Vote In The Republican Primary?

Vote In The Republican Primary?

It seems like all of the old rules went out the window with the election of Donald Trump in 2016.  With the resources and energy of far-right groups like the Freedom Caucus, Moms for Liberty, American for Prosperity and others, the right flank of the Republican Party has taken over most of state and local government.  

Here in Cascade County there is a long standing feud between far-right Republicans, known as the Freedom Caucus, led by legislators like Steven Galloway and Lola Sheldon-Galloway, and more traditional pro-corporate Republicans like Ed Buttrey and Steve Fitzpatrick. This election almost all legislative seats have contested Republican primaries pitting these two factions against each other.  In addition, there is a hotly contested County Commission primary race between far-right incumbent Rae Grulkowski and local businessman Eric Hinebauch.

At the same time there is only one contested Democratic primary, the race for the Eastern Congressional District. The unfortunate fact is, no matter which Democratic candidate wins the primary, he will have virtually no chance of winning the seat in the general election. In short, there is not much reason to vote in the Democratic Primary here in Cascade County.

That brings us to the talk around town urging Democrats in Cascade County to vote in the Republican primary for the more reasonable of those candidates. Some folks are arguing that    a few votes could make the difference between more nuts and more reasonable people in public office. They may be right, and the fact is that there is really nothing to lose given the lack of contested Democratic primaries here.  Advocates of Democrats voting in the Republican primary, which is perfectly legal, say, “desperate times call for desperate measures|.”  

The following is a list of the contested primaries and who are the more far-right candidates.   

Cascade County Commission
Rea Grulkowski- Far Right
Eric Hinebauch

Senate District 13
Lola Sheldon-Galloway- Far Right
Josh Kassmier

House District 19
Hannah Trebas- Far Right
Darren Auger

House District 20
Steven Galloway- Far Right
Melisssa Nikolakkas

House District 21
Josh Osterman- Far Right
Ed Buttrey

House District 22
James Whitaker- Far Right
George Nikolakkas

House District 23
John Proud- Far Right
Pete Anderson- Far Right
Josh Denully
Eric Tillerman

Petition To Repeal Election Office Change Flops

Petition To Repeal Election Office Change Flops

Cascade County’s far right was mad as hell when the County Commissioners removed election duties from Sandra Merchant’s control.  Nevermind that Marchant had fouled up virtually everything she touched since taking office in January of 2023.  

When the County Commission held a hearing on Ordinance 23-65, which removed election duties from Merchant’s Clerk and Recorder’s office to the County Commission office, the hearing lasted 7 hours.  Cascade County was treated to a cavalcade of baseless allegations, bible quotes and challenges to Commissioner’s motivation and patriotism.  It was quite a show.  But in the end, Commissioner’s Joe Briggs and Jim Larson stood for competent election administration and placed election administration under the Commission office.  Here’s a summary of that meeting:

In response, these folks organized a petition drive to place the issue on the ballot and give people the opportunity to express their opinion supporting their point of view.  But, alas, they failed.  Not only did the imagined vast majority of supporters not get to vote, signature gatherers couldn’t even get the required 15% of eligible voters to sign the petition to place the measure on the ballot. 

Read our prior coverage here:

In order to place the measure before voters the organizers had to get approximately 5,500 signatures from registered voters in Cascade County.  But after 90 days signature gatherers only managed to gather 1,242 verified signatures. Less than a quarter of the required number.  So much for a wave of public support for the Merchant/Grulkowski crowd of conspiracy theorists.

Note:  Since starting this blog we have learned that getting public information from Cascade County is incredibly difficult and frustrating.  We found the new election administrator, Terry Thompson, to be an exception.  Our request for information about the signature gathering effort was responded to in a timely manner with complete and accurate information.

Daily Montanan On the Cascade County Commission Race

Daily Montanan On the Cascade County Commission Race

The online Montana newspaper The Daily Montanan published a really good analysis of the Cascade County Republican primary race between Eric Hinebauch and Rae Grulkowski. Below are excerpts from the article.

“In an interview with the Daily Montanan, Hinebauch described himself as a fiscal conservative but shied away from the label  ‘moderate,’  and so did Great Falls legislator and Senate Majority Leader Steve Fitzpatrick in describing Hinebauch. But others who work closely with him know him as a centrist looking to get things done.” 

“Grulkowski was a leader in the anti-Big Sky National Heritage Area movement, revolving around a conspiracy the federal government was targeting private property in the county, debunked in the New York Times in 2021.”

“In this June’s Republican primary, voters in Cascade County will choose whether to go with the middle-of-the-road conservative or a far-right conspiracist.”

Read the full article here.

Grulkowski has the advantage of far-right base support which provides her with volunteers, funding and energy.  She jumped out of the campaign gates already having signs out all over the county. So far, Hinebauch is ahead in fundraising, reporting $12,085.70 for the reporting period ending March 15. Grulkowski has raised $7,125.00. 

