As the clock winds down to the June 8 primary election, a four-way race to claim the Missoula County sheriff's star promises to be one of the most hotly contested.
But of the four candidates vying for the role of Missoula County's chief law enforcement officer, only two will square off next month, even though the names of three candidates will appear on voters' primary election ballots, slated to be mailed out on May 10.
June's principal primary contenders are Democratic candidates and current department employees Lt. Brad Giffin and Sgt. Bob Parcell. Both have storied careers in the military and Missoula law enforcement.
The other two candidates will automatically advance to the November general election. Nicholas "Nick" Lisi, a 25-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and a resident of Huson, is the sole Republican candidate. He'll appear on the primary ballot even though he is unopposed in his party.
Carl Ibsen, a longtime sheriff's department employee, is running as an Independent and will not appear on the primary ballot because he doesn't represent a party. Instead, Ibsen had to collect about 1,300 signatures - 5 percent of the total votes cast for the last election's successful sheriff candidate - to qualify for the November ballot.
Still, with nearly a half-century of combined law enforcement experience between the two candidates running on the Democratic ticket, voters will have plenty to consider when marking their ballots - not least of which is who they regard as most capable of overseeing Missoula County's $22 million annual public safety fund, and a department of about 160 employees.
Giffin and Parcell have each spent their share of shoe leather enforcing the law in western Montana and beyond, and bring a range of experience and qualities to the table.
And while both candidates hope now to pluck the brown hat off the head of their boss, Sheriff Mike McMeekin, who has served in the position since 2002 but is not seeking another four-year term, only one candidate will advance to the Nov. 2 general election once the vote count is canvassed.
The goals, philosophies and breadth of experience of candidates Giffin and Parcell mirror one another in plenty of ways. Both men believe the work of their colleagues should be acknowledged and rewarded in order to improve and sustain morale, and both candidates think the department has untapped resources that could be put to better use.
The jurisdiction of Missoula County sheriff includes the downtown operation as well as the detention facility on Mullan Road, which houses both adult and juvenile inmates.
Both candidates agree that a sheriff's office cannot be successful without good, solid partnerships among law enforcement officers, administrative brass and the community, and both say that is how they will style the administration.
Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at 523-5264 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.