Forums draw crowds, questions

Editor’s Note: More from the forums will be reported in next week’s edition
Marlo Pronovost
Thursday, May 17, 2018

Candidate forums in Columbus and Absarokee drew crowds and questions.

The first forum was held May 9 in Columbus, featuring candidates for commissioner, sheriff and treasurer. Also in the audience were candidates for Senate District 29 Sen. David Howard and challenger Andrew Forcier, as well as 22nd Judicial District Judge candidates Matt Wald and Ray Kuntz.

The sheriff race drew the most attention, drawing 22 questions submitted from the audience.

Each candidate was given a few minutes for introductory comments and then was asked two prepared questions by the moderator. That was followed by a few questions submitted from the audience.

The second forum took place May 14 in Absarokee and featured the same candidates, with the addition of Howard and Forcier, who were of particular focus to those in attendance. Also in attendance were judge candidates Wald and Kuntz, as well as county officials whose names will appear on the ballot in uncontested elections.

A summary of each forum is as follows:


The Senate District 29 and the sheriff race drew the most attention at this past Wednesday’s forum at the Cobblestone in Absarokee, which was moderated by the Absarokee Civic Club. Approximately 50 people attended.

SD 29

Howard and Forcier agreed on most questions, with a few sharp contrasts. Both are against passing new legislation for seatbelt and cell phone use in vehicles and advocate a place for Montana coal (which is being negatively impacted by other states not wanting coal to pass through). The two also share somewhat similar thoughts on K-12 public education funding, with Howard praising Montana teachers and calling Common Core “a terrible idea”

and Forcier saying the problem lays in Washington D.C. and the state should look at rejecting federal funding.

Medicaid expansion is a point of division, with Howard vowing to fight against it and Forcier favoring it. Forcier advocated for something he said he knew would make heads shake no — the legalization of marijuana to help raise funding for healthcare, law enforcement and schools.

That elicited an audience question to Forcier about legalizing marijuana and the problems it brought to other states that did so. Forcier said there had been a decline in violent crime and youth crimes and that problems other states have experienced are classified as “nuisance crimes.”

Howard countered that sharply, saying marijuana continues to be a Schedule 1 drug.


Charles “Chip” Kem and Gary Timm agreed that determining proper staffing level was largely dependent on the number of calls for service and the kind of calls. Kem, who currently serves as the Stillwater County undersheriff, said there has been a dramatic increase in the type of violent crime in the last five years, that has required more time and resources for investigations.

In response to a question about resident deputies, Kem said a new Absarokee deputy would soon be in place, in addition to one currently based in Park City. It is the intention that these deputies become part of those communities, which in turn will help with proactive work. Timm, who currently serves as the Columbus Police School Resource Officer, said he wants more “community policing” and would require all deputies to patrol more, including the undersheriff and the sheriff.

Timm said he decided to run because he did not want the position of sheriff to be “inherited.” Kem said he isn’t looking to inherit the job, but has been “working hard” for the past 10 years to put himself in a position to have the training, knowledge and experience to become the next sheriff.


Tyrel Hamilton and Al Nordahl fielded questions ranging from if they would be willing to do something about abandoned and junk vehicles around the county to road maintenance to the courthouse.

Both favor not spending any more money on the old hospital and favor some kind of annex and restoration to the current courthouse to accommodate office space needs.

Hamilton talked about the importance of going out in the community, taking a look at what people are dealing with and actually listening to what they say.


Incumbent Jerry Friend had a leg up on challenger Shirlee Keffer with office-specific questions, such as who sets co-op tax on vehicles, what changes need to be made to the office and how many years does it take to know tax laws.

Friend offered his experience during his first term and the fact that general interest has alone has covered his entire budget for the past two years.


The sheriff race was the center of attention at last week’s forum at the 307 Bar & Grill in Columbus, hosted by the Stillwater Republican Women. Approximately 35 people attended.


Hamilton said his plan of action regarding the recently secured grant to mitigate the old hospital of asbestos would be to “prepare for demolition.” He added that the continued spending of taxpayer money on that building has to stop. When asked for his view on the Citizen’s Initiated Zoning issue, Hamilton said he would not comment on what the current commissioners had done because he was not privy to all the information used to make the decisions.

Nordahl said everyone tells him the county’s most pressing issue is roads. When asked what his management style is, Nordahl said he is not a micro-manager and believes in hiring good people and letting them do their jobs.


Kem said he is a 28-year law enforcement veteran, having spent his entire career in Stillwater County, serving as search and rescue coordinator, reserve captain, sergeant, and currently as the undersheriff and deputy coroner. In response to a question about how he would improve community relations, Kem said he feels things are good at this time, but acknowledged the lines of communication need to be better. Specifically, follow-up on calls.

“We have lacked on that for some time,” said Kem.

Timm said he is running because he wants to give voters a choice.

“I’m the kind of person whose going to bring life back into office,” said Timm.

Timm also said he wants to implement an SRO program at all the schools in Stillwater County through the sheriff’s office, but did not indicate how he would pay for such a program.

In response to a question about if they would enforce federal gun bans, both men answered the same — no.


Friend explained how he handles someone with a tax bill complaint, which starts with reviewing the bill with the resident and seeking outside help if he is unable to get an answer. When asked how he works with other agencies, Friend said he has a solid working relationship with local, state and federal agencies.

Keffer said the role of the county treasurer is fiduciary responsibility and she brings to the job a 35-year banking management career.