Ballot recounts conducted in four counties, the last concluding Monday, confirm that Flathead Valley internal medicine doctor Ann “Annie” Bukacek has won the Republican primary for a seat on the five-member board that regulates the state’s monopoly utility power, water, garbage and telecommunications companies.
The four-way Republican primary, held June 7, proved to be an extremely close contest. The margin between Bukacek and termed-out Kalispell legislator Derek Skees was tight enough, with just 87 votes, that Skees was able to petition the Montana Secretary of State for a recount. He did so in early July, but the results from the recount, held in Lewis & Clark, Lake, Flathead and Teton counties, had a negligible effect on the final vote margins, with Skees picking up only two more votes.
Bukacek will face retired Whitefish executive John Repke, who won the Democratic primary for the District 5 seat, in the general election on Nov. 8.
The seat is one of five on the Montana Public Service Commission, which regulates monopoly utilities to protect captive ratepayers from exploitative practices while also ensuring those companies can remain in a position to continue offering their services to Montanans.
This is Bukacek’s first campaign for elected office. She resigned from her post on the Flathead City-County Health Board this spring to run for the PSC. She is probably best known for her positions on COVID-19, vaccinations, abortion and gun rights. She is the founder of the Montana Pro-Life Coalition, sits on the Montana Shooting Sports Association’s board of directors, and describes herself as a proven grassroots leader.
Skees, a Kalispell resident, served four terms in the Montana House of Representatives. During the 2021 session he chaired the House Energy, Telecommunications and Federal Relations Committee. He manages Glacier Tracks, a northwestern Montana jeep rental business. He ran unsuccessfully for the PSC in 2015, when voters sent Brad Johnson, who terms out this year, to the commission.
In an emailed July 11 release, Lewis & Clark County Election Division Supervisor Connor Fitzpatrick listed the tallies for each candidate, saying they had remained unchanged following the recount.
“In the interest of transparency and full disclosure, this outcome demonstrates our voting process works,” Lewis and Clark County Commission Board Chair Jim McCormick said in the release.
Teton County Election Administrator Paula Jaconetty said Helena farmer and rancher Joe Dooling picked up one additional vote in their county’s recount conducted on July 6, going from 52 votes to 53. The tallies in that county were otherwise unchanged, Jaconetty told Montana Free Press.
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Flathead County’s results also showed minor movement in vote tallies. Election and Recording Office Manager Monica Eisenzimer reported that Skees’ lead over Bukacek in Flathead County, where both candidates live, expanded by just two votes following their July 12 date recount.
Lake County was the last of the four counties included in the district to conduct its recount. It completed that process on Monday. In a phone call with MTFP, Election Administrator Toni Kramer said their recount didn’t change the final vote tallies in Lake County.
Skees told MTFP this week that the number of candidates vying for the seat made it a particularly competitive race. He said, though, that he’s looking forward to remaining politically active in energy issues in other capacities. He said he remains committed to helping the Colstrip coal generating plant in southeast Montana transition to nuclear energy, something he advocated for strongly in the 2021 Legislature.
“When you’ve got a four-way race and two people are well-known in the Flathead, it’s going to divide up the support. I think a lot of people thought it was my race to lose, quote-unquote,” he said. “I’m going to talk to people I admire and respect and trust and see where the good Lord sends me next.”
Bukacek did not return MTFP’s request for comment Monday afternoon.
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