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Gallagher wins chief executive race in Butte-Silver Bow

Gallagher wins chief executive race in Butte-Silver Bow

From the Complete coverage of Montana's 2020 general election series
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Voters chose J.P. Gallagher as chief executive of Butte-Silver Bow County by a wide margin in Tuesday’s election, giving him an easy victory over first-term incumbent Dave Palmer.

Gallagher received 10,631 votes, or 59 percent, to Palmer’s 7,226 votes, or 40 percent, according to unofficial returns.

Gallagher, 54, has been the county’s parks director the past five years and the public face behind some big projects, including completion of Butte’s $8.7 million water park and $10 million in major upgrades at Stodden Park.

He had pledged during his campaign for the county’s top political post to “re-energize” the community by being more visible, involved, accountable and transparent, and he promised to improve communications between local government and the taxpayers it serves.

Voters also elected Linda Sajor Joyce as clerk and recorder over Rachel Roberts Boyd. Sally Hollis was not seeking a fourth term this year and Joyce, currently deputy clerk, won with 61 percent of the vote.

Voters also decided four contested races for the Council of Commissioners and chose Liza Dennehy over Lu Waana Johnson as public administrator. All other county-wide offices on the ballot featured unopposed incumbents.

Palmer, 67, was a commissioner for 20 years, not all in succession, before he defeated incumbent Chief Executive Matt Vincent in November 2016. Gallagher was an elementary school principal in Butte before he became parks director in 2015.

Gallagher got 4,627 votes, or 36 percent, in a five-way June primary while Palmer finished second with 3,265 votes, or 25 percent. But both advanced to the general election while the other three candidates were eliminated.

Matt Vincent got the most primary votes in his 2016 re-election bid for chief executive, but in November that year, Palmer defeated him handily. He finished with 9,588 votes, or 59 percent, to 6,764 votes, or 41 percent, for Vincent.

The race between Palmer and Gallagher was cordial, at least in public, though Gallagher pointed to different leadership styles throughout a relatively quiet campaign with few big fundraisers or retail politicking because of the coronavirus pandemic that hit in March.

Gallagher said Palmer’s low-key style left a disconnect between departments and there was a communications gap between local government and taxpayers.

Palmer acknowledged a more “laid-back” leadership style, but said he trusted well-qualified department heads to make decisions and his approach was conducive to compromises that served Butte well over the years.

Palmer ran an incumbent-style campaign this year, pointing to positives in his first term that included the completed water park, more businesses in the county’s industrial park and a hot real-estate market.

He wanted to complete unfinished business in a second term, he said, by seeing a Superfund mine pollution cleanup plan finalized and a proposed $35 million Praxis Center health training facility become reality, among other goals.

Palmer helped steer the Superfund consent decree over the finish line a few months ago after years of negotiation, but he and Gallaher say the county must ensure that $180 million in cleanup work financed mostly by Atlantic Richfield is done right.

There have been positive developments on the Praxis front, but it has not progressed on the timetable initially touted.

Six of 12 Council of Commissioner seats were on the ballot, but Commissioner Dan Callahan ran unopposed in District 12 and Terry Schultz, who was challenging District 4 Commissioner John Sorich for a third straight time, died in early October. Schultz’s name was still on the ballot but Sorich won with 64 percent.

In other council races, District 6 Commissioner Jim Fisher defeated Mary Booth while Justin Fortune defeated incumbent Commissioner Dan Olsen in District 5.

In District 3, Hattie Thatcher easily defeated Mike Maesar in a race to replace longtime Commissioner John Morgan, who was not running again.

In District 8, John Riordan defeated Norma Duffy. Incumbent Brendan McDonough ran for chief executive this but did not get past the primary.

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