Friday, November 7, 2008

Election Day in Western Montana

CNS photographers Tiffany Wilson and Tess McEnroe covered Election Day in Missoula and Ravalli counties. For the best view of their photos and captions, click on the "View All Images" button above.



It’s been three days since the historic election, and Missoula County is still counting ballots.

Vickie Zeier, head of the county’s Office of Elections, and her staff worked for more than 24 hours straight Tuesday before calling it quits at 5 a.m. Wednesday. By that point, 99 of 101 precincts had been counted and Zeier was starting to see some mistakes in her staff’s work.

Despite the hectic schedule, Zeier said, the elections were “pretty successful” despite 85 percent of active registered voters casting ballots.

She credits her staff, including 550 polling judges, for making sure that every one of the nearly 60,000 voters was able to vote in a timely manner, avoiding the long lines seen elsewhere in the country.

The two uncounted precincts were both in Alberton and had errors with the card-reading machine. The ballots from those precincts will be hand-counted on Monday.

Zeier needs to finish counting those precincts, clear 868 provisional ballots and tabulate military ballots before Monday at 3 p.m., when an elections counting board will go over her final numbers.

The board will look at the number of votes cast and compare it to the final tallies of ballots counted. The two numbers are supposed to match, said Zeier. If they don’t, the board will need to resolve the discrepancy.

By Wednesday, official results from the county election must be at the Secretary of State’s office in Helena.

As for Zeier, once the ballots are all finalized and the election season is officially over, she’s going on a two-week vacation.

“I deserve it,” she said.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Missoula, How Blue Can You Get?


Missoula has long been a Democratic stronghold; the county has voted with a higher Democratic percentage than the rest of Montana down the line in recent elections. This year was no different. -MORE-

Election Night 2008

Democrats gathered at the Wilma Theater in Missoula cheer Tuesday night as they watch CNN call the battleground state of Virginia for Obama. Photo/Daniel Doherty

West Valley round-up wins big


Look out Missoula County, there’s a new gang in town.

Residents in four communities in Western Missoula County voted overwhelmingly to band together to create the West Valley Community Council Tuesday night.

That means Frenchtown, Huson, the Six Mile, and the Nine Mile areas will have a local center for public input and discourse and speak with a single voice on issues before the county commissioners.

With all five precincts reporting Tuesday night, the West Valley Community Council passed by a margin of 70 percent, 1,357 for and 587 against.

“I’m really pleased that the voters in the outlying areas of the county decided to let their voices be heard,” said Frenchtown resident Ray Winn. “The urban areas of Missoula have had too much influence on the rural people.”

The new council will have five members, one from each precinct on the new council. Interested individuals need to sign up at the courthouse. The county commissioners will choose the first council from the pool of applicants. This temporary council will serve until a permanent council is elected in the May school board election.

Winn said there wasn’t a great deal of campaigning for the initiative because he saw it as a “Can’t lose” proposition because it didn’t tax people or change a law. He suspects that the people who voted “No” were tired of big government and regulation and didn’t even read the ballot.

Stan Lucier, also a Frenchtown resident, suspects that opponents live in the hills of the upper Nine Mile.

“My wife calls ‘em Montuckiens,” Lucier said. “They don’t want to be messed with or bothered and they vote ‘No’ on everything.”

Whatever the case, supporters of the measure will be looking to voice their concerns on issues like road conditions. Lucier feels that it’s important to start by establishing Frenchtown as a city. Reviewing the sewer and water planning for the area and zoning in general will determine the valley’s appearance years from now. Another concern is the expensive requirements being imposed on people who build houses in the area.

“The first year is going be about communicating what they’re (the council) there for and how they can help,” Lucier said.

Florence conservatives lift Hawk to fourth term


Republican Ray Hawk soared high Tuesday night as Ravalli County voters re-elected him to House District 90.

Three terms of experience and a platform of reducing taxes and supporting small businesses paid off as Hawk won 60 percent of the votes to Gritzner’s 40 percent, 3,116 to 2,120 votes.

“I had no idea it was going to be this close,” Hawk said, after hearing the results for absentee ballots before turning in for the night. He was unavailable for a comment on his victory.

Hawk, 67, entered politics after a career in banking. He ran on a platform of conservative policies. His primary goals, he said, will be to eliminate the state’s business equipment tax and reduce property taxes.

Hawk’s opponent, Yvonne Gritzner, a volunteer with Montana Public Broadcasting and former program director for Montana Committee for the Humanities, said that defeating an incumbent is always hard. Ravalli County, especially, is a “Republican stronghold,” she said.

