure that what we're doing for the banks that are supposedly too big to fail doesn't adversely affect the small banks here that are the lifeline to business in Montana.

This is the job I want. I didn't want to view something else as a stepping stone. This is what got me interested. This is where I think I can be most effective.

I think fundamentally it's a question about experience. Look at what experience has gotten you—a congressman who has voted for tax cuts for the wealthiest, for putting two wars on our credit card, for this big boondoggle of a prescription drug plan and for our deficit.

Denny talks about small business development, but it's something I've actually done. I've actually worked with hundreds of small businesses across Montana to help them grow and prosper.

Mike Mansfield is someone I think we should all model our lives on. I'm proud that his family has been a part of our campaign.

Sen. Edwards had a real touch with common folks. It was something I always respected, but my opinion of him has definitely changed.

One of the benefits of youth is that I don't have any skeletons in my closet.


Name: Melinda Gopher

Age: 45

Home: Missoula

Relevant experience: Outreach coordinator for Council of Concerned Citizens, fair housing specialist for city of Great Falls and worked on Bill Yellowtail's 1996 campaign for the U.S. House.

Occupation: Student

Why proponents back her: Refreshingly outspoken political outsider who isn't afraid to go after Rehberg—or any of her Democratic opponents—with blunt criticisms.

Why skeptics balk: While entertaining, her lack of political experience and fundraising leave her little chance of beating Rehberg. Gopher, for instance, raised less than $5,000 during the last reporting period.

Website: www.melindaformontana.com

Gopher, in her own words:

I want to bring back the spirit of public service. I don't see being a politician as a career path.

There's a difference between politics and good government. If we look at politics as the low end of the spectrum and good government as the achievable goal, I feel that cycle after cycle we're setting the bar low. I'm not good at politics, but my objective is to be good at good government.

I grew up on Hill 57 in a two-room house. I come from people—my roots lie in the Rocky Boys Band of Chippewa Indians—who were systematically oppressed through several centuries to arrive at where we were at Hill 57. My whole life is predicated on how out of whack this government's priorities are, and that's what's been the precursor to me being here now.

Last spring at a round dance, we just decided we're sick of this. We're sick of being gaffed off by politicians. We're sick of organizing around an issue and not being heard. We decided to project our story on a greater canvas.

Right now, I can hear Dennis McDonald's voice in my head, and it's the same canned response—same with Tyler, too—as to how to fix the economy. I'm sorry, but that's not good enough.

There's a lack of technology funding in the state. I don't know how we're going to transition to a high-tech economy here in Montana if the federal investment is not there. My spouse and I found that out first-hand trying to get an IT contracting company up and running.

I have to be like this, coming from where I come from. It's my nature.

There's been a little bit of a wait-and-see attitude from the powers that be in the Democratic Party, and I'm comfortable with that.

I'm going to give you a lesson in Indian Politics 101. Now, you think the party and the county chairs have power. Well, in Indian Country it's the powwow announcer. You start with the powwow announcer and they get your message out there. Then it goes down to the clans and the families and the individuals, and calling Grandma Dorothy in Fort Belknap and making sure she's got all her grandkids registered to vote. It's very oral and very word-of-mouth. It's a tried and true political model.

That's the secret to my victory on June 8.


Name: Dennis McDonald

Age: 66

Home: Melville

Relevant experience: Chairman of Montana Democratic Party, 2005–2009.

Occupation: Rancher

Why proponents back him: Established Democratic Party insider who has the connections to beat Rehberg in November.

Why skeptics balk: One of three reasons: 1. It's not exactly a good year to be considered a political insider. 2. The former California lawyer once represented—and allegedly developed close ties to—Jimmy "The Weasel" Fratianno, a high-profile West Coast Mafioso. 3. In a video that's become viral (just Google "McDonald Mop Flop"), McDonald was caught awkwardly stumbling through seven minutes of questioning from Rehberg supporters outside the congressman's Missoula office. The last two are presumed to be easy-pickin's for Rehberg in the general election.

