Imagine, if you will – for the sake of clarity, a giant pile of elephant refuse hit the backside of an industrial fan. That’s the situation in what is arguably the most conservative, patriot-filled part of the state, the Flathead Valley. The two sides seem to have been cemented in opposition on Thursday evening when Dr. Annie Bukacek announced during the Flathead Republican Central Committee that she would challenge Derek Skees in a primary, the meeting of which is chaired by Ronalee Skees. Mrs. Skees is the wife of Derek Skees, a stalwart conservative – like Bukacek – which makes it such a heartbreaking ordeal. Mrs. Skees reportedly denied her the ability to speak further (a factoid we will clarify later), and also denied Nick Ramlo (who has filed for Justice of the Peace), who has written critically of Mrs. Skees in the Montana Daily Gazette and elsewhere. But the mud-slinging hasn’t been confined to this publication; Derek Skees has written harsh words about Bukacek – perhaps the best known pro-life advocate in the state of Montana – and her followers, on Facebook.
First, the origins as best understood by our reporters on the ground of the Flathead Valley go back years. The origins of the controversy seem to be years ago when Ronalee Skees and Bukacek and are now serving together on the Flathead County Health Board. According to Bukacek, Skees has been on the wrong – and more liberal – side of the ins-and-outs of health board decisions, which left Bukacek typically standing alone and voting by herself, doing due diligence – as the physician on the board – to do her homework on various initiatives proposed. The narrative from the Bukacek camp is that Ronalee has been “herd voting” with the majority. Not surprisingly, Derek Skees has been defensive of his wife. As one of the most notable conservatives in the state – now termed out of the legislature – Skees’ has been aggressively defensive of his wife, an understandable posture.
MDG has provided favorable coverage of both Bukacek and Skees, because they are both deserving of it. Both received awards of achievement from MDG for their work over the 2021 legislative year. Bukacek, in particular, was boosted into the national press (and Facebook sanctioned us for quoting her) for an MDG story in which she was cited, claiming COVID death certificate numbers were deceitful and inflated. She was lambasted in the national press, but later, Bukacek was proven correct.
To continue the controversy, Nick Ramlow – a Libertarian who is considering changing his party to Republican – has been attending the Flathead Republican Central Committee. Last month, Ramlow raised his hand to ask a question, and the chair will almost always call on them if there is no objection. Reportedly, according to Ramlow, Ronalee would not call upon him of giving him the recognition of having his hand up. The same thing occurred at this latest meeting. One of the members, Jake Kirby*, raised the issue and wanted to stop the chair’s ability to completely exclude anyone. The members subsequently voted that any precinct captains could recognize non-precinct members (like Ramlow), a seeming rebuke to Mrs. Skees.
However, MDG has heard reporting that Dr. Annie Bukacek – a new candidate for office against Mr. Skees – was similarly not given the right to speak, and she very maturely and calmly explained to the Gazette that she held no ill will toward Mrs. Skees and explained that the committee could do as they wished and had no “right” to speak at a business proceeding, being a non-member of the committee. From Bukacek herself, this reporting should be debunked.
It is not a secret that there is infighting in the Republican Party. But usually, that infighting is between the “undocumented Democrats” like Llew Jones and conservatives like Derek Skees. It is rare – and tragic – that two standard-bearers for conservatism should be fighting like proverbial cats and dogs. MDG has screenshots and a video from Skees, critical of Bukacek, which publishing would only add fuel to the fire. Bukacek’s volleys toward the Skees’ seem to come from her many followers and supporters, who have been incensed at what they have seen or heard – legitimate or not – come from the Skees’ camp in the way of insult or, from the Skees’ perspective, honesty.
Right now, rumors are aflame, and discerning between truth and fiction seems too difficult even for our reporters on the ground. All we know is that it’s a mess, insults abound, and this is not healthy or good for the Republican Party. Without casting blame on either side, we ask that in the name of Jesus and for our common causes we learn to break bread together, be civil, and have an open, honest, and polite primary.
Consider Montana Daily Gazette on this issue to be Switzerland – neutral. The day may come when we are not. But until then, let us do our best to treat one another as we would desire to be treated.
*CORRECTION: Kirby’s suggestion was out-voted by the committee.