I am 33 years old, and ever since I’ve been aware of local politics, I’ve been aware of Rina Fontana Moore. The times I’ve voted in person (cuz duh, you get a sticker that way) I’ve always had a quick and painless experience navigating the Expo Park super polling location. Like most people, I assumed running elections was Rina’s primary job, and frankly, one we all took for granted. But huge changes in our country have altered elections. Once friendly interactions with retired election officials have morphed into screaming maniacs threatening these elderly volunteers. Fontana Moore’s office has felt the brunt of the Big Lie. And although Rina is technically a Democrat, she notes that Republican Clerk and Recorders across the country have faced the same lies, harassment, and threats. As far as partisan politics go, Rina has always existed on the periphery of my awareness. I’ve seen her very occasionally at larger gatherings like the Democrats Fall dinner, but as to her personal politics, I had no idea.
So when Rina agreed to sit down and chat with me, my most pressing question was- Why the funk would you want to keep doing this job? Rina’s answer surprised me, and what I really learned was that my question was premature. What I should have asked is- How did you become the person that you are?
Throughout my 40-minute chat with Rina, the answer became quite clear. After going through the basic demographics, I asked Rina why she’d run for the office in the first place. The first place was 16 years ago, by the way. “I want to be just like my dad” Rina told me. When you do enough interviews, you learn to look for the questions that elicit a spark. Here, Rina’s eyes lit up in a way that showed happiness with a hint of grief lurking in the corners. “Tell me more about your dad” I urged, without knowing Rina’s father had passed away this past April. So she did. She told me about accompanying her dad on land surveys from the time she was in sixth grade. She told me about the business they ran together for over twenty years. About her 12-year process to become a licensed surveyor, just like her dad.
What I learned is that Rina’s whole life has been in service to Cascade County. Rina got her Bachelors in Construction with an emphasis in land surveying. After four years of experience, Rina was allowed to sit for the Land Surveyor in Training exam, which she passed. Another four years on, she sat for a final test to obtain her professional licenses as a Surveyor. Now, Rina and her father live in the annals of Great Falls history, with their names appearing on an estimated half of surveying documents filed with Cascade County.
Politics, too, started with her dad. From the age of 5, Rina would accompany him to hand out candidate literature. They’d go door-to-door together, talking to neighbors about community needs. That’s where Rina learned about doing what is best for your neighbors, a value she’s brought to work every day since she was first elected. To Rina, doing your best looks like 50-hour work weeks. It’s performing in-house land surveys so they don’t have to hire an outside contractor. It’s running an internal print shop which saves the county money every time a ballot gets mailed out. It’s literally cleaning the office to protect the security of all documents contained within. No seriously, Rina cleans the office herself and has for 16 years. I can’t think of many other places where the boss stays behind on Fridays to clean the building.
So what are Rina’s politics? I still don’t know, specifically. Why? Because as Rina explained, the Clerk and Recorder doesn’t make policy. They aren’t writing laws or statutes, and this isn’t the role for someone who wants to alter how elections are handled. That simply doesn’t happen at the level of Clerk and Recorder, and Rina is fearful that her opponent does not understand what the job actually is. When asked what would happen if Rina is not re-elected, her first fear is for her staff. Unlike many government employees, Rina has maintained the same small staff with almost no turnover.
So why the funk does Rina Fontana Moore still want to serve as our Clerk and Recorder? As Rina often says, I’ll give it to ya straight, and her answer is best quoted in its entirety.
“I think it’s a sacred process. I will fight to the dying end for this position because I believe in what we do in the office. I believe in my staff. I believe that I’m the best person for the job because of what I believe and the people that work for me believe.”
What I found with Rina are delightful contrasts. A woman whose family is the focus of her world. Who, as a successful woman in her own right, still strives to be just like her dad. A woman who is undaunted after literal years of threats, harassment, and intimidation. Lucky for Great Falls, I think we’ve found a woman who will not be intimidated.