“I think that people do feel it is time for a change,” she said. “I think that my views on healthcare and education rang true.”

The two candidates were divided over issues such as further funding for public education, alternative energy and taxation.

While Gritzner thought that public education in Montana is extremely under funded, Hawk disagreed, saying during the campaign that current school funding is adequate.

Hawk also disagreed with Gritzner on the immediacy of alternative energy

“Right now we have to pursue coal and natural gas, we can’t pursue enough alternative energy to meet the needs of the population,” Hawk said earlier.

Though Gritzner was disappointed with the results, she believes there are Ravalli County residents who are ready for a change.

“You always feel like you could have done more,” she said.

Hands Grabs Big Win in HD 99


Luckily for Betsy Hands’s challenger, she will have to call long distance to rub it in.

Democrat Hands, 38, beat Republican opponent Jedediah Cox, 24, who’s currently in South Korea, with a strong majority for House District 99.

“I won because I am known in Missoula, represent Missoula's highest priorities, and I run an open campaign making an effort to listen to everyone,” Hands said.

Hands took 72 percent of the vote, with 3,514 votes to Cox’s 1,391.
Cox ended his campaign last month after accepting a job teaching English in South Korea, although he could not formally drop out of the race because the ballots had already been printed. Thousands of absentee ballots had already been turned in by the time he left the country.

Cox said he would return to Montana if he won the election, but District 99 is considered a stronghold for Democrats. In 2006, Hands won the district with 70 percent of the vote.

Last month, Hands left her position as executive director of homeWORD, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide affordable and environmentally sound housing, to focus on her campaign. She said she plans to spend the months leading up to the 2009 Legislative session working on bills she wants to sponsor, attending Legislative meetings and presenting at a sustainability conference in Boston.

“I am also going to enjoy spending the holidays with family and friends before heading to Helena and being fully focused on the legislative session,” she said.

Cox could not be reached in South Korea for comment.

Veteran legislator squeaks by newcomer in HD 88


Republican Bob Lake kept his head above water Tuesday night and won a close race for House District 88.

With 99 percent of the votes counted, Lake defeated opponent Patrick Boylan, a Democrat, 2,453 to 2,326, securing him a fourth term in the Montana Legislature.

Both candidates speculated that the Obama campaign Get Out the Vote lifted Boylan by sending more Democrats than usual to the polls.

Lake, 70, a retired businessman with two granddaughters in high school, supports lowering business taxes and increasing technology in rural Montana schools.

Boylan, 31, campaigned for a diversified, a green economy and improved access to health care.

But residents from the Woodside Cutoff to Sleeping Child Lake supported Lake and his pro-business, pro-education platform once again.

In office, Lake said he would like to be reappointed chairman of the taxation committee, where one of his main goals would be to reduce or eliminate business taxes.

He also said that he will try to make higher education more affordable, and prepare more of Montana’s youth for universities.

“I want to see children get through one level (of education) and be ready for the next,” Lake said. “My biggest efforts will go into that.”

Lake, who owned Lake Milling, Inc./Lakeland Feeds for 22 years, credits his victory in part to name recognition.

“The bottom line is that any of these races are run more like a popularity contest than an issue contest,” he said.

Boylan worried that issues he supported will be ignored under Lake’s representation.

“It’s unfortunate,” Boylan said, regarding his loss. “I think it’s bad for Ravalli County.”

Lake said that he plans to run for the state senate after he serves his final term in H.D. 88.

Malek Earns Clear Victory in HD 98


Missoula voters elected Democrat Sue Malek to serve in House District 98 by a more than 600-vote margin over Republican Will Deschamps.

Malek attributes her win to her “look-them-in-the-eyes-and-tell-them-who-you-are” attitude on getting to know voters, she said.

Though Malek, 57, does not live in District 98, she said personal connections sealed the race for her. She said she saw in many voters "a constant fear that something might happen because everybody is living paycheck to paycheck."

During the race, Deschamps criticized her for not living in the district in which she will now serve. Malek said voters didn't seem to care.

“A dozen or so people asked me, ‘Where do you live?’,” she said. “Hardly anybody lives in the district (in which they serve ). I think there are more important issues. We have all lived in Montana and we have all worked very hard.”

Deschamps could not be reached for comment after multiple attempted phone calls. He ran as a fiscal conservative, arguning for lower taxes for small businesses and exporting Montana’s natural resources to create a long-term stream of income for the state.

Malek said her differences with her opponent included “almost everything,” including the role of government in solving problems.

