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First candidates file in Lewis & Clark County elections; contested race for county attorney

Lewis and Clark Candidate Filing
Posted at 5:36 PM, Jan 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-13 20:15:57-05

HELENA — Thursday was a busy day at the Lewis and Clark County Elections Office, as they began accepting candidate filings for this year’s county elections. One contested race has already been set in motion.

When the office opened at 8 a.m., the first candidate to file was Lewis and Clark County Sheriff-Coroner Leo Dutton. He is seeking his fourth full term as sheriff, and second since the office of coroner was consolidated with his in 2018.

Dutton says he still has work he wants to accomplish, including finishing the detention center expansion and focusing on issues like domestic violence and school safety.

“I have 13-and-a-half years of experience, bringing forward great decision-making,” he said. “Not every one of my decisions are perfect, but I have a great staff that give me the depth and field to be good leaders and make good decisions for the county.”

A crowded field has already developed in the race for county attorney, with three candidates filing Thursday.

Charles Lane is a senior deputy county attorney who manages the office’s civil law division. In that role, he’s been responsible for giving legal advice to the Lewis and Clark County Commission and other officials – including on contentious issues like land use.

“I believe the voters and residents of this county deserve to have an impartial county attorney and to be treated equally under the law whether they’re a defendant or a victim of a crime,” he said.

Kevin Downs also works with the county attorney’s office, handling felony criminal prosecutions. He previously worked an assistant chief counsel with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in New York, and with the Montana Department of Justice under then-Attorney General Steve Bullock.

“I think the county attorney’s office has the ability to have immediate impact on the lives of our community,” he said. “I think I would offer some leadership, given my background in various capacities, that would help that office continue to do great work.”

Dan Guzynski, unlike the other candidates, doesn’t currently work for the county attorney. He is a chief prosecutor with the Montana Department of Justice, who previously worked as a county prosecutor in Flathead and Cascade Counties.

“I think this position is going to need to have somebody with leadership qualities who’s demonstrated and has a proven track record of being a crime-fighter – certainly fighting on behalf of victims of crimes, but also having a thoughtful, compassionate approach to people that do commit crimes,” he said.

Incumbent County Attorney Leo Gallagher was first appointed to the position in 2001.

One position is open on the Lewis and Clark County Commission this year: the seat representing District 3, currently held by Commissioner Jim McCormick. The first candidate to file was Conrad Evarts of Helena. He owns several businesses, including the MTBCity mountain bike campground.

Evarts says the county hasn’t done enough to support and embrace entrepreneurs, and he wants to address housing prices by encouraging production and reducing what he sees as excessive regulations.

“I plan to cut tape back to where it’s reasonable, back to where people can afford a home – it’s important,” he said. “I don’t want to drive an hour to visit my grandbaby. There are people driving all the way from Deer Lodge, from Basin every day to do their jobs. It’s completely arbitrary and unnecessary.”

Treasurer-clerk and recorder Amy Reeves oversaw the filing process in her role as election administrator, but she also filed to run for a full four-year term. She was appointed to the office in 2020, replacing the retiring Paulette DeHart, who had held the job since 1993.

“I think things have gone great the last year and almost a half,” said Reeves.

Incumbent Justice of the Peace Mike Swingley is also running for another term – which he told MTN would likely be his last. He was first elected in 2010.

“My goal was always to do four terms and then leave with 38 years of public service,” he said.

Swingley, a former Montana Highway Patrol sergeant, says he’s excited about the progess Justice Court is making since the addition of a second justice of the peace last year.

The final office up for election this year is county superintendent of schools, currently held by Katrina Chaney.

This is the first time that the full complement of Lewis and Clark County offices has been open since voters approved a switch to nonpartisan county elections. All candidates will appear on a single primary ballot in June. The top two finishers in each race will advance to the general election.