Voters elect 4 newcomers to Missoula City Council seats; Wilkins ousted

Jesse Ramos

New faces – and no doubt perspectives – will soon define the Missoula City Council, with four newcomers elected in Tuesday’s municipal election and a fifth sworn-in after being appointed to a vacant seat.

In Ward 4, longtime incumbent Jon Wilkins lost his re-election bid to challenger Jesse Ramos, who ran an aggressive door-to-door campaign focused on tightening the city budget and lowering taxes.

Ramos, who ended the night with 1,645 votes to 973 for Wilkins and 1,129 for Chris Badgley, immediately thanked his predecessor “for his 12 years of service on the council and I also want to thank him for his service to our country in Vietnam.”

When his term begins in January, Ramos said he “really wants to accomplish financial responsibility” and believes he can be a “good resource for the mayor to tap into” as the next city budget is built because of his experience as a financial adviser.

“I really want to help bring some efficiency to the city budget,” Ramos said. “I really want to provide more funding for veterans, and more focus on our infrastructure.”

Ramos said he wants to lower city taxes, as did many of the Ward 4 residents he met during the campaign – “people on fixed incomes” and “younger people like myself who can’t afford a home.”

“The people that voted me in, they’re hurting,” he said. “They’re really hurting.”

After spending the past few months chiding local officials during the public comment portion of the City Council’s weekly meeting, Ramos said he believes he can, and will, work well with his fellow council members.

“I don’t want to embarrass anybody,” he said. “I don’t want to be a jerk. I really want to accomplish things.”

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Heather Harp

In Ward 3, where incumbent Councilwoman Emily Bentley opted not to run again after being named director of the Missoula County Fairgrounds, Heather Harp beat out two challengers with 1,923 votes.

Jon Van Dyke garnered 625 votes to 576 for Thomas Winter in their losing bids.

On Facebook, Harp said “President Obama’s farewell address on January 12th catapulted” her into running for City Council “to help steward Missoula forward.”

“There are plenty of issues that need attention over the next few years here in Missoula, but none more relevant than making our government more comprehensible for the average citizen so they feel connected and engaged,” she said.

Ward 5 also elected a newcomer, after incumbent Annelise Hedahl decided against running for another term.

Stacie Anderson

In that race, Stacie Anderson won with 2,289 votes to 1,641 for Cathy Deschamps.

On Facebook, Anderson thanked her supporters and promised to do her constituents’ bidding in the years to come.

“I feel so incredibly lucky to have been on this journey,” she wrote. “I’ve been able to meet so many new people and get to know my neighborhood in a way that I didn’t before. To everyone who volunteered or helped me in this race – thank you! To everyone who voted for me – I’ll do my best to make you proud.”

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In Ward 6, where incumbent Councilwoman Marilyn Marler decided against running for re-election so she can instead run for the Montana Legislature, Julie Merritt ran unopposed in Tuesday’s voting.

Julie Merritt

Late in the evening, Merritt said she’ll focus her work on jobs and housing.

“In the Franklin to the Fort neighborhood, there is this tension between the need for new housing and that housing’s impact on existing residents,” Merritt said. “We’ve got to try to put some balance there so we’re not just shoving aside those residents who’ve been there a long time to build these castles all around them. We’ve got to have some balance.”

Merritt said she’ll immediately get involved with work on job issues, including the recent announcement that the Coca-Cola bottling plant on Third Street West is moving to a larger site outside Ward 6.

“What I’d love to see go into that site is a place with some good-paying jobs,” said Merritt, who lives “right around the corner” from the plant.

Missoula, she said, “needs to grow, especially in the area of good-paying jobs.”

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One new council member, Mirtha Becerra, will get a head start on the other newcomers. Becerra was appointed Monday night and sworn in on Tuesday as the new Ward 2 representative, taking the place of Ruth Ann Swaney, who resigned to move back home to North Dakota. (See accompanying story.)

Becerra will face her first re-election test in November 2019.

Incumbents re-elected (and unopposed) on Tuesday included Bryan von Lossberg in Ward 1 and Jordan Hess in Ward 2.

Follow this link for the complete, final, unofficial vote totals from Tuesday’s city election.