“I think more people are realizing that the government needs to get involved in issues,” she said.

Malek said she is excited to get to Helena and she hopes to be able to work on the state budget.

She also said she hopes to introduce a bill requiring the installation of ignition-locking beathalyzers on the cars of anyone convicted of a second DUI.

Malek, a UM Business School academic adviser, said she supports more funding for K-12 education.

“Teachers were worried about basically equalized pay,” she said. “We talked about that early on and what we need to be concentrating on is our kids education.”

Conservative vote bouys Stoker to fourth term


Conservative values trumped the Hollywood hopeful Tuesday in House District 87 race as incumbent Republican Ron Stoker defeated challenger Democrat Peter Rosten by a wide margin.

Stoker said his three terms in office and the strong conservative nature of his constituents held off the Democratic tide that swept through much of the nation.

“I come from a very conservative area of the county,” said Stoker, who claimed victory with 66 percent of the vote. With all precincts counted, Stoker received 3,523 votes to Rosten’s 1,850.

Rosten, a Hollywood movie producer who brought media art program to public schools in the Bitterroot, touted fresh ideas and his ability to get things done.

He was philosophical about defeat.

“Although there’s a more articulate way of putting this, (stuff) happens,” Rosten said. “It wasn’t meant to be.”

Stoker campaigned on the strength of his legislative experience. He said he will continue his work with the Human Services, Ethics and Judiciary committees. His work with the Judiciary Committee sent a large amount of bills to the house last term, he said.

In the new term, Stoker plans to continue a bill draft dealing with judge’s placement of convicted criminals. He was handpicked by Sen. Daniel McGee of Laurel to carry the bill because of his knowledge and experience with its background.

Although he lost, Rosten said he enjoyed the experience of the campaign, and his defeat was tempered by the results of the elections nationwide.

“If nothing else, I’m a better man and a better citizen,” Rosten said. “The real story tonight is Barack Obama. I could have changed Montana, but Obama can change the world.”

Newcomer Landquist ousts incumbent Anderson


County beat city Tuesday night as Democrat Michele Landquist defeated incumbent Larry Anderson in the race for Missoula County Board of Commissioners.

With only absentee ballots left to count, Anderson conceded defeat.

“It looks like I’m a victim of the Obama tsunami that’s coming through,” he said.

A nervous and largely disappointed Republican group at the Double Tree Hotel in downtown Missoula said it looked like Obama voters had marked Democrat straight down the ballots.

In the county race, the tally was Landquist’s 55 percent to Anderson’s 45 percent – her 22,827 votes to his 18,565. She will be the sole Missoula County resident serving on the three-member panel that makes decisions about county policy. The other two commissioners reside in the city.

Lanquist ran on the promise that she would be a voice for county residents living outside of Missoula. Anderson lives in the city limits, and campaigned as a fiscally conservative Republican serving on a majority Democratic panel.

Landquist said was stunned by her victory.

“Until they make an official announcement, it won’t sink in,” she said.

She declined to speculate on what her victory means, adding that it would be an insult to her voters for her to speculate on why she won. The voters are smart enough to elect the best candidate for the job, she said.

Landquist also said that she hopes to see the benefits that Missoula enjoys, such as recycling and preschools, extended to the rest of the county. In addition, she plans to carefully manage urban expansion and emphasize environmental friendliness.

But things move so fast in the commission that it’s difficult to determine what she will need to do first, Landquist said.

“I’ve got my list of things from talking to people but we’ll just have to see,” she said.

Republican Hinkle Grabs SD 7 Seat


Republican Greg Hinkle said he was optimistic that he’d nailed down a victory Tuesday against former Rep. Paul Clark, D-Trout Creek.

As of 1:15 a.m. Wednesday, Hinkle maintained a 954-point lead over Clark, 5,231 to 4,277.

Mineral County reported that Hinkle, a retired handyman from Thompson Falls, won the county race with 961 votes to Clark’s 945. With nine out of 10 precincts in Sanders County reporting, Hinkle led Clark with 3,184 votes to 2,519 votes. Missoula County reported that Hinkle maintained the lead with 1,086 votes to Clark’s 813 votes with six out of seven precincts reporting.

According to the Missoula County elections office, final absentee ballots may not be counted until around 4 a.m. because of the large amount of ballots received. Sanders County is also waiting on final absentee results because of technical issues.

“It’s not over ‘til it’s over,” Hinkle, 62, said of the close race.

Clark, 58, an educator and conservationist, said he didn’t know how to feel, noting that he was “a little down” in Missoula and Mineral Counties. Clark said that the race is similar to the primary election when Clark’s winning votes came from the last precincts in Sanders County late in the race.

