By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
Dave Strohmaier edged out incumbent Missoula County commissioner Stacy Rye in Tuesday’s primary, winning a race where leadership became a central theme.
With all precincts reporting, Strohmaier secured 10,129 votes to Rye’s 9,317, winning by a 52 to 47-percent margin.
“We had a tremendous base of volunteers and supporters throughout the county, both urban and rural,” Strohmaier said. “While there were similarities between (Rye) and myself, we offered some clear differences in terms of skills and abilities and the resume we bring to the table.”
Rye was appointed by Commissioners Cola Rowley and Jean Curtiss last fall to fill a seat left vacant by retiring Commissioner Bill Carey. Rye’s appointment created the state’s only all-female board of commissioners and was the first in Missoula County in more than two decades.
But during that time, Curtiss came to criticize Rye, calling into question her leadership skills while suggesting she had created a strained work environment. Curtiss endorsed Strohmaier throughout his campaign and announced her support the day he filed to run against Rye.
“The reality is, I’ve worked in both the executive branch of federal government, the legislative branch of local government and the private sector for 13 years,” Strohmaier said. “I think it was another important differentiating factor. I think it resonated that I had a background in natural resources as well, and this is a natural resource-rich county.”
Strohmaier ran on a five-point plan he released early in his campaign, including leadership, conservation, and planning and development. Human rights and social justice also play a part of his agenda moving toward the general election this November.
He’ll face Republican Todd Geery, who ran uncontested and received 8,406 votes. Combined, Strohmaier and Rye secured 19,446 votes.
“It’s critical that a commissioner take the time necessary to sit with staff, reach out to members of the public and hear what’s important to them,” Strohmaier said. “We’ve got to come to grips with the lack of adequate mental health and addiction treatment as well. It’s something that has far-reaching ramifications socially throughout Missoula County.”
Rye remains proud of her accomplishments on the board of commissioners, including the county’s move to adopt paid parental leave. She also believes transparency and openness took a step forward during her time in the position.
“There’s nothing else we could have done, and I feel good we left no stone unturned,” Rye said of her campaign. “I was very pleased with how we ran this really positive campaign. There were opportunities to sling mud back and maybe that would have made a difference, but we didn’t do that.”