Website: www.mcdonald4congress.com

  • Photo courtesy of Dennis McDonald

McDonald, in his own words:

I've never seen the angst in Montanans' eyes that I have over the last year.

We need a fundamental change in our economic philosophy. Probably 30 years ago our country embarked upon the notion of trickle-down economics. If there's one thing we've learned out of this downturn, trickle-down economics works fine for Wall Street, but doesn't work for Main Street, and particularly not Main Street in Montana.

We need to invest in education. Perhaps we can look toward building a med school in Montana...Secondly, let's build a vet school at MSU in Bozeman. Right now, our students who want to go into veterinary medicine have to go out of state. Finally, let's invest in making Montana Tech at Butte the citadel for green research—that is, renewable energy, research innovation and investment. There's no reason Montana can't be the leading state for renewable energy resources—in wind energy, biomass, geothermal and solar energy.

Unlike some of my opponents, I believe we can develop our state's natural resources in an environmentally prudent manner.

I thought the state's leasing of Otter Creek was probably premature. But once the Land Board made that decision, once the horse left the barn, then it seemed to me that it's the responsibility of our elected leaders to move forward and make sure that it's done correctly.

I've been absolutely opposed to the construction of the Tongue River railroad, and I still am.

I'm very proud of the work I did representing this career criminal. I took this high-ranking Mafia don and made him a government witness.

I think at the end of the day we put, like, 26 high-ranking Mafiosos in jail. I think on that case I did more to assist law enforcement across the country than Rehberg has done in his entire life.

I would say it was probably not my best hour. I would suggest to you that we'll see more and more [stunts like the "Mop Flop" interview]. Rehberg's history has been, whenever he's in a close race, he turns to character assassination. That's all he has.

I hope at the end of the day Montana voters will judge which one of us provides the best opportunity to send Rehberg back to the private sector. That's the ultimate goal.


Name: Sam Rankin

Age: 65

Home: Billings

Relevant experience: Ran unsuccessful bid for state House in 1982 and filed but withdrew for U.S. Senate race in 1996 and 2000.

Occupation: Real estate broker

Why proponents back him: A moderate Democrat who rails against special interest money and preaches fiscal responsibility, and who backs it up by running a barebones campaign.

Why skeptics balk: Entered the race late, ran a limited campaign and has had almost zero visibility.

Website: srankin.qwestoffice.net

  • Photo courtesy of Sam Rankin

Rankin, in his own words:

Like most Montanans, I believe excessive money has corrupted the political process on both sides of the aisle. The common man's voice has been displaced by special interests. I believe special interests rule and I don't like the way they rule.

I was sitting back, watching the other candidates, and kept hoping that one of them would visit the issue of special interest money. They didn't.

With baby boomers aging and the benefits they're due to receive, getting the deficit curve under control will alleviate a lot of other problems. You can't change these things overnight, but they have to change.

The entitlements—basically Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—take roughly 43 cents out of every revenue dollar that we spend. There are hundreds of different ideas to consider, but entitlements have to be looked at over time.

There should be no tax increases via the tax code—it's too complex already. But we need something along the line of either a value added tax or a consumption tax.

So people don't get the wrong idea, it would go something like this: hamburger, no; steak, yes. Eggs, no; caviar, yes. We have to increase our revenue and decrease our spending, or else we'll end up like Greece.

Denny Rehberg and I go to the same church.

I'm at a disadvantage, but hopefully we'll tap into how angry Montanans are with what's going on in Washington right now.

If it's not me this year, it will be someone like me next time.

House District 94, Democratic primary

Winner takes all

Why it matters: Perhaps the most closely watched local primary features two high-profile and accomplished women vying for Dave McAlpin's former seat in the House. Ellie Hill, as an attorney and director of the Poverello Center, is one of Missoula's most prominent activists. Lou Ann Crowley, a Missoula City Council member from 1996 to 2006 and one-time mayoral candidate, is widely known for her civil and non-profit service. Republican candidate Jay Stanford withdrew from the race, so either Crowley or Hill will run uncontested in November and head to Helena next year.

