Lisa Triepke likes to brand herself a grassroots candidate — one with less money than the incumbent but more support from everyday Missoulians.
She’s a single mother of four and working two jobs, although she left her part-time serving gig at Desperado’s sports bar recently.
The political newcomer touts her donor list largely made up of Realtors and retirees, with a sprinkling of small business owners and a couple of lawyers, rather than the attorneys, out-of-staters and statewide political types she and her supporters see on Mayor John Engen’s fundraising list.
“I bring a fresh perspective and new strategies to the table,” Triepke said in a recent interview with the Missoulian. “I think I can speak for Missoulians rather than a close circle of people I surround myself with.”
Triepke’s campaign treasurer is Diane Beck, the owner of Windermere Real Estate. Triepke has little political experience; most of it came from a very short stint as a trustee for Missoula County Public Schools that ended when she moved out of the district due to circumstances surrounding her divorce.
She cites work with nonprofits like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Five Valleys Land Trust and the UM Foundation as giving her fundraising, leadership and budgeting experience.
She’s been the director of marketing and community outreach for Cost Care for about eight years and says she’s devoted to running a clean race.
“I think people are tired of dirty politics,” Triepke said. “They want to hear about the issues.”
And the issue she got most worked up about: “We’re spending with no end in sight and Missoula needs to be treated like a business!”
Triepke hammers on “affordability and objectivity” as her campaign’s focus. That means lowering taxes and city spending, and imposing term limits to prevent what she views as a culture of yes-men supporting Engen across all branches of city government.
Triepke wants to offer an alternative to Missoulians. She's concerned about comments she says Engen made at a City Club meeting that he would raise taxes every year and could be mayor for life.
(Engen denied ever saying that he would be mayor for life, at least not in a serious context. He has said the city will have to continue raising taxes unless they find another revenue stream).
“He may have been joking, or not, and I like John, he’s a nice guy. But if he continues to run and run and run and there’s no end to taxes every year ... ” Triepke said. “If there’s no term limit, it can create a lack of objectivity. You can surround yourself with people who will automatically make decisions you want them to make instead of thinking outside of the box and coming up with unique solutions.”
She proposes a two-term limit, to keep a high turnover in mayor-appointed positions and to force a change in the city government’s agenda, which she thinks is stagnant and driven almost solely by Engen.
The common occurrence of unanimous City Council decisions is an example of how everyone in city government, even independent elected officials, follows the mayor’s lead, Triepke said, instead of representing their constituents.
She referenced a recent City Council vote.
“At least two council members anguished over the decision and asked a lot of questions and in the end said they were against it and then voted for it. To me, that’s a huge problem.
“I just think it’s a point of democracy,” Triepke said.“They are representative of a 12-year mayor.”
Triepke said the budget recently approved by the City Council definitely spends too much money, though she couldn’t say exactly what shouldn’t have been funded.
Triepke thought it was important not to rely on increasing taxable values from development to counteract the city’s growing budgets. Rather, the city should be spending less in the first place.
This year, a 3.82 percent tax increase was approved before the state Department of Revenue released updated certified taxable values. The new numbers offset the increase, leaving the city with a 1.2 percent decrease.
“You can spend responsibly and attack it that way,” she said.
An audit, working through each department, would be needed before she would know exactly where to slash spending.
“We’re not talking necessarily about cutting programs, we just want to eliminate waste,” she said. “I think the reality is it would take reviewing the budget line by line.”
Ward 5 representative Julie Armstrong was an early supporter of Triepke’s and has donated to her campaign.
Some of Missoula’s best governance has come from elected women, she said, and Triepke would be an excellent addition to that group.
“She strives to be the best example to her children in very challenging financial situations, working multiple jobs if needed and all the while continuing to be a rock in the community,” Armstrong wrote in an email. “I think her stability and work ethic will be an asset to the city, and I know she will continue to include all citizens in her decisions as mayor.
“Being flexible and agile is how governments thrive in challenging economies, and I know from personal experience that no one is more flexible and tenacious than Lisa Triepke.”
Check back in The Missoulian and on missoulian.com the week of Oct. 2 to read a series of stories comparing John Engen's and Lisa Triepke's stances on five important city issues: affordable housing, homelessness, business/wages, infrastructure and the budget.