Local candidates discuss issues at public forum

By Chris Wetherell

On Thursday May 3, the Lincoln County Republican Central Committee hosted an open forum to meet the candidates for the Lincoln County Sheriff and the Lincoln County Commissioner at the Venture Inn in Libby.
The candidates for sheriff are Darren Short, a Libby Police Department Sergeant, and incumbent Sheriff Roby Bowe. For County commissioner, the candidates are incumbent Mike Cole and his challenger Josh Letcher.
The forum began with Roby Bowe and Darren Short who were allowed two minutes per candidate to answer predetermined questions. Both were given an opportunity to introduce themselves and to briefly state why they sought office. Short spoke of his desire to be a working sheriff for all the county, and plans for having meet and greets as well as town hall meetings. He stressed his belief in the importance of community policing and having his deputies establish working relationships with the community. Bowe spoke about his 28 plus years of service to the community while a member of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department (LCSD) and how he felt that he was surrounded by a talented team of administrators and deputies alike.
The first question was involving a needs assessment for the department. Both candidates agreed that mental health resources have been reduced and the burden of most aspects of mental health issues in the county fell upon the shoulders of the LCSD to handle. They agreed that the current detention center was to small for the needs of the county and that changes needed to be made, be it new construction, relocation, and/or upfitting some existing space to meet the needs. Short and Bowe were in concurrence that the drug problem is a huge issue and Bowe commented that most of the detainees in the detention center are there on drug related charges.
Fiscal concerns were the next topic. Bowe shared that he and his team are always trying to find ways to save money and reduce costs. He spoke of the reasons for closing the juvenile facility saying that it cost about $1000 per day to house a juvenile but a facility in Sandpoint was better equipped to provide housing, treatment, education, and a healthy environment for detained youths at a cost of about $150 per day. Short explained that he and the Libby chief work together on the budget for the Libby Police Department with an emphasis on fiscal responsibility.
The next question involved gun control, seizure of weapons, search warrants and the constitution. Short stated he was not a fan of gun control and that he would not confiscate legally possessed weapons. He spoke about the state of Montana’s “right to enhanced privacy” that restricts law enforcement regarding search and seizure and that generally a search warrant is required to search anyone’s property. Bowe is a strong 2nd amendment supporter, he touched on search and seizure and urged anyone that had not yet applied for a concealed carry permit to do so.
Both Short and Bowe fielded audience questions. There was a question about federal agencies coming into the county to conduct operations. Bowe stated that they had to notify him of their plans and that in his experience there had never been a problem. He maintains a good working relationship with outside agencies, he said. Short added that he has worked in the past with other federal agencies and that the collaboration was always successful and that there were no issues.
Next up were the candidates for County Commissioner. Incumbent Mike Cole and challenger Josh Letcher were given a few minutes to introduce themselves and to discuss why they sought office.
Cole began by giving a brief history of his life and stated that after serving as County Commissioner for six years, he simply really likes the job and is proud of what has been accomplished. Letcher spoke of a life long interest in the workings of the county and that he is a fifth generation resident.
Both candidates discussed their belief that the County needs to return to its once prosperous status and they felt that redeveloping the logging and mining industries was important to future success. Letcher mentioned that as well as logging and mining, he feels there is a huge sector in the tech industry that could relocate here and that would help to bolster the economy.
On the issue of the state taking over the management of public lands Cole believes that the state is unlikely to do so due to budget constraints and the estimated low return on salvage wood from the fires. Letcher expressed disappointment in the way the federal government handled the Caribou fires last year and felt that if those lands were in state control the result may have been better.
With regard to increasing revenue for the county, both candidates agree that there needs to be an insurgence of business from outside be it tech, manufacturing, or smaller businesses. Letcher suggested that the railroad could be used to bring in larger industry, that tourism could be better and more aggressively promoted, and finally he stressed that multiple use lands should be opened for recreation with a push on tourism. Cole added that bringing new businesses into the county would create jobs thus improving the overall economy, and that reaching out to and working with new businesses is a big part of the commissioner’s duties.
Both candidates acknowledged that bringing prosperity back requires tireless effort and that they were both willing and able to do what was necessary to accomplish the task for the benefit to the county and its residents.