Never miss a post. Subscribe today.

Montana Legislature Montana Politics

Something weird is going on in HD-85

Theresa Manzella (R) HD-85

There was a filing flurry for HD-85 shortly before the 2018 election deadline — a Democrat then a Green Party candidate and then another Democrat.

Montana House District 85 is at the southern end of Ravalli County. It surrounds Hamilton, which has its own district, and goes all the way to the border of Beaverhead County. Republican Theresa Manzella is the current representative from that district. She filed for re-election on Jan. 12, 2018.

Manzella has been in the news lately after she blasted the teacher’s union — over 75 percent of the Ravalli County public school teachers belong to it — as “working against our constitution and for socialism and communism.” This was her response to a 17-minute student walkout at Hamilton High School in solidarity with kids killed and injured in a shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school.

Manzella is also known as a supporter of Cliven Bundy, whose armed standoff with federal officers made national news. This dovetails nicely with her desire to transfer federal lands to the states. There’s a long list of her far-right activism, which we’ll delve into at a later date.

Some folks seem to be covering Manzella’s bases when it comes to the primary and general election. There was no activity between her Jan. 12 filing right up to the final minutes on the day of the 5:00 p.m. filing deadline. Democrat Laura Jackson* filed at 4:18 p.m. Then, 15 minutes later, at 4:33 p.m., John Gibney filed as the Green Party candidate and one minute after that, at 4:34 p.m., Mary Toews filed as a Democrat. Here are the timestamps from the Montana Secretary of State’s office:

Processed House District 85 Theresa Manzella Filing Date: January 12, 2018. 8:45 A.M.
Processed House District 85 Laura Jackson Filing Date: March 12, 2018. 4:18 P.M.
Processed House District 85 John Gibney Filing Date: March 12, 2018. 4:33 P.M.
Processed House District 85 Mary Toews Filing Date: March 12, 2018. 4:34 P.M.

It means that Jackson will have an opponent in the primary and if she prevails, she’ll have a Republican opponent and a Green Party opponent in the general election. Conventional wisdom has it that Greens strip votes away from Democrats. All this must make Manzella ecstatic.

Most interesting is the fact that Gibney isn’t a real Green nor is Toews a real Democrat. The Montana Green Party went so far as to denounce Gibney’s candidacy over his comments about “a black Muslim president” and his anti-immigrant activities.

No one in Ravalli County Democratic Party circles is familiar with Toews. She has been spotted at a Gianforte birthday celebration hosted by a Bitterroot constitutional Christian organization with the catchy name of Advancing Conservatism Society, and she’s active in the pro-life movement.

I thought I’d give her a call. I identified myself as a contributor to a political blog called The Montana Post and started to ask about her candidacy:

“I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to be written about. Thank you. Bye, bye,” Toews said and hung up.

Did incumbent Manzella coordinate these last minute filings to guarantee opponents for Jackson in both the primary and the general? Manzella won the district with 73 percent of the vote in 2016, so why expend the energy for what looks to be a sure thing? Either she’s not taking any chances by lining up candidates to challenge her Democratic opponent every step of the way, or it’s just a coincidence that two people filed, under political parties they don’t support, 15 minutes after Jackson filed.

I left a message on Manzella’s phone inquiring about her relationship with Gibney and Toews, but have yet to hear back. I don’t really expect a response considering I dubbed her “Hypocrite of the Week” in a post earlier in March, but it never hurts to ask.

There’s something fishy going on up the Bitterroot.

UPDATE: Toews has apparently withdrawn from the race, the Ravalli Republic reports. She missed the deadline to pull her name from the ballot, though, and she’s still registered as a candidate at the Montana Secretary of State’s office.

* Full disclosure: Laura Jackson is a second cousin of mine, on my mother’s side.



If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.

Send this to a friend