Fresh off their primary election wins, two City Council incumbents set their sights on November and their bids for a second term, all while working to implement the city’s housing policy, its goals around climate change, and other issues facing Missoula.
Ward 3 council member Gwen Jones and Ward 1 council member Heidi West are intent on defending their seats in November. West is being challenged by political newcomer Amber Shaffer, who was recruited by Ward 4 council member Jesse Ramos on a conservative platform.
West sailed to victory on Tuesday night, securing 1,285 votes Shaffer’s 624 votes.
“I think it’s validating,” said West. “It validates the work we’ve been doing on council. I think our policy and goals reflect the values of the community overall, and I think that’s important.”
West, who works for affordable housing as an employee of the North Missoula Community Development Corporation, was elected to her seat in 2015. She has advocated for the city’s new housing policy, zoning issues and its proposed ban on plastic grocery bags.
Shaffer, her opponent, is running on a platform of cutting taxes and reducing what she sees as unnecessary city spending.
Being the incumbent, West said, comes with pros and cons.
“I think the advantage – or it could be a disadvantage – is that you have a voting record,” she said. “I think that speaks to who I am as a person and my values, and how those reflect or don’t reflect the individual ideas of constituents. It’s valuable information for voters and everyone to make an informed decision.”
Ward 3 council member Jones secured the largest margin of victory on Tuesday night, securing 1,234 votes to the 281 votes taken by her challenger, Drew Iverson.
Like West, Jones said running as an incumbent has both advantages and disadvantages.
“Every decision you make on council you create a history, so there’s a history created there and you can’t please everybody,” she said. “But in general, the feedback I’ve been getting on doors is that people appreciate my work and they support me. What they really like is when I can explain an issue in depth with them and give them the full story. There’s a lot of information these days flying by. There’s some odd misconceptions I try to correct.”
In seeking a second term, Jones looks to address specific goals set by the city and see them to fruition. That includes initiatives around climate change and zero waste, as well as tax reform.
While the latter is largely a legislative issue, Jones believes members of the City Council can be strong advocates for reform.
“I’m concerned about the trajectory that property taxes are on,” she said. “A far more diverse tax base is a much better way to run a railroad. Until we get a more diverse tax base, we’re just pulling way too much from the property tax bucket. As a local official, I can educate my constituents and advocate for that, and I think that’s really important.”
Most candidates who secure a place on the ballot in November expressed a positive experience when knocking on doors, and most say they were well received by voters.
But the numbers speak volumes, and Jones was pleased with Tuesday night’s returns.
“It feels good to have the results,” said Jones. “Although you have a sense of how your campaign is going, it’s really nice to have some hard information and data. I feel like I have clear markers to head into the next two months with.”