Flurry of candidates file for state elections

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Monday was the last day to file for this year’s elections, and several Flathead-area candidates have put their names on the ballot.
Libby resident Austin Nelson is running against Rep. Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka, to represent Senate District 1.
A Libertarian, Nelson said that “I wanted to give the voters of Lincoln County another choice”
He sees Montana’s Republican Party as drifting toward greater spending, and said that recent increases in the gas tax “got me fired up to run.”
He identified the state budget as a top issue, but was unsure what cuts he would recommend. He believes Montana can raise more revenue by legalizing sports betting and cannabis. “All the signs I’ve seen point to it being completely safe,” he said.
Nelson, 29, works at Great Northern Brewery in Whitefish and volunteers at Libby’s Fisher River Volunteer Fire Company.
Diane Taylor-Mahnke, a Whitefish Democrat, aims to capture the Senate District 4 seat from Sen. Mark Blasdel, R-Kalispell. At a time of widespread distrust in government and other institutions, she said that “I think it’s important to restore the trust and for people to work to make the government what they want it to be.”
Her priorities include climate change and other environmental issues, education, and veterans’ care. If elected, she promised to seek out others’ perspectives on these matters.
“If I have an issue for the Flathead, I’m going to see how it affects Glasgow. If there’s an issue for loggers, I’m going to see what the conservationists say. Because I’m older, I’m going to find the youngest senator in the room and see how they feel about the issue.”
She acknowledged that “no matter how well-intentioned I am, there’s going to be somebody who’s going to get the short end of the stick, and you need to mitigate that to make sure you aren’t putting undue pain on somebody.”
A retired teacher and school librarian, Taylor-Mahnke is a current or former member of multiple organizations, including 350 Glacier, Flathead County Democratic Women, the Northwest Reading Council, the United Church of Christ, Citizens for a Better Flathead, and the Deer Park School Board.
In House District 1, Donald Coats is running as a Democrat against Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Kalispell.
He said he advocates “common-sense gun control, women’s rights,” the ability to cut trees on Forest Service land, lower taxes for the poor, Social Security and Medicare.
“I feel like I’m a man of my word, and I’ll stand for whatever I believe in,” he said.
Coats, 75, is retired after a long career in the private-security sector.
To the valley’s northeast, two candidates have filed to run against incumbent Zac Perry, D-Hungry Horse, for the House District 3 seat. Republican Jerry O’Neil aims to return to the Legislature after having served eight years in the state Senate and four in the House.
“I believe in some things that the current representative does not believe,” he told the Daily Inter Lake.
“When I was in the Legislature, I voted much more favorably to the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms than Mr. Perry has voted,” he said. Like many of his Republican colleagues, O’Neil also voiced deep misgivings about the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes water compact, calling it “unconstitutional.”
Other concerns for O’Neil include abortion, preserving the rule of law, and opposition to groups like End Citizens United and Move to Amend, which aim to restrict the influence of money in politics, but that he believes threaten the freedom of assembly.
O’Neil, 74, serves as an independent paralegal, and an advocate and counselor for representing people before the Blackfeet tribal court. He is also the president of Montanans for Multiple Use.
In the same district, retired veteran Shawn Guymon has filed as a Libertarian. Many elected officials, he believes, “pretend to be servants of the people. They’re not. They want to be lords of the people.”
He’s concerned about threats to Montanans’ rights in the courtroom, and, in his district, the cleanup of the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. Superfund site.
“Those in charge seem to have cut every corner they have” on that issue, he argued. “The people need a champion, to say, ‘No, you’re not gonna do it the way you want it, it needs to be done right.’”
In addition to his candidacy, Guymon has attended some Last Chance Patriots meetings, including last Saturday’s Bigfork lecture by Dinesh D’Souza.
The Daily Inter Lake will profile the remaining candidates who filed recently in Monday’s paper.
Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly

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