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No major changes to Montana Legislature’s balance of power

Posted at 6:45 AM, Nov 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-09 10:14:59-05

HELENA – It appears there will be no major changes to the balance of power in the Montana Legislature for next year’s session.

Initial results show Republicans have maintained solid majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The Montana Secretary of State’s Office reported Thursday night that 100% of precincts’ votes were fully counted, though provisional ballots won’t be included until next week and may still affect some close races.

In the House, Republicans led in 58 races, while Democrats led in 42. That would be a net gain of one seat for the Democrats, compared to the 2017 legislative session.

Three Democratic candidates led in Republican-held seats:

  • House District 25, Great Falls: Jasmine Krotkov led incumbent Republican Rep. Jeremy Trebas, 1,898 votes to 1,774.
  • House District 65, Bozeman: Former Rep. Christopher Pope defeated Republican candidate Jane Gillette, 3,861 votes to 2,733. Gillette replaced incumbent Rep. Jon Knokey as the Republican nominee, after he withdrew from the race in June.
  • House District 96, Missoula County: Thomas Winter held a narrow lead over incumbent Republican Rep. Adam Hertz, 2,777 votes to 2,734.

But Republicans also won two open seats that had been held by Democrats:

  • House District 21, Great Falls and Black Eagle: Sen. Ed Buttrey, termed-out of the Senate, defeated Democrat Leesha Ford, 2,423 votes to 2,101. The seat was held by Democratic Rep. Tom Jacobson, who ran for and won Buttrey’s seat in the Senate.
  • House District 93, Lake County: Former Rep. Joe Read defeated Democrat Eldena Bear Don’t Walk, 2,388 votes to 1,850.

In the Senate, it appeared Democrats would gain two seats from Republicans. That would give them 20 senators next year, compared to 30 Republicans.

  • Senate District 11, Cascade County: Jacobson defeated former Republican Rep. Adam Rosendale, 4,696 votes to 3,457. Rosendale represented Billings in the House during the 2017 legislative session, then resigned after moving to Great Falls.
  • Senate District 32, Gallatin County: Pat Flowers led incumbent Republican Sen. Jedediah Hinkle, 5,638 votes to 5,300.

There is one House race that is currently close enough to see a possible recount. In Great Falls’ House District 22, Republican Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway leads Democratic challenger Laura Dever by just five votes – 1,869 to 1,864.

A recount can be held if the margin of victory in a race is less than ½-of-1%. If the margin is less than ¼-of-1%, the losing candidate can request a recount without having to cover the cost.

Several other legislative races were not within the margin required to trigger a recount, but still remained extremely close:

  • House District 3, Flathead County: Incumbent Democratic Rep. Zac Perry led former Republican Rep. Jerry O’Neil by 41 votes.
  • House District 51, Billings: Republican Rep. Frank Fleming led Democratic challenger Darryl Wilson by 58 votes.
  • Senate District 12, Great Falls: Democratic Sen. Carlie Boland led Republican Steven Galloway by 200 votes.
  • Senate District 14, North-Central Montana: Incumbent Republican Sen. Russ Tempel led Democrat Paul Tuss by 149 votes.

You can see the full results of legislative elections and other Montana races at the Secretary of State’s website.

The newly-elected state lawmakers will select their leaders for the 2019 legislative session during party caucuses in Helena next week.

-Jonathon Ambarian reporting for MTN News