Name: Lou Ann Crowley

Age: 63

Time in Missoula: 32 years

Education: B.A. in elementary education from State Teachers College at Boston.

Special skills: From 10 years of service on the Missoula City Council, I have direct legislative experience in budgeting, land use, transportation, economic development and serving those at risk; good listening skills, ability to work across the aisle, and a track record of building coalitions.

Website: www.louanncrowley.com

  • Photo courtesy of Lou Ann Crowley

Why should residents of HD 94 vote for you?

Ten years of legislative experience, a proven track record of social and legislative accomplishments and the only candidate on the ballot who lives in the district.

If you're elected to the state House, what would be your top legislative priority?

Improving the economy through job creation in basic industries and new and green technologies, support for small businesses, and funding for UM and the College of Technology.

How would you build on Dave McAlpin's five-year tenure?

Rep. McAlpin cares a great deal about the well-being of the people of Montana based on the bills he introduced during his tenure. I would continue working in the areas of education, jobs, supporting those with mental health issues, promoting child nutrition and preventing domestic violence.

One of the most contentious issues heading into the 2011 legislative session is medical marijuana. Do you believe the law should be amended? How?

The explosive growth of the medical marijuana industry has raised a host of questions not answered by the existing law. These need to be addressed and the law amended to make the system work better for everyone. There are no easy solutions.

It's possible Republicans will control both houses in 2011. What's one item you think will have broad bipartisan support?

With the current emphasis on addressing our drinking and driving culture, I believe DUI legislation will have broad bipartisan support.

What adjective best describes Gov. Brian Schweitzer?



Name: Ellie Hill

Age: 34

Time in Missoula: 5 years

Education: B.S. in psychology from Boise State University; J.D. from University of Idaho.

Special skills: Voted Missoula's "Best Activist" for the past three consecutive years, nearly perfect penmanship, never been beaten in "Trivial Pursuit," walked down every street in House District 94, and does the world's worst Marlon Brando impersonation.

Website: www.elliehillforhd94.org

Why should residents of HD 94 vote for you?

Because I unwaveringly support progressive values. I have been endorsed by Mayor Engen, former Mayor Kadas, six members of City Council, Montana Conservation Voters and Sen. Ron Erickson, who also represents HD 94.

If you're elected to the state House, what would be your top legislative priority?

I am already working with constituents to introduce legislation related to economic development, job creation, affordable housing and education. I also believe that we must work to immediately reduce the costs of airline travel to and from Montana.

How would you build on Dave McAlpin's five-year tenure?

Dave, who last year was named director of the Montana State Crime Lab, has been supportive of my campaign. Building on his legacy, I will be one of few legislators who have actually prosecuted DUIs and I understand firsthand the impact DUI has on our community. The new DUI courts in Billings and Kalispell are showing great promise in reducing Montana's steady increase in multiple-DUI offenders. I support expanding the program to Missoula and other communities.

One of the most contentious issues heading into the 2011 legislative session is medical marijuana. Do you believe the law should be amended? How?

Exploitation of the law's physician recommendation requirement at circus-like "clinics" that process hundreds of people in a single day must come to an end. Financial relationships between caregivers and physicians should be outlawed, plain and simple. So should public use of cannabis, by anyone. The law is intended to honor the central Montana values of freedom and self-reliance, to grant worthy patients the liberty to use an ancient, proven natural plant for healing purposes. With consensus amendments at the 2011 Legislature, we can fulfill that goal and end the craziness. My campaign has been endorsed by John Masterson, the director of Montana NORML.

It's possible Republicans will control both houses in 2011. What's one item you think will have broad bipartisan support?

