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Leo Dutton, left, and Jay Nelson

Leo Dutton, left, and Jay Nelson

Montana Highway Patrol Sgt. Jay Nelson is challenging Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton for the sheriff/coroner seat up for election in November. 

Nelson announced Thursday that he will run as a Republican. Dutton is running as a Democrat.

"I want to give this community security," Nelson told a crowd of supporters in front of the county courthouse Thursday morning.

Nelson's family was at his side during the announcement. He said his decision to run for the position was influenced by his father Mickey Nelson, who was Lewis and Clark County's coroner for decades before his death in 2016.

Nelson reeled off his Helena credentials, which include attending "the original" Central School, graduating from Helena High School and then enrolling at Carroll College, where he played football under Coach Bob Petrino Sr. 

Nelson has been in law enforcement in Montana for 20 years.

Asked about how long he's been considering running for sheriff, Nelson said that he'd been "pondering it for years."

"It was a big decision, it was a big leap of faith," Nelson said. "I'm at peace with this."

Nelson said the reason he decided to run against Dutton was because he's "never backed down from a challenge."

Dutton is a three-decade veteran of Montana law enforcement, working as an EMT for years and eventually a full-time deputy in Helena in 1996. Dutton was appointed sheriff in 2008 after the retirement of Sheriff Cheryl Liedle and elected for the first time in November 2010. He was re-elected in 2014. 

In a 2014 interview with the Independent Record, Dutton described himself as "a committed public servant who can be defined in three words: safety, service and trust."

Dutton filed to run for the sheriff/coroner position earlier this year.

The county commission voted in December to consolidate the positions of sheriff and coroner, which has been done in dozens of other Montana counties. In addition to overseeing the county's law enforcement, the sheriff/coroner will handle cause-of-death investigations and provide death certificates.

Candidates have until March 12 to file. The primary is June 5 and the general election is Nov. 6. 

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