“I feel like I’m right there,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll get those votes, but that’s where I’m at.”

Though Clark wouldn’t comment until all results were final, Hinkle said he was optimistic.

“No matter the outcome,” Hinkle said, “I still win.”

HOUSE DISTRICT 94: It’s McAlpin again



A tight race in House District 94 ended Tuesday night with Democratic Rep. Dave McAlpin winning a third term by edging out Republican opponent Linda Frey.

With 99 of 101 precincts reporting, McAlpin is the apparent winner with 54 percent of the vote compared with Frey’s 46 percent, a 363 vote difference. McAlpin had 2,395 votes,and Frey had 2,032.

“It’s a closer race than I expected,” McAlpin said.

The Democrat said he was excited to continue representing House District 94.

“It’s a great district. It’s a working families’ district, and they’ve always been very supportive and I’m glad that they were supportive again this time around.”

The race saw the candidates running on separate platforms with little overlap.

Health care has been McAlpin’s top priority throughout his time in the House, an interest he says stems from his background in tobacco prevention work. What started as a fairly narrow focus during his freshman term – four of the 10 bills McAlpin sponsored then were anti-tobacco – has widened over his two terms to include general health care.

For his third term, McAlpin’s said his top priority will be to “continue to try and improve health care and access to affordable health care.”

McAlpin also said he’ll focus on education and employment.

“We need to continue to make sure that our education in our public schools is well funded, so that our kids are competitive in a world market, and then always the economic drumbeat of trying to create good paying jobs with benefits in Missoula.”

Frey, on the other hand, is a staunch opponent of property taxes and entered the race after her fight against the Hillview Special Improvement District, which would have raised taxes in the neighborhood to widen the road.

Frey, 61, has been a history professor at the University of Montana since 1991 and had no political experience before the election.

Despite running a close race, Frey has no future political plans.

“I’m anxious to get back to my books,” said Frey. “I don’t regret running. I had a fantastic time.”

Away from the legislature, McAlpin, 43, is the executive director of Court-Appointed Special Advocates of Missoula, a program that pairs community volunteers with child victims of abuse and neglect.

McAplin commended Frey on the close race, saying, “I will be happy to give my opponent, Professor Frey, credit for hard work. But I think that the issues prevailed in this election.”

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Seeley Lake Voters Sink Resort Tax

A Seeley Lake voter prepares to cast her ballot on a proposal to establish a resort tax to improve the local water system. The measure failed. Photo by CHARLES PULLIAM.


SEELEY LAKE – A proposed resort tax in Seeley Lake was failing to clear its final hurdle early Wednesday.

Although some absentee ballot had yet to be counted, roughly 56 percent of voters had opposed the creation of a resort tax district, which would have established a designated area affected by the resort tax.

The actual tax, which would have tacked on an additional 3 percent tax on items such as alcohol, tobacco and restaurant food, was failing by a vote of 220-to-156 as of 1 a.m.

An official total wasn’t available as absentee ballots are still being counted, but the number isn’t expected to affect the final result.

“It was shot down,” said provisional judge Chris Jewett, who headed the polling operation at Seeley Lake Elementary School Tuesday.

About 600 people were eligible to vote on the issue, according to a July district voter report that counted the number of qualified residents within the area.

Becky Kyle, who resides within the district directly affected, said she voted for the tax because it would have helped boost the community as a whole.

“Seeley Lake is lacking infrastructure,” Kyle said. “This is basically a retirement community and for us to grow into something different than that, the resort tax was the answer. It was a great way to start gathering the funds necessary to change."

Kyle, 28, who is employed by Farmers Insurance, owns one of the roughly 540 homes within the water district. The district was a big reason the resort tax was even brought up after voters narrowly approved a 30-year general obligation bond last November to pay $4 million in upgrades to the town’s haphazard water system.

“I thought they might as well take advantage of the people who come here and the people that put their boats in the water and stay at our hotels,” she said. “We might as well have used that to our advantage to create revenue.”

Seeley Lake, which is home to about 1,600 residents, is expected to double within the next 20 years, but the key variables for further growth are how upgrades to the water and sewer systems are approached.

Most residents are currently using septic tanks, which are beginning to threaten the town’s cherished lake.

Addrien Marx, secretary of the town’s community council, said residents will be seeing water bills increase by $35 to $60 per month without the resort tax.

“I think most people see the word ‘tax’ and are turned away from the issue,” she said.