In January the U.S. Supreme Court made a landmark decision allowing corporations to spend an unlimited amount of money in political campaigns. I support a constitutional amendment clarifying that corporations are not people, money is not speech, and the Bill of Rights is a bill of human rights. Since the days of the Copper Kings in Butte, Montanans have stood unified in their opposition to the idea of special interests buying political power. A unified Montana Legislature should send a message to our congressional delegation that Congress must act to limit the damage of this radical decision that strikes at the heart of democracy.

What adjective best describes Gov. Brian Schweitzer?


senate District 48, Democratic primary

More work to be done

Why this race matters: Both Tom Facey and Teresa K. Henry served their district in the state House of Representatives, and are now vying for the Senate seat vacated by Democrat Carolyn Squires. Facey and Henry come cut from a similar cloth—in fact, Henry once worked as Facey's campaign treasurer—but still present a clear difference to voters.

Name: Tom Facey

Nickname: Spacey Facey

Age: 56

Relevant experience: Montana House of Representatives, 1999–2006; caucus leader of House Democrats in 2001.

Profession: Science teacher, Sentinel High School

Website: www.faceyforsenate48.com

In three sentences or less, why should residents of SD 48 vote for you?

Two reasons: I have the energy and ideas to move us forward. Second, I've worked hard on constituent issues during my four sessions, including introducing 51 bills with only three at the request of the governor or committee. That shows I listen to the concerns of my constituents.

What would you consider your greatest accomplishment from your extensive time serving in the state House of Representatives?

I have two: I didn't realize it at the time, but I started the process of televising the Legislature...The other is, when [Missoula Police Sgt. Bob] Hinle was shot in Missoula [in 1988], the community raised about $100,000 to help his wife travel to Denver when he was recuperating. I saw the fact that if a logger or construction worker got hurt and had to go to Seattle for care, or a guy from Glasgow had to go to Billings for a workers' comp case, all those travel expenses would not be paid by work comp. It took me three sessions to get a bill through, but I finally got a bill through that allowed for some of those travel and lodging costs to get paid for by workers' comp.

If elected, what would be your top legislative priority in the Senate?

We've got this huge hole in our budget, and part of that is from using stimulus money from last session for ongoing expenditures. I've heard figures of upwards of $400 million—I don't remember the exact source, but the next sentence was something to the effect of, "and no one's really talking about this." That's a good chunk of change.

During the special session in 2002, we filled a $500 million deficit. I know it's possible. I know we're not going to fall off a cliff. But I also appreciate that it's going to take a lot of maneuvering.

One item already being discussed in Helena is how the state can better address DUIs. What do you think is the best approach to the issue?

One guy, when I knocked on his door, he said, "You know, the first one, everyone makes a mistake. Let's focus on the treatment aspect with a DUI court or something like that. Let's not throw the book at the person. After that, well, you've made more than one mistake." I agree with that philosophy.

I'm not a constitutional lawyer, but I think if you agree to a driver's license, you agree to take the appropriate test if you're suspected of being under the influence. I think that passes constitutional muster. Driving is not a right; it's a responsibility. The offender should also have to pay for his treatment, and the monetary loss for getting a DUI should be higher.

Another contentious issue heading into the 2011 legislative session is medical marijuana. Do you believe the law should be amended? How?

I do believe the law should be amended. I don't want to take a politician's view on this, but I know Rep. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, has been heading up a committee that's been looking at this. I trust that committee will come out with some great ideas. I hope those ideas include allowing cities and counties to zone where those businesses go.

As a high school teacher, I'm just not going to move forward with any legalization...I also don't think you should smoke marijuana in public.

Let me add that, I'm fairly sure that no matter what we do, some constituents will not be happy. As I've knocked on doors, opinions on this issue have covered the whole spectrum.

What adjective best describes Gov. Brian Schweitzer?

It's not an adjective, but I'll say that he sucks the air out of the room when he comes in.

What's your campaign song? If you don't have one, what do you wish it would have been?

I don't have one, but I'd say most anything by Steely Dan.


