Meet the Candidate: Candace Payne, Lewis and Clark County Commission

Posted at 8:30 PM, Oct 18, 2022

HELENA — Candace Payne is running for the non-partisan Lewis and Clark County Commission District 3 seat. District 3 includes the west side of Helena, the North Valley and areas like Lincoln, Canyon Creek and Rimini.

Payne describes herself as a retired grandmother, but prior to retirement, she spent 30 years practicing law and was a lobbyist.

Payne said issues important to people are different across the county, but she believes better communication is necessary in the polarizing issue of zoning, she said she would like to see the county address passenger rail service in the state and area, and she wants to see more fire safety planning to help protect homes, families and firefighters.

Payne said she decided to run for office because of her experience working with people across the political spectrum to find solutions to problems.

What is your name, and seat you are running for?

My name is Candace Payne, and I’m running for Lewis and Clark County Commissioner.

What is your occupation?

I’m a retired grandmother. But, I did spend 30 years practicing law, I was a partner at Luxan and Murfitt, and I’ve also been a lobbyist for every session since the ’93 session.

Why did you choose to run?

I was surprised, it didn’t seem like there was a lot of interest, nobody was running for this seat. When I found out it was non-partisan, that really made a big difference to me. I’m really unhappy with the state of our current political scene where people are fighting, fighting, and saying mean things about each other that are not appropriate or necessary. I think that we hear a lot on the national media about how it’s such an us-versus-them situation, and that doesn’t play well with me. Based on my work at the legislature, I know that both sides have extremists, but both sides have a lot of people in the middle. I have worked in several situations where we came up with a bill that worked for both sides and helped bring people together, and they passed, and they changed the life that my grandchildren now live. I’m thinking specifically, I believe it was in about 2005, the legislature signed and the governor signed the statewide Clean Air Act, which prohibited smoking in bars and restaurants—any place inside. We brought several groups together—the Tavern Owners Association, the Lung Association, the Heart Association—they sat down and figured out a way to, and at that point it looked like it was going to happen, if we didn’t do something in the legislature, they were going to pass a referendum. The big deal was a lot of people’s business depended on allowing people to smoke. Small bars, small restaurants, well bars and restaurants, and people really were concerned, they didn’t want them to have to go out of business. So, we worked out a compromise where the bars and restaurants had four years to implement this clean indoor air act, that gave them the time to get their business affairs settled. We had a republican senator, John Ward from out in the North Valley, and Tim Dorsey, I believe was his name, from Missoula—he was a representative—and both sides were working together to get this so businesses could stay in business and we could have the health benefits of not smoking when we go out to dinner. And, we got it through, and it was because the people in the middle. There were people who hated it and pounded on the counter, but because of the people working together, we were able to pass it. That’s the way government should work, and I want to be a part of that kind of government.

What are three key issues you believe need to be addressed by the county?

It depends really on where you live. The key issues in Helena are not the same as the key issues in Lincoln, or in Augusta, or in Wolf Creek, or in Marysville. This is a huge county, geographically, it spans a lot of territory, and a lot of different kinds of country, and a lot of different kinds of people. I think there are things the county is supposed to take care of—the roads and the bridges, and fire safety, and making sure people can get to and from work. Let me go back here a little bit—the three major issues. The three major issues I’ve probably heard the most about are, of course, zoning here in the valley. Everybody is all one side or the other. The railroad—the passenger train service—going through southern Montana, that’s pretty important to a lot of people. And, fire safety, fire planning, figuring out how we can best protect the homes and the families, but also our firefighters. We have volunteer firefighters, they go out there and put their lives on the line, they work really hard. It is a really daunting situation to keep them so they are protected, so they can do their job. We also need to get some new volunteer firemen. There are a lot of the volunteer firemen who are older, and we’re having some problems getting the younger guys to step up and do their part. I’ve gone to a lot of the Fire Council meetings, they have those meetings once a month, and they are amazing—the things they talk about and the concerns they have. Bridges, did you know that we have bridges in the county that you can’t take the fire trucks across because of weight limits? They put the weight limits on because the structure of the bridge is suspect, we don’t want a fire truck to fall in the creek on the way out to put out the fire on my place. The bridge structures, the road, they all interact with fire suppression, and protection of our resources. So, those are, I’m not sure if that was three.

What are your thoughts on zoning in Lewis and Clark County?

I am a strong believer in zoning. I’m very concerned, zoning is a way of planning, one of the issues people have talked to me about regarding zoning is they feel like they are not being listened to, that this was a top-down proceeding, that the county decided ‘by golly, we’re going to have zoning,’ and then they implemented it without any input from the people being impacted. I think the problem isn’t about the county implementing zoning without talking to the citizens, I think the problem is communication. I’ve gone up and I’ve dug into some things, I’ve talked to a bunch of people at the county, I went on the website—there’s this part called Frequently Asked Questions. A lot of the questions of the people I’ve talked to, the answers are right there. Neither side is wrong or bad, it’s just the communication issue that we have, we need to figure out how to let the people know that they are being listed to while still protecting the interests—that’s another issue—that we have to balance protecting the interests of all of our citizens, whether they are landowners, or builders, or people who want to buy new houses, it all has to be addressed. We hire the best people we can to do this work, and we listen to them—it would be silly not to. So, from what I’ve seen, the county commissioners have looked at what the people said, and then they put that into the revised laws. I think there are three planning meetings coming up here in the next 15 days, and if people go through the trouble of going to those meetings and asking their questions, I think they will be impressed that this plan has come about, and they’ve changed it slightly this way and that way trying to take into account the concerns that have been brought up at these planning meetings.

What are your thoughts on property taxes in Lewis and Clark County?

Property taxes are—everybody hates property taxes, they’re always too high. But when you look at the services our county provides, and I guess if we are really serious about wanting to lower our property taxes, we’re going to have to decide what services we don’t want. If you want to lower your property taxes, we probably shouldn’t be buying a new fire truck. If you want to lower your property taxes, we don’t need to replace those bridges, they’ll be okay, the fire trucks don’t need to go over them very often. Property taxes are what they are. I think it is a duty of a county commissioner to ensure the tax funds are sent as wisely as possible. I think we have got to have what I think of as a savings account—I think the county calls it reserves. We all know emergencies come up, I’m thinking particularly about when the price of fuel and tires went up here in the last year, the buses had to keep running, the snow plows had to keep running, they had to buy fuel and gas and the money had to be someplace. I was a single mother raising two kids when I went to undergraduate and to law school, and we lived on a budget, but I always had money in my savings account because I knew, every once in a while you have to buy tires, or some silly things like that, and you’ve got to have money put away for it. I can relate that to the county spending the taxpayers’ funding—it has to be done wisely, judiciously, and if people think their taxes are too high, okay, then when can we give up so they can be reduced?

Is there anything else you want to say that we haven’t covered so far?

One of the things that comes up is people say to me, ‘what is a nice lady like you doing running for office? Politics is so nasty.’ And my response is, if we want our politics to not be so nasty, we have to have the courage to step in and say ‘I will run.’ I’m going to give up the next six years, and not be retired anymore, and I’m going to work as hard as I can to make this run smoothly. But, you should run too. Run for something, help us put this together, if we don’t take some responsibility for our government, it is going to continue to be a quagmire, people fighting, throwing mud at each other, being nasty to each other. We need people like you and me to stand up every day, okay, we need to figure out how to solve this problem. And, with that in mind, you have to have the courage to stand up and point out that the emperor has no clothes, or something of that nature, that you speak your part and hope somebody else can come up with an idea as to how to solve it.