Marx, who owns Rovero’s, a small store and gas station in Seeley Lake, said her business, like others, will see increases of several hundred dollars per month. She said plenty of residents might not be able to meet the necessary jump in costs now.

“I know some old-timers around here who won’t be able to pay, say an extra $40 per month,” she said. “We lose those people, we lose the personality of the town. One of the solutions was the resort tax.”

Marx said she was frustrated in the outcome, but feels the possibility of a resort tax in Seeley Lake resurfacing isn’t too far away.

“I’m very disappointed because I thought it could help residents,” she said. “By next year they will realize they missed the opportunity after facing higher bills without the assistance from the people who pass through our valley.”

Old school beats new in HD 92


Experience trumped youth Tuesday night as retired high school teacher Robin Hamilton beat his 21-year-old GOP challenger in a landslide.

Republican candidate Dan Stusek chalked his loss up to timing, but vowed he would someday return to the ring.

“It’s a Democratic year,” said Stusek, A University of Montana senior. “He’s also an incumbent and he’s a lot more well known than I am.”

With all the precincts and some absentee ballots counted, Hamilton claimed 66 percent of the vote, out polling Stusek 3,035 to 1,567. The district covers 771 square miles centered on the Rattlesnake.

Hamilton couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday night.

The fourth-generation Rattlesnake resident is well known in the district he has represented since 2005. He taught at Hellgate High School for 24 years and campaigned on a platform supporting a government-backed educational system in Missoula, as well as the implementation of eco-friendly ideas into the school system.

Stusek advocated for increased domestic oil, gas and coal extraction and increased power for the legislature.

Stusek said he didn’t know what office he would seek next, but that he would be in the running again soon.

“I’ll definitely still be around,” Stusek said. “And I’ll have better results for next time for sure.”

SENATE DISTRICT 50: Larsen beats the 'unusual, extreme'


Rancher Cliff Larsen roped in a victory over small-business owner Kandi Matthew-Jenkins to be the next state senator for District 50.

Democratic Larsen, 65, defeated Constitution Party candidate Matthew-Jenkins, 58, by about 3,000 votes, though a few absentee ballots have yet to be to be counted. Larsen led Matthew-Jenkins, 5,224 votes to 2,217 at 12:30 a.m.

Larsen said he was not surprised by his substantial lead in the votes, declaring Matthew-Jenkins to be “a very unusual person running on a ticket that’s kind of extreme.”

“I think I represent the mainstream of Montana voters and people in my district,” said Larsen. “I think they want me to represent them in general for the positions that I take and that I hold.”

Matthew-Jenkins said she wasn’t surprised by her loss and attributed it to the “heavily progressive liberal district” in which she ran.

Larsen said that as a senator he will focus on health care, veterans’ benefits and senior citizens’ privileges. He said his “big issue” will be to get a portion of Montana tobacco tax revenues designated to Insure Montana, a program that helps small businesses offer employees health insurance. If it works out, Larsen said, the number of people the program covers could potentially double.

While Matthew-Jenkins does not know if she will run for office again, she said she didn't plan to stop working for political reform.

Larsen, who said he was tired from knocking on thousands of doors, plans to take it easy for a while.

“I feel like I really talked to the voters and I feel good about it," he said. "Now I’ll take a couple days off and just relax.”

HOUSE DISTRICT 93: Victory for Barrett



The Garden City voted green by electing conservation-minded Democrat Dick Barrett for the District 93 seat in the state House of Representatives.

With 98 of the 101 precincts reporting, Barrett led with 65 percent of the votes. He had 2,584 votes (64.6 percent) to Republican Steve Dogiakos’ 1,404 (35.1 percent).

“I am gratified by my victory, but not terribly surprised,” said Barrett, “I had a number of advantages, including being a Democrat in the district as well as my name recognition.”

Barrett, who retired as a University of Montana professor of economics after 25 years, focused on land stewardship and support for aggressive, state-sponsored land-use management.

His proposals included instituting development setbacks and expanding the ability of the state to place its own land under conservation easement.

Dogiakos spoke about balancing the changing environment and society’s needs for transportation and consumption. But Missoulians voted for Barrett’s specific solutions.

Barrett, 66, and Dogiakos, 23, agreed on many issues in their campaign, but age, experience and political-party affiliation stood out as the main differences.

“It is a great learning experience,” said Dogiakos, who might run again. “I know what it takes to win next time. I know what needs to happen next time.

“It is a tough district to run in. By putting an R (Republican) after your name, you are automatically down by 20 points.”