Name: Teresa K. Henry

Nickname: Tracy

Age: 57

Relevant experience: Montana House of Representatives, 2005–2009.

Profession: Registered nurse and assistant professor of nursing at the Montana State University College of Nursing on the University of Montana campus

Website: www.tkhenry.com

In three sentences or less, why should residents of Senate District 48 vote for you?

I'm experienced in the legislative process. I'm also good at problem solving and being able to look at multiple points of view and come to a solution.

What would you consider your greatest accomplishment from your extensive time serving in the state House of Representatives?

The one that gave me the most positive feeling was being co-signer on the bill that expanded CHIP coverage by changing the poverty level. We basically ended up covering more kids.

The other thing, during my first session, I introduced and carried a bill to include more labeling and monitoring for mercury that's used in dental offices. The bill didn't pass, but I ended up working with the hospital association and the dental association and a variety of other groups to come up with some internal commitments and regulations to decrease mercury use and exposure.

If elected, what would be your top legislative priority in the Senate?

Health care is my background, so one of the more important things will be implementation at the state level of any of the changes from the federal health care reform bill. I think that will be tied considerably to our budget issues because we'll have a number of newer unemployed people who will lose benefits, and we're going to have to look at the Medicaid rolls and how we balance those costs. I have the expertise to help us get the most bang for our buck, so to speak, so we can support prevention and early intervention programs.

One issue already being discussed in Helena is how the state can improve its DUI laws. What do you think is the best approach to the issue?

My short answer is DUI courts...I don't know that changing the felony level is going to make any difference if our jails and corrective facilities are so full that we can't put people into jail or into treatment.

Another contentious issue heading into the 2011 legislative session is medical marijuana. Do you believe the law should be amended? How?

I think we need to look at some of the administrative rules about how it's implemented. But I don't know that the law needs to be amended. It's a people's initiative, and I think we've gotten a really strong message that access to medical marijuana for symptom management is important to the people of Montana.

What adjective best describes Gov. Brian Schweitzer?

The word is indefatigable. The guy never tires. I just don't know when he sleeps.

What's your campaign song? If you don't have one, what do you wish it would have been?

I haven't technically thought of one, but it would be something by Bruce Springsteen, and probably "Into the Fire" from The Rising.

Missoula County Sheriff, Democratic primary

Wide-open shot

Why this race matters: Controversial Missoula County Sheriff Mike McMeekin dropped an election year bombshell this January when he announced his retirement from law enforcement effective December 2010. Now the race for county sheriff is wide open for the first time in decades, and Democratic candidates Bob Parcell and Brad Giffin are talking serious change. The winner will face Republican Nick Lisi—running unopposed in the primary—and Independent Carl Ibsen in the general election this November. Though it's just one step toward office, Missoula has elected Democratic sheriffs since at least 1998.

Name: Bob Parcell

Age: 60

Background: Retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel and former Forest Service smokejumper

Current position in Sheriff's Office: Senior Deputy Sheriff II

With the Missoula County Sheriff's Office: 28 years

Website: www.parcellforsheriff.org

The sheriff's office has been the focus of some public criticism during McMeekin's tenure. If elected, how do you plan to right the ship, so to speak?

You have to have openness, you have to have access for the public. It's there now, but maybe it's not as good as it should be. It can always be improved...You can have a good method of bringing [the public] in. We can have various classes, they can come in and see what's going on. We need more reserves, and we need cadets. We can work with the city to do ride-alongs. The more people know, the more they trust you.

What do you think will be the deciding factor in winning voter support in the primary?

It's basically leadership. If you have a moral problem anywhere, where does that come from? It doesn't come from the lower positions. Everything comes down from the top, the general atmosphere of the department is set from the top down. Leadership is the biggest issue in this race.

The City of Missoula is currently discussing expanding police authority beyond the city limits. How do you plan to address that possible overlap?

