Missoula City Council meetings may get a little more contentious in the future as two conservative candidates picked up spots on the council in Tuesday’s Nov. 6 election.
The results showed wins for all three incumbent members who were up for reelection. Two wins went to candidates endorsed by “Team Liberty,” a conservative group that Councilor Jesse Ramos formed in February 2019 to add more conservative voices to the council. A Democrat-endorsed candidate won an open seat in Ward 4.
Each ward featured candidates backed by the factions. While all Missoula elections are considered nonpartisan, Ramos, the only current conservative city council member, recruited candidates from Team Liberty to run on a platform of lower property taxes and increased control over government spending.
Ramos said late Tuesday that while he was happy for two wins, there’s room for Team Liberty to improve.
“I think we could’ve done better. I always think we could’ve done better,” Ramos said. “But I think we’ll do better next time.”
Ramos said he thought that the fact that conservative voices gained seats at the council was a good sign for the future.
“Missoula’s trending in the right direction,” Ramos said. “At the end of the day, it’s incremental change. And we are trending much more toward the liberty side.”
Missoula Mayor John Engen said on Tuesday that the results showed strong support for incumbents in Wards 1 through 3 and some success from Team Liberty. But he added that he was confident in having nine progressives on the council.
Team Liberty campaigned on property taxes, and Engen said he would be working with the new council to address the issue.
“The challenge is that services [like public parks, road repairs, fire and police] cost money, and Missoulians demand services,” Engen said.
By Addie Slanger (email@example.com)
and Hunter Wiggins (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Heidi West defeated Amber Shaffer in Ward 1, which includes the Northside, downtown Missoula and the Rattlesnake. West won 69% of the votes and Shaffer won 30%.
West has served on the Missoula City Council for the past four years and has been an advocate for affordable housing, health care and a clean environment.
When asked what her plans are for a second term, she said, “We have a lot of goals and plans in place.” She added, “Whether it’s our zero-waste policy or trying to figure out how out live in a future affected by climate change, we want to make individual policy pieces that get us closer to our goals. So there are a lot of things to do.”
Shaffer’s unsuccessful campaign focused on cutting unnecessary spending and addressing parking and crime. She was sad but hopeful in defeat.
“I’m not going to let this make me a jaded person or cynical about politics,” Shaffer said. “I still have faith in the process. We just have to remind the rest of Americans, and Missoulians, that they can be the voice for change”
Shaffer said she is not planning on running for council in the future because the campaign was strenuous for her and her family.
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Councilor Mirtha Becerra was reelected to Ward 2 with almost 57% of the vote over Brent Sperry’s 43%. The ward encompasses the Westside, Grant Creek and recently annexed areas around the airport.
Both candidates focused primarily on solutions for rising property taxes during the campaign.
Becerra, 44, is the director of the Missoula Downtown Foundation and served as a councilor for Ward 2 before the election. She was appointed to the council after two incumbents left to take jobs outside Missoula.
According to a Missoulian questionnaire, she said wants to diversify Missoula’s tax base to provide relief from rising property taxes. She also wants to approve legislature enacting a tourist tax for the city.
Sperry, 47, works for a phone and data company based in Missoula. He was endorsed by Team Liberty and campaigned on cutting city spending in order to stop rising property taxes.
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Incumbent Gwen Jones defeated former ASUM Sen. Drew Iverson, retaining her spot on the council for Ward 3, which represents much of the University District and the Riverfront and Rose Park neighborhoods.
Councilor Jones won more than 82% of the vote. “We’ve done a lot in the last four years and I think that shows on the ballot,” she said in response to the votes. “I appreciate the support of my constituents.”
Jones supported Missoula’s effort to mitigate climate change by cutting waste and supporting clean energy. She supports lobbying state lawmakers for a “tourist tax” to reduce local property taxes.
Jones promised voters she would continue to address the rising cost of childcare in Missoula. She also wants to keep housing costs comparable to Missoula wages.
In response to his defeat, Iverson said, “We knew it would be a tough run going in, but I appreciate all my supporters.”
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Amber Sherrill, a former interim director of the Five Valleys Land Trust, defeated Team Liberty’s Alan Ault, winning 64% of the vote in Ward 4, which includes Farviews and Pattee Canyon, the Lewis and Clark area, Moose Can Gully, Rose Park, Southgate Triangle and a fraction of the University District.
Sherill was a resident of Ward 4 before running for election. During her campaign, she campaigned on affordable housing, action against climate change and lower property taxes.
A longtime businessman who runs a nonprofit school, Ault campaigned to lower taxes and to control city spending, according to a Q&A session with the Missoula Current.
By Colton Rothwell (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Team Liberty’s John Contos beat Alex Fregerio by 210 votes in Ward 5, which includes the southwest section of the Southgate Triangle, South 39th Street, Miller Creek and Moose Can Gully neighborhoods.
Contos, 65, is a businessman. He maintained a fiscally conservative stance on property taxes and city spending throughout his campaign. He emphasized addressing homelessness and drug abuse over climate change legislation in a Q&A session with the Missoulian.
Fregerio, 34, owns a process-serving business. He was endorsed by the Missoula Democratic Central Committee. Fregerio vocally supported Missoula’s "ZERO by FIFTY" plan and endorsed the city’s TIF initiative, a development that entails raising revenue for buildings throughout the city.
Ward 5 is the only ward Mayor Engen lost in 2017, by a margin of almost 15%.
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Team Liberty’s Sandra Vasecka defeated Nick Shontz in the competition for an open seat in Ward 6. The race was neck-to-neck for most of the night, with Vasecka narrowly winning with 50% of the vote against Shontz’s 49%. Just 12 votes separated the two at the end of the tally.
Vasecka took the opportunity to thank her voters and talk about the race. “It was a very hard race but in the end democracy did prevail,” she said.
She said her role on council will be to serve as a check and balance on the mayor and council liberals. She said she plans to focus on the city’s budget to make sure the money goes where it is needed most each year.
“I want to make sure our city is running the way a city should run,” she said.