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Vero first to file for Missoula County race as campaign season gears up

Missoula County Commissioner Juanita Vero takes the oath of office from Commissioner Dave Strohmaier after she was appointed to the position last year to finish Cola Rowley’s term. Vero filed to run for the seat in the November election last week. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Juanita Vero has spent the last six months as the newest member of the Missoula County Board of Commissioners learning the nuances of local government, and now she’s gearing up for the November election.

Vero filed paperwork last week with the Missoula County Elections Office, noting her intent to campaign for the seat. As of Tuesday afternoon, Alan Ault also had filed to run.

Vero was appointed last June by Commissioners Dave Strohmaier and Josh Slotnick to replace former Commissioner Cola Rowley, who resigned midterm to take another job. Vero was their unanimous choice to finish Rowley’s term.

“I’m head over heels in love with this community, even more so than before,” Vero told the Missoula Current on Tuesday. “Now, I can see how it works. I get to see the caliber and dedication of the staff. I’m committed to doing whatever it takes to empower them to do the best job possible.”

Vero was raised on the E Bar L Ranch in Greenough, a business her great grandparents began in the 1920s. The operation remains one of the oldest family-owned dude ranches in Montana.

Prior to her appointment, she served on several committees including the Blackfoot Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Montana Conservation Voters and the Missoula County Open Lands Committee, among others.

Vero dismissed any candidate who pledges to make sweeping changes upon taking the seat. The board of commissioners doesn’t work that way, she said.

“Here, I’m just one person of a three-member team,” she said. “If we’re going to accomplish anything, we need to do it together.”

Upon taking the seat last year, Vero named a number of issues she hoped to focus on if elected to the position including housing, climate change and sustainable businesses. After her appointment, she stated her intention to run for the job in 2020, saying “I need to be worthy of their vote, and I do plan to be worthy.”

Vero becomes the second commissioner who was appointed midterm that must campaign to keep the seat. The last appointee, Stacy Rye, lost her first election to current Commissioner Strohmaier in 2016 by 5 percentage points.

“I want to have a good campaign team in place, and I think I have that,” Vero said. “It’s good to have that foundation. It’ll be difficult, but that’s part of the job.”

Four days after Vero filed to run, Alan Ault followed suit.

Ault ran in November for the Missoula City Council on a campaign of tax cuts and prudent spending but ultimately lost to Amber Sheryl, 1,607 votes to 875.

Ault couldn’t be immediately reached Tuesday afternoon for comment on his bid for county commissioner. The Missoula Current will profile all county candidates once filing deadlines close.