Governor’s Race Still Too Close To Call – Republicans Fare Well in Statewide Election
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Republicans picked up at least one statewide office, while some candidates resigned themselves to wait until Wednesday morning to find out whether they won or lost. Here are the latest results of the state’s top races:
The race for Montana governor is too close to call.
Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock was holding a lead over Republican challenger Greg Gianforte early Wednesday, with returns from multiple counties outstanding.
Bullock is seeking a second term against a Bozeman software entrepreneur making his first run for political office.
Bullock touts his record of bringing together different groups to plan for the state’s economic future plus record investments in public education. If re-elected, he said he would improve eastern Montana’s infrastructure, increase worker training, launch a statewide pre-kindergarten program and boost the state’s outdoor recreation economy.
Gianforte focused his campaign on attracting high-paying jobs to the state and said government regulations interfere with business and private property rights. He pledged to roll back regulations, appoint government agency heads with experience in the private sector, cut personal income taxes and eliminate the business equipment tax.
Ted Dunlap is the Libertarian Party candidate.
Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke defeated Democrat Denise Juneau to win a second term.
Zinke, a Navy SEAL veteran and a former state lawmaker from Whitefish, focused his campaign on increasing natural resources development and halting refugee resettlements.
Juneau is the outgoing superintendent of public instruction. She was seeking to become the first Native American woman elected to Congress.
Voters were not convinced by Juneau’s criticism of Zinke for his strong ties to Donald Trump, nor her claims that Zinke’s national political ambitions detracted from his service to Montana citizens.
Rick Breckenridge became the Libertarian Party candidate late in the campaign after the party’s first candidate, Mike Fellows, died in a car crash.
District Judge Dirk Sandefur was leading University of Montana adjunct law professor Kristen Juras on Tuesday night in the race for an open seat on the Montana Supreme Court.
Sandefur and Juras were competing to replace retiring Justice Patricia Cotter, who is stepping down after two eight-year terms on the state’s highest court.
Sandefur cites his experience as a district judge as qualifying him more than Juras to serve on the seven-member, nonpartisan high court. Juras says justices have diverse legal backgrounds, and she would bring knowledge of the legal issues faced by individuals, farmers and small business owners.
A group of Montana attorneys and the state’s trial lawyers’ association backs Sandefur. A pro-Juras group run by Republican operative Jake Eaton has produced an ad attacking Sandefur’s record as a district judge.
Two justices ran unopposed: Chief Justice Mike McGrath and Justice Jim Shea.
Republican Attorney General Tim Fox won re-election by defeating Democrat Larry Jent, a former state legislator from Bozeman.
Fox is a popular attorney general who cracked down on sex offenders by instituting compliance checks and revamped the sex offender registry during his first term. He also has expanded an anti-drunken driving program started by then-Attorney General Steve Bullock and hired a prescription drug abuse prevention coordinator.
SECRETARY OF STATE
Republican Corey Stapleton beat Democrat Monica Lindeen in the race for an open seat for Montana secretary of state that had been held by Democrats.
The two veteran Montana politicians were competing for the open post vacated by Linda McCulloch, a Democrat who served two terms.
Stapleton is a former state legislator from Billings who most recently lost in the 2014 U.S. House Republican primary against Zinke. Lindeen, the outgoing state auditor, was seeking to keep the seat in Democratic hands.
Roger Roots was the Libertarian candidate for the job, which administers elections and oversees businesses in the state.
SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION
Republican state Sen. Elsie Arntzen and Democrat Melisso Romano were vying to replace Juneau as education superintendent.
Arntzen was leading Romano early Wednesday.
Arntzen has served five terms in the state Legislature. Romano, an elementary school teacher from Helena, is making her first run for political office.
Romano told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that she supports the Common Core educational standards that are being implemented in Montana. Arntzen has said they should be revised.
Jesse Laslovich, the chief legal counsel for the state auditor’s office, was trailing Republican state Sen. Matt Rosendale in seeking to replace Lindeen as auditor.
Both candidates have served in the Legislature. Rosendale tells the Great Falls Tribune newspaper his top priority would be to protect citizens from fraud and theft, and that he would try to reduce the cost of auto, workers’ compensation and health insurance.
Laslovich says he would seek transparency in health care pricing, fight investment fraud against senior citizens, protect public land access and try to bring down the cost of high air ambulance bills.
PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION
Republican incumbent Roger Koopman of Bozeman was leading in a three-way race for a seat on the commission that regulates utilities and transportation in the state.
Koopman was fighting challenges from Democratic state Rep. Pat Noonan of Ramsay and independent candidate Caron Cooper.
Republican commission member Bob Lake was leading Democrat Gail Gutsche by four percentage points. Republican Tony O’Donnell is unopposed in the general election after securing his party’s nominations in the primary elections.
Republicans were expected to hold on to their majority in both the state House and Senate.
Republicans now have a 29-21 majority in the Senate and a 59-41 majority in the House.
Twenty-five Senate seats and all 100 House seats were up for election Tuesday.
Nineteen Senate seats were in contested elections, 10 of which are now held by Democrats.