Decker, Swenson vie for county commissioner
Two candidates survived the primary election and are competing in the race for Lake County Commissioner. They are Gale Decker, Republican, and John Swenson, Independent. The winner of the race will take his seat with commissioners Ann Brower and Bill Barron.
Decker, 64, and his wife Susie have five children between them and live in the North Crow area.
Decker graduated from Ronan High School and the University of Montana with his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. He taught math in Ronan High School for 33 years.
He has been serving as Lake County Superintendent of Schools for six year and is in the middle of his second term.
Asked if he had any special skills that might help him as county commissioner, Decker said he thinks county commissioners need to build consensus on issues, “a skill I have from years as county superintendent, dealing with school boards, and groups of people who are not in agreement, and trying to find some common ground.”
Decker said he has an interest in county government and thought about running for commissioner for several months. He was encouraged by his friends and supported by his family and said the timing was good.
Montana Associaiton of Counties documents say there is no background that really prepares a person for the job of county commissioner, Decker said. The job is a lot like the superintendent of school’s job.
“You never know what the next phone call is going to be,” Decker said. “Commissioners deal with a variety of issues on a daily basis, and a lot of it I think you learn on the fly.”
He said a commissioner needs to be flexible and able to move smoothly from one duty to another.
Although Decker said he had not talked to his opponent, from what he’s heard and read, Swenson’s focus is primarily on property rights. In Decker’s opinion, that ‘s a narrow focus, considering all the issues throughout the county.
“I think just my background and being born and raised here, knowing the Ronan and Pablo communities ... insight on how issues are addressed — that’s the kind of a background that gives me an edge,” Decker said.
Three main issues that Decker would like to address if he’s elected are: encouraging small business and construction to improve the economy, county roads and noxious weed control.
Decker said one of the problems he keeps hearing about are that time frames for permits to build and septic permitting at the Lake County Planning Department are costing Lake County jobs and some building because folks are going to other counties where the process is faster.
As for roads, Decker said the money to devote to roads is limited by the budget, and there is not enough in the budget.
“There are other streams of revenue that can be developed to put into our roads and infrastructure,” Decker said. “I’d like to have the legislature look into helping counties out, using coal and oil money.”
Kerr Dam will be coming off the tax rolls, and that’s going to be a big hit for taxes, he said.
Swenson and his wife Teri have two grown daughters, and they live in rural Ronan. The Swensons own and operate a small subsistence farm where they raise cattle, Icelandic sheep, chicken and pigs. He “dabbles in the vintage auto and auto parts markets.”
Self-taught, Swenson had many mentors.
In his early adult years, he accumulated private college credits and since has become a history student, focusing on American and United States history.
For special skills, Swenson said he understands the nature of government and its proper relationship to man.
“This relationship sets man as the creator of government. Government is created by man for the protection of man’s inherent rights to be free, independent, and able to protect and accumulate the fruits of his labor,” Swenson said.
He would bring this understanding to bear on his decisions as Lake County Commissioner.
Swenson said he is concerned about the direction that Lake County is headed. Government, in general terms, has grown well beyond its intended limits by encroaching on man’s life in areas and in ways in which it has no rightful authority.
“Our local county government has grown by at least 50 percent in the past seven years while our median household income has risen by only 28 percent,” he said.
He intends to return local county government to its rightful limits.
As commissioner, Swenson said he will be called upon to administer services for which local county government was formed and to help the individuals and families of Lake County through a wide variety of situations. He will take into consideration all consequences of his decisions and provide the best possible solutions available.
“I must be responsible and prudent with the decisions which affect the rights and which affect the wealth of the residents of Lake County,” Swenson explained.
He said what sets him apart from his opponent is his belief in a republican form of government, where man’s rights are protected by the limitations imposed on government. Swenson said he believes that our country was formed in this image, while his opponent believes in a pure democracy, or mob rule, where we can all take a vote on which rights a man will or won’t have, i.e. the Lake County growth policy and density map.
“I believe in less government, not more,” Swenson said. “My opponent believes in more government, not less.”
He said his work experience has been spent entirely in the private sector. Swenson said his opponent’s life’s work has been in the public sector.
He said he could see areas where county government has overstepped its rightful authority and intruded on man’s right to be free. But he said his opponent does not see the overstepping and believes that we should be happy with what we get.
Swenson said the Lake County budget has grown at a rate 20 percent higher than the growth rate of the median household income in Lake County during the past seven years, and real estate taxes have increased by 50 percent in seven years.
He added he doesn’t think Decker recognizes this excessive spending.