Six years ago, Michele Landquist was a political unknown whose only elected service was to the Lolo Community Council.
Now she faces challenges for her seat on the Missoula County Board of Commissioners from three other first-time office seekers, two of them from Landquist’s own Democratic Party.
Donald Davies of Clinton and Nicole “Cola” Rowley of Lolo both threw their hats in the ring in the last week of filing season, which ended March 10. They’ll be on the ballot against Landquist for the June 3 primary. Ballots will be mailed out May 5.
Vicky Gordon, who lives in Miller Creek, is the lone Republican in the running and so can turn her attention to the Nov. 4 general election.
Davies, 58, is a third-generation Montanan who grew up in Kalispell. He’s a certified public accountant in Missoula, performing audits of local governments, nonprofits, school districts and other special districts. He worked in the state office of the legislative auditor for five years in the 1980s and was the business manager and clerk of the board for Stevensville Public Schools for four years in the 1990s.
“I hope people recognize CPA government experience as valuable, but we’ll see what they say,” Davies said.
Rowley, 30, is an environmental health specialist with the Missoula City-County Health Department and an adjunct instructor at Missoula College/Bitterroot College.
She was born and raised in Sidney and came to western Montana to work as a postdoctoral fellow at Rocky Mountain Labs in Hamilton after earning her Ph.D. in pharmacology/toxicology at the University of Utah in 2011.
In a news release, Rowley cited her practical experience working within the county regulatory structure and with state statutes and rules.
“I have obtained considerable knowledge about land regulations, as well as air and water quality issues, which would directly aid in administering the functions of land use and subdivision approval,” Rowley said.
Rowley said she’s watched what has happened in her hometown of Sidney due to the Bakken oil boom.
“I fully appreciate the impact on the residents of a small rural setting when they grow too quickly for adequate planning,” she said.
A lack of transparency in county government extends far beyond the commissioners’ office, Rowley said. She proposes to make information on commissioner decisions easer to find and analyze.
“The public absolutely has a right to know what is going on within their government,” said Rowley. “I am approachable and reasonable, and have experience building positive relationships between the government and the public.”
Like Rowley, Davies has never run an election campaign before. He was appointed by commissioners to the board of the Clinton Rural Fire District and said such board appointments are an important function of the commission.
Work as a commissioner would be a continuation of the work with “the same type of local government entities that he has enjoyed for the last 29 years,” Davies’ news release said.
Davies, who described himself as “conservative Democrat,” also cited a lack of transparency in county government and a “need for the commissioners’ actions to be available for public review for the website.” He called it a simple goal that’s “just good common sense.”
As an accountant, Davies views as a campaign issue the review and analysis of the county’s nearly 500-page budget. He said he’s also concerned with aging issues and planning for changes in the demographics of the county, barriers to businesses and the financing of infrastructure for growth.
Gordon, 64, is a fourth-generation Montanan who was born and raised in Missoula, graduating from the University of Montana in 1971 and graduate school in 1974. The lone Republican in the commissioners’ race designed and managed advertising and publishing for Eagle Satellite until her retirement in 2012.
Gordon launched her campaign in mid-February, saying that voters throughout the county need to address the “increasing costs of managing the city-county complex.”
Landquist called it a grassroots effort that helped her unseat Republican Larry Anderson in the 2008 election, though the sheep rancher from Lolo was all but unknown at the start of the year.
As commissioner she serves on the Bitter Root Resource Conservation and Development Council, the Human Resource Council board, the Larchmont Golf Course Board, the Missoula Ravalli Transport Management Association, the Missoula County Fairgrounds Advisory Committee and the Transportation Policy Coordinating Committee board.
Landquist, 58, was the first commissioner candidate to file on Jan. 9, but had decided long before to run for her second term.
“I think we’re still doing a lot of important work that needs to be done,” she said in December. “I care about Missoula County and that’s why I want to do this for another six years.”