A guy was telling a group of young women about the off-menu Anton Chigurh cocktail (tequila, mezcal) at Plonk Tuesday night as Josh Slotnick’s supporters clustered around a laptop. Polls had just closed, and the results weren’t yet trickling out. When Slotnick’s campaign manager called in from the fairgrounds, he had good news: Early returns put Slotnick almost 500 votes ahead of incumbent Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss.
It was an early lead, but Election Night wore on like a bad hangover, slow and grinding and devoid of climax. Slotnick whiled away the hours talking with friends and supporters. He’s established deep reserves of goodwill in the community through his years of work in agriculture and at the university, and has the kind of community-wide influence that convinced Mayor John Engen to break his vow of neutrality with an endorsement.
When the next call came at 10 p.m., Slotnick’s lead had widened slightly — 6,460 votes to Curtiss’ 5,011. “I want to sort of let myself go and be all excited and happy, but I’m nervous,” he said. Regardless of the final result, Slotnick would wake up the next day facing the same workload as always. “I’ve got to go to the PEAS farm and we gotta plant tomatoes and weed carrots and it’s going to be a regular day.”
A few blocks away, at Brooks & Browns, Curtiss and a handful of friends migrated from the patio to a table near the Keno machines, asking the bartender to switch on the KPAX broadcast. Curtiss seemed distant, a 17-year veteran of the county commission not quite ready to accept defeat. The past eight months had been rough, just not for the reasons you’d think. Yeah, the campaign was difficult, she said, but she’d been far more concerned, as president of the board, with keeping the Western Montana Mental Health Center alive.
“I don’t like politics,” Curtiss said, choking up. “The piece of it I do like is you get out and talk to people and you reflect back on what you’ve done, you see that you’ve made a difference.”
By Wednesday morning, Slotnick had won, 11,065 votes to 7,866.