Missoula County Undersheriff Josh Clark threw his hat back in the ring for sheriff Friday, filing hours before the deadline to take on T.J. McDermott in November’s election as a write-in candidate.
McDermott, sergeant of detectives in the sheriff’s office, defeated Clark in a contentious June primary election. He garnered 52 percent of the 12,500 votes on the Democratic ballot. Clark polled 30 percent and Seeley Lake Deputy Bob Parcell 18 percent.
No one ran as a Republican, which seemed to mean McDermott would have no competition in November to succeed retiring Sheriff Carl Ibsen.
“Only 8 percent of the voters in Missoula voted for McDermott,” Clark said Friday evening. “Over 90 percent of the voters either didn’t have a choice or didn’t get who they wanted. The people of Missoula need to have somebody as sheriff – I think they need it of all public officials, in reality – who do the right thing and be people of character.”
“It just is very disappointing,” McDermott responded when reached shortly after Clark issued a news release announcing his candidacy at 4:30 p.m. “Josh Clark hasn’t been able to move on and I think it’s an insult to the voters who already overwhelmingly – almost 2 to 1 – chose me to be the next sheriff.”
Clark, added McDermott, “told everybody that he was a Democrat. It didn’t work out for him, he lost, and now he’s just trying something different.”
According to state law, write-in candidates cannot designate a political affiliation. Ibsen ran and won in 2010 as an independent.
The 5 1/2 weeks before the Nov. 4 election promise to be every bit as vitriolic as the primary campaign.
Clark revisited Friday the complaint he filed against McDermott with the commissioner of political practices in August. In it, he claimed that McDermott did not report contributions he accepted from the Missoula law firm of Datsopoulos, MacDonald & Lind, which hosted a fundraising event for McDermott. The complaint is pending.
Clark also talked about what he called McDermott’s history of delinquent tax payments.
“If you look back at his personal life, he’s bent the rules,” he said.
“This is kind of the same old bullying tactics that we’ve seen all along in the campaign,” McDermott fired back. “If Clark doesn’t get his way he throws out false allegations against his opponents, he misleads voters with half truths filing complaints, and then insults anyone who doesn’t agree with him.
“The thing is, 99 percent of the allegations he made were frivolous and baseless.”
The two men do cross paths in the office, “but we don’t have daily interaction,” Clark said. “We see each other in the office, but we’re not working cases together or anything like that.”
Asked if the friction between them is affecting the department’s performance, Clark replied, “I’d say it’s like any election. The atmosphere is a little different. Between Terry and I, yeah, it’s very different. I do not support the way he acts. I don’t have respect for the decisions he’s making and how he’s behaving, and I suppose that doesn’t sit well with him.”
Both Clark and McDermott said there have been no confrontations between them since the primary election. But McDermott said it’s a “sad” working atmosphere.
“What’s sad about it is the current administration, Sheriff Ibsen and Josh Clark, are not serving the public well. There has been no type of acknowledgement of the primary election, and really they’re just slowing down the transition and the healing that needs to happen at the sheriff’s office,” McDermott said.
“They just continue to engage in these questionable tactics and make false accusations against my campaign. Really it’s just an attempt to try to scare people because he didn’t like the results and now he’s just going to try something different.”
Clark, who was the only write-in candidate to file at the Missoula County election office, said he made it official so late in the game because it was a tough decision.
“I had to sit down with the family and think about it pretty long and hard, but what it comes down to in our minds is it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I try to stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves. I’ve been doing that for 21 years and for me to just walk away from this … It wouldn’t be the right thing to do.”
“The bottom line,” Clark added, “is Misssoula County needs a credible choice. You can look at McDermott’s history and you can poo-poo it off, one incident here and one incident there. That’s fine. But let’s look at the totality of it. Here’s a guy that’s very comfortable bending rules, breaking rules or, it appears, breaking the law if it benefits him. And that’s not right.
“It’s not right for any public official and it’s certainly not right for somebody that thinks they’re going to be sheriff.”