Hinebauch stands to benefit from centrist Republicans who are tired of the drama Grulkowski has brought to county government.  There are also potential Democratic crossover votes in this election. The race for the Eastern District Congressional seat is the only Democratic primary race. And the truth is that a Democrat is highly unlikely to carry the general election in the Eastern District, no matter who wins.  At the same time there are numerous contested Republican primaries, which are bound to attract interest across the ballot.  

Grulkowski Plays Dirty– Did We Really Expect Anything Else?

Grulkowski Plays Dirty– Did We Really Expect Anything Else?

Most of us who were watching the selection process for the new election administrator for Cascade County, Terry Thompson, knew it was a rotten kettle of fish. We suspected that the cause of the putrid smell was Commissioner Rae Grulkowski.  Now we have the proof.

Rae Grulkowski’s biased scoring

Thanks to Ann Brust filing an information request with the county, we can see exactly what the scores of each of the county commissioners in the selection process were. It reveals a rogue county commissioner manipulating a government hiring process to hand the job to a person she worked alongside opposing the Big Sky Country National Heritage Area back in 2020. At that time Terry Thompson was CEO of the Great Falls Realtors Association and Grulkowski was one of the main organizers of the opposition, which was steeped in ridiculous conspiracy theories about people losing their property rights if the Heritage Area was established.

Where’s the oversight?

Perhaps even more disconcerting, the county entities which should be acting to curb the corrupt conduct of a local elected official have been sitting on their hands and even covering up for Grulkowski’s outrageous conduct as a county commissioner. We are referring to the county attorney’s office and the county human resource office. Even though they were both engaged in the selection process, they allowed Grulkowski to ignore the law and standard government personnel practices by manipulating her scores to guarantee that the most qualified applicant, former election administrator Democrat Rina Moore, was denied the position and gave it to her former, less qualified, political ally, Republican Terry Thompson.

We commend Commissioners Briggs and Larson for having the political courage to remove Grulkowski from the chair of the county commission and for passing County Ordinance 23-62, which took the election duties away from Grulkowski’s political crony and incompetent administrator Sandra Merchant. But we are baffled by their failure to enforce the provision of the ordinance which prohibited Grulkowski from participating in any decision dealing with the election office, which obviously included hiring new election administrator Terry Thompson. Larson has told people that the ordinance did not apply to Grulkowski, because she had not filed for re-election.  Maybe he thought that, but he was mistaken. (See the language of the ordinance below.)  

“WHEREAS, appointing an Election Administrator to serve at the direction of the Board of Cascade County Commissioners will eliminate the appearance of impropriety as any single Commissioner whose seat appears on the ballot in a given calendar years shall be required to abstain from all decisions concerning the operation and management of the election office during that calendar year until such time as the election for said office is finalized; and” 

We have to wonder why Deputy County Attorney Carrie Anne Haight and Human Resource Officer Jeff Mora, who sat through numerous commission meetings dealing with this hiring decision including the applicant interviews, did not insist that Grulkowski follow the law.  Perhaps we should not be surprised at the apparent dereliction of duties, since neither Haight nor Mora have raised objections as Sandra Merchant filled vacant positions in the Clerk and Recorder’s office with numerous individuals whose sole qualification appeared to be the fact that they had signed an election denier petition with bizarre demands that mail in balloting be eliminated, doing away with electronic vote counting machines, and requiring every Cascade County voter to come in and reregister to vote. Those who did not actually sign the petition were either in personal relationships with those who had or were family members of far right Republican officials like Randy Pinocci.

So, here we are now looking right at the smoking gun, the scoring of the individuals who applied to be the election administrator. There can be little doubt that Rae Grulkowski used this process to advance her own ally and subvert the competitive hiring process for the county which is  required by state law, professional personnel practices, and the county’s own ordinance. She has done so with impunity and those who should have, and could have, raised objections have apparently remained silent. 

Scoring Matrix for Hiring The Cascade County Election Administrator

Grulkowski was moving an agenda to help Terry Thompson and sink Rina Moore

For those readers who don’t like looking at tables, we point out that commissioners Larson and Briggs both ranked Rina Moore as the most qualified and Grulkowski rated her as the least qualified . . .by a large margin.  On the other hand, Larson and Briggs ranked Thompson third and fourth respectively and Grulkowski rated her number one. . .again by a large margin.  Obviously Grulkowski was moving an agenda which resulted in Terry Thompson getting the job.

But it is election season again!

We want to take this opportunity to remind the voters of Cascade County that it is election season. Former City Commissioner Eric Hinebauch is running against Grulkowski in the Republican primary, and Don Ryan is running on the Democratic ticket in the general election. If we can’t count on county officials to restrain this kind of impunity, we have to turn her out at the ballot box.