Furey wins one for his son in HD 91


Once an appointed fill-in for his lawmaker son, Democratic incumbent Tim Furey proved his ability to serve in his own right Tuesday and secured his second term as House District 91 representative.

Running in his first election, Furey defeated Republican challenger Walt Hill 62 to 38 percent. With all precincts reporting, Furey received 2,356 votes compared to Hill’s 1,465.

Furey, 54, said his victory is a testament to the vision his son Kevin had for the sprawling district. Kevin Furey left his House District seat in order to report for duty with the Army Reserves. He is serving in northern Iraq.

“It’s quite an honor to be able to carry on your son’s legacy,” Tim Furey said.

That legacy includes Furey’s support for state-provided energy assistance for low-income individuals and funding first-class facilities for the University of Montana.

Hill, Furey’s opponent, is a 71-year-old retired University of Montana professor who lives in Seeley Lake. He said the combination of challenging a Democratic incumbent in a Democratic stronghold was too much.

“I guess I should have campaigned harder,” Hill said.

Hill said this will be his last campaign because there are younger, more vibrant candidates available.

Furey said he knocked on more than 3,000 doors between May and November and attributed his victory to being involved with the community as much as possible.

“The main thing is visiting with people, knocking on doors and talking to people,” Furey said.
Currently, Furey is director of development at Opportunity Resources in Missoula.

The major issues in the House District 91 race surrounded Montana’s economy, energy costs, and university funding.

Laslovich Cruises to Victory in SD 43


Democrat Jesse Laslovich celebrated his victory with a “couple of Shirley Temples” Tuesday night after defeating Republican Dick Motta to become senator of District 43.

With 28 of 34 precincts reporting at midnight, Laslovich was ahead 5,685 votes to Motta’s 2,302.

Laslovich, 28, said he hopes to continue the reform of Montana’s prison system by allowing judges to choose whether a person convicted of a crime should be sentenced to prison or rehabilitation. He added that he wants to provide more funding for education and continue supporting “clean energy” bills.

He is also exploring the option of running for Senate leader in next week’s pre-session caucuses.

The Democrat’s victory galled his conservative counterpart, who said he lost because of a strong liberal constituency in District 43.

“I think Anaconda is so heavily Democratic, it pretty much eliminated the likelihood of me winning,” Motta said.

However, Motta, 69, said he is glad he gave Montanans in his district a choice.

“I at least gave Laslovich some opposition,” the retired businessman said. “I gave the people of Anaconda, Philipsburg, Drummond and Deer Lodge the opportunity to voice their opinion. That’s all I could do.”

However, Motta said he is still angry that state ethics officials have not investigated the legal residency of Laslovich.

“Jesse and his wife have lived in Helena two years,” Motta said. “I don’t care if he is going to move back to District 43. The point is; he isn’t here now.”'

Motta filed a complaint in July, but still hasn’t heard back from the Commissioner of Political Practices.

“I got pretty frustrated with the whole thing,” Motta said. “Nobody wants to get back to me on whether or not Laslovich is a resident of Montana. I think it’s a gross dereliction of their duties.”

For his part, Laslovich said that because he still maintains a permanent residency at his parents’ house in Anaconda, his candidacy is valid.

“Motta made my residency the main issue, and clearly people disagreed,” Laslovich said. “That says more than anything to me.”

Laslovich plans on finding work at a law firm in the district after the legislative session is over next spring.

“Today was a pivotal point for me,” Laslovich added. “I at least have time to line a job up before May. If all else fails, I’ll work for my dad at the construction company.”

Motta said that “it’s a sad day,” but he’s not planning on running for Senate in the future.

“What can I say?” Motta said. “I’m a loser.”

HOUSE DISTRICT 97: Another term for Reinhart



Democrat Michele Reinhart won a second term as state representative Tuesday, defeating Republican challenger Carol Minjares in House District 97.

Reinhart had the lead after the first absentee votes were counted and was still ahead by 1,569 votes with 98 percent of the precincts reported. Reinhart had 2,967 votes (67.82 percent) to Minjares’ 1,398 (31.95 percent).

Reinhart, 28, stopped into the Missoula County Courthouse Tuesday evening just as the second round of votes were released. When she saw the percentages for the House District 97 race, her first response was, “Oh, poor Carol.”

But her sympathy was short-lived as the congratulatory phone calls started coming in.

Reinhart rattled off her priorities as she dashed down the courthouse stairs. Emphasize energy efficiency in institutions, businesses and homes. Develop zero and low interest loans for sustainable businesses.

