Harlan Wells was sworn in as a Missoula City Council member in Ward 2 just 2 1/2 months ago, but he already has his sights set on higher office.
Wells has filed form C-1-A with the Montana commissioner of political practices with the intention of running for mayor of Missoula in 2017. The paperwork allows him to start fundraising and spending for what he says is a “potential” run.
Like city council seats, the office of mayor is nonpartisan.
However, Wells took $850 from the Missoula County Republicans in his 2015 campaign for City Council, according to his campaign finance report. The Missoula County Democrats did not endorse him.
“Democrats in this town try and paint me as a rabid Republican, but the reality is I’m a centrist, especially on social issues,” Wells said. “Social issues are second- and third-tier issues for me. I’m a fiscal conservative. What I care about is financial responsibility and the financial health of the city. I think the current administration is spending us into the ground.”
Mayor John Engen, who has been in office since 2006 and is the longest-serving mayor in Missoula history, has not indicated if he will run again and declined to comment Thursday.
Wells, who works for the Missoula Housing Authority, has been an outspoken voice on the City Council in his short tenure.
While all other City Council members have expressed their support for taking over Mountain Water Co. through an eminent domain case, Wells said he wants to let Missoula voters decide whether to end the effort.
“I’m going to try to get a repeal of the mayor’s ongoing efforts to take over Mountain Water in the next couple weeks,” Wells said. “I don’t think they’re respecting the intelligence of the voters. All municipal elections were held before we knew the purchase price. So if the voters say, ‘Yes, we still want to purchase Mountain Water,’ I would have to support it. But if they say ‘no,’ we should end it.”
Wells said he is working with the city attorney to draft language to put the issue up for a vote.
“Next week or the week after, I’m going to bring that to the Committee of the Whole,” he said. “If they refuse to allow it to go to a vote, then I will go to signature gathering.”