It's very important to keep the cooperation and the coordination between the city and the county. These problems just outside the city limits come about because of this hop, skip and jump thing with annexation. If I think there's a problem as sheriff, I'm going to go to [Police Chief Mark Muir] and work it out...We understand and give the city their due and we let them enforce the law where they can. We're spread thinner, and they have more people because they operate in densely populated areas.

Missoula County continues to grow, which raises specific issues for the sheriff's department. How ready are you to tackle those issues?

I think I'm ready because I have the wherewithal. I don't plan on being the answer man, and I don't want any yes-men around me. I want guys that question everything and are willing to tell me, "Sir, I think you're doing this wrong," or "Why don't we try this?"...All you got to do is get off their backs, take their saddles off, give them the reins and let them fly. They'll take it and run with it. I guarantee you they'll find the answers if you give them the right to do so. Don't think you're the only guy that has the answers.

How many guns do you own?

I'm a big hunter, I'm a military man. They multiply too, you know? Put two of them together and if the wife isn't looking pretty soon there's another one. [Final count: 24 rifles, 16 pistols and one shotgun].

Lastly, McMeekin's been rocking a pretty gnarly mustache all these years. If elected, will you be carrying on that facial hair tradition?

I can't grow a mustache to beat the band. I look stupid in a mustache only. If I'm going to do it, I'm going with a beard. As a smokejumper, I had a real nice reddish, blondish beard. Beards I like. Mustaches? I did that one time, looked at myself, and it was the stupidest thing I've ever seen in my life.


Name: Brad Giffin

Age: 49

Background: U.S. Marine Corps veteran and 2006 candidate for Missoula County Sheriff

Current position in Sheriff's Office: Assistant Patrol Commander

With the Missoula County Sheriff's Office: 20 years

Website: www.giffin4sheriff.org

The sheriff's office has been the focus of some public criticism during McMeekin's tenure. If elected, how do you plan to right the ship, so to speak?

I don't really think the ship is listing, to tell you the truth. I think the level of professionalism of the sheriff's deputies that currently work there is second to none, and that applies equally to the detention officers. They're all highly competent, ethical people. You can look at any department and find 2 or 3 percent of people who are going to make mistakes, whether they do it intentionally or accidentally.

What do you think will be the deciding factor in winning voter support in the primary?

Obviously the budget's a big challenge. You have revenues that are drying up and services from the sheriff's office are already at a premium. We just don't have any extra people. After the layoffs in the mid-'70s, none of those positions were ever refilled and Missoula County hasn't gotten any smaller.

Unfortunately, dealing with an electorate is a lot like dealing with a jury. You just never really know for sure what appeals to people. The people I've spoken to extensively over this campaign want a more open and accessible sheriff's office, and that's part of my platform...It should be as simple as going to a website and being directed to the proper place to get in contact with someone who can arrange the service [you need].

The City of Missoula is currently discussing expanding police authority beyond the city limits. How do you plan to address that possible overlap?

My understanding of what [Muir] wants to do is simply provide his people the ability to drive from an area in the city through the county to another island of city, and if they see a breach of peace they can act as a peace officer instead of just a citizen...For us as a sheriff's office, to bring on additional people is going to require more taxes and that's just not a popular option. We're as thin as we can be right now. We're living within our budget means, and to increase the public safety fund is the only way you could get more sheriff's deputies on the street.

Missoula County continues to grow, which raises specific issues for the sheriff's department. How ready are you to tackle those issues?

From the time I started working there I was instantly attracted to moving up the chain to try to make change in the department. And I've made a significant amount of change from the bottom...You can sit back in the department and do as little or as much as you want. I think it's incumbent on the guy who actually runs the ship to have as much exposure to all the different aspects of the department as possible

How many guns do you own?

Personally owned guns? Five or six.

Lastly, McMeekin's been rocking a pretty gnarly mustache all these years. Will you be carrying on that facial hair tradition?

I'm not going to be wearing one myself. I'm perfectly comfortable clean-shaven...That's just my style.

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