“But the big picture is working on green jobs creation, the economy, and education,” she said. “We need to connect the dots between all of those and find the funding. I want everyone to contact me with ideas and priorities.”

Throughout her campaign, Reinhart was approachable and in the public eye. In the two weeks before the election, Reinhart participated in six public panels and talked to thousands of constituents door-to-door.

Minjares, 59, made few public appearances, including one where she stayed only long enough to make her statement. She appeared to focus her campaign efforts on the Internet, posting to and regularly updating her own blog, Missoulapolis.

Although she works one-on-one with local and state governments as a proposal writer and attorney, her interaction with constituents was limited and she was unavailable for comment on election night.

Reinhart has specific suggestions for state budget management. She would eliminate tax loopholes so state income increases without raising taxes. She also favors maintaining a “rainy day” fund so the current surplus can postpone future deficit.

Reinhart said she would put her job as a Missoula city planner on hold when she gets to Helena in January.

“It’s time to keep kickin’ butt and workin’ hard for the people of Missoula and Montana.”

Nooney builds a lead in HD 100


Republican incumbent Bill Nooney eeked out a win for the House District 100 seat Tuesday night, narrowly defeating his opponent Willis Curdy. The race stayed close until the end, with Nooney leading 1,727 votes over Curdy’s 1,503 as of midnight.

“This district is an anomaly in Missoula,” Democratic candidate Curdy said. “It’s a swing district, and it tends to lean Republican.”

Nooney, a small business owner, has served one term in the Montana Legislature. Curdy, who has limited political experience, has worked with the U.S. Forest Service as a smokejumper and taught history at Hellgate High School for 30 years.

One of the key issues during the race was a change in tax structure. During the campaign, Nooney said he would propose an “across–the-board” decrease in property taxes, while Curdy maintained that tax cuts would only exacerbate existing problems.

Energy costs were another point of contention. Nooney said Montanans should take advantage of coal reserves in the state and that drilling for oil is the most viable option for energy resources right now. Curdy championed the potential of geothermal and solar power as an alternative to traditional natural resources.

Curdy, 59, said although it may be too early to tell, he probably won’t run for office again.

“I’ve had to work hard,” Curdy said. “I’ve had a lot of help from folks. People have stepped up and said, ‘Yeah, I want to help,’ and that’s really paid off, regardless of whether we win or lose.”

Nooney could not be reached for comment.

MISSOULA EMERGENCY RESPONSE: Defeated by 1,300 votes



Missoula County residents narrowly defeated a bond measure on Tuesday that would have built a new sheriff’s office and 911 emergency call center.

The bond issue was losing by 1,300 votes with 99 of 101 precincts reporting. There were 22,247 (51.5 percent) against the measure to 20,950 (48.5 percent) in favor.

The measure would have raised $16 million dollars over the next 20 years by taxing property owners $13.91 on every $100,000 of taxable value per year.

The estimated cost of the new center is around $23.5 million. The rest of the money would have come from the county’s reserves and annual budgeting.

Sheriff Mike McMeekin took the news in stride but said he worried that rising construction costs would cost the county and taxpayers significantly as a result of the defeat.

There was no organized opposition to the bond, and most of its opponents agreed with the need for a new center but felt that it was the wrong time to be asking voters to pay higher taxes.

Even one of the most public opponent of the bond, Democratic county commissioner-elect Michele Landquist, said she worried about openly opposing the bond measure, as she didn’t want be blamed for the bond’s defeat.

Supporters of the bond pointed to overcrowding in the Missoula county courthouse and outdated infrastructure as the reason that the new center was so crucial for the county. They say that as calls to 911 increase and county sheriff’s deputies continue to play a crucial role in county law enforcement, the current location, in the county courthouse annex building, will become increasingly insufficient.

In the end, McMeekin said that the bond’s defeat was “understandable given that the economic situation is the way it is.” He stressed that because the county needs the center, it will find a way to get the money.

Reporter Melissa Jensen provided some of the information for this article.

HOUSE DISTRICT 95: Sands’ win no surprise



The outcome of the race for House District 95 was not the surprise of the day for winning Democrat Diane Sands.

Up against a nearly invisible opponent, there was little question in Sands’ mind that she would win re-election.

“I am honored to again represent the people of House District 95,” said Sands.

Republican Kevin Blackler said during the campaign that he preferred to stay out of the public eye and not be involved in the political process.

So for Sands, the surprising moments of the day were spread across the hours she spent as an election judge at Hellgate Elementary.

There she saw four young men celebrate their 18th birthdays by registering to vote and casting their ballots.

And she watched as tears rolled down the face of a woman in a wheelchair who was able to cast her own ballot at an AutoMARK machine for the disabled.

Those moments, she said, summed up why she’s involved in politics.

“I could care less about who they vote for, just that they do it,” Sands said before the election.

Now that she’s been re-elected to a second term, Sands’ attention turns to the upcoming legislative session. She’ll now get the chance to continue working on several bills she began in the last meeting of the state legislature.

One bill deals with general revisions to election law. It would review the state’s election laws and how they work together and possibly get rid of any out-dated material.

Another bill deals with voting by mail. If passed, it would set up a pilot project in several counties to look at the effectiveness of strictly mail-in ballot elections.

Efforts to get reaction to the race’s outcome from Kevin Blackler went unanswered Tuesday night.

Missoula County Reports Heavy Turnout

As Election Day wound to a close at the Missoula County elections office, Chief Deputy Clerk Debbie Merseal said none of the precincts had reported any major hiccups but that all saw a healthy turnout.

"There's been no problems," Merseal said. "It's just been very busy."

The office recieved around 28,000 absentee ballots, which they began counting this morning.

"That's higher than normal," Merseal said. "Two years ago we issued 12,000."

They had to wait until the polls had closed to begin issuing any results.

"If there are people still waiting in that line downstairs, we cannot release any results," Merseal said. "We've got to wait until we get the door closed behind everybody."

Around 9:20 p.m., they released preliminary results based on the absentee ballots.

The county set up its late-voter registration center a floor below in the courthouse's Motor Vehicle and Treasury department. The county decided to use the office to handle the expected crowed, taking advantage of the DMV's set up and take-a-number system. The office also served as a polling place. Last-minute registrees had to fill out a registration card and show an ID, then brave the wait for a chance to vote.

Residents packed the lobby throughout the day. Most stuck it out, though a few decided not to after learning they'd be sitting for upwards of two hours.

John Melendez of Boulder, Colo., forgot to file his absentee ballot in the mail and came to re-register. He filled out a card around 5:15 p.m. and waited for 20 minutes but decided to scrap the attempt when he realized the two-hour delay was no exaggeration.

"What I really wanted was one of those (I Voted) stickers," Melendez said with a laugh. "I think I'm going to just grab one anyway and call it good."

Volunteer Kim Seeberger said the center was overflowing since 8 a.m., with at least an hour wait for most of the day.

"Before the doors opened this morning, the room was packed," Seeberger said. "Then we had a lull but around the lunch hour it hit and it never stopped."

As the polls closed at 8 p.m., dozens of people still milled around the halls, waiting to vote. At 8:45, registration worker Josie Van Deventer filed the last ballot.

HOUSE DISTRICT 96: Teresa Henry wins third term



Experience and her drive for better health care is what Teresa Henry said won her a third term in the state House of Representatives.

In House District 96, Henry, a Democrat, won with 57 percent, 2,042 votes, in Tuesday’s election. Her opponent, Steve Eschenbacher, received 42 percent, 1,507 votes.

“I am the best candidate to represent House District 96,” said Henry. “I was so supported by my friends. I had support that I didn’t even know about.”

She said her knowledge as the incumbent won the race for her.

Henry plans to reintroduce and sponsor the Creative Responsible Sexual Health bill. It would create a sexual-education program to teach the health benefits of contraception, encourage family communication, teach skills for making responsible sexual decisions and promote healthy life skills such as setting long-term goals. The program would be age appropriate and medically accurate.

She also plans on sponsoring a prescription-drug-monitoring program, which would keep a database of anyone who takes prescription narcotics. Henry said she hoped that the database would be helpful in decreasing the number of deaths caused by narcotic overdoses each year.

The legislature had passed five of the eight bills Henry sponsored in her first two terms.

Though Eschenbacher, who ran as a Republican, did not win, he is “the happiest son of a bitch in the world,” he said.

“I lost because the Republican brand is tarnished, not because of my stance on the issues.”

Eschenbacher’s campaign advocated reforming health care. He also saw other issues that needed attention, including Montana’s handling of the mentally ill.

Montana’s system for handling the mentally ill is inadequate, he said. Because there is no insanity defense in Montana, Eschenbacher feels the mentally ill are unnecessarily criminalized, and because there is no facility for treating the mentally ill in Hamilton or Missoula, they are underserved in this part of the state.

Eschenbacher will not be involved in future Missoula politics because he is moving out of the county because of employment.

“Tonight we mourn; tomorrow we go back to work,” said Eschenbacher.

For Henry, that means another two years of work as House Representative of District 96.