(HELENA) Montana Republicans, who had a very good day at the polls Tuesday, have expanded their majority in the state Senate and possibly held a 59-41 spread in the Montana House.
“It was an electoral route,” Montana GOP Chairman Jeff Essmann said of Tuesday’s results, noting that Republicans won all statewide offices except governor and didn’t lose ground at the Legislature. “We have firm control of the Legislature.”
Republicans picked up a net three seats in the state Senate, increasing their majority to 32-18. They won Democratic-held Senate seats in Helena, Missoula, central Montana and near Billings, while losing only a single seat in south Billings.
In the 100-member House, Democrats expected to make some inroads this election, and it appears they did pick up five seats held by Republicans.
But they also appear to have lost five seats they currently hold, leaving the current margin at 59-41 in favor of Republicans.
Essmann said Republicans are winning because they are talking about “bread and butter issues” that affect Montanans’ paychecks.
“The modern Montana Democratic Party is not talking about the issues that people care about, which is earning a decent paycheck and getting the economy moving again,” he told MTN News.
Nancy Keenan, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, didn’t comment directly on the legislative results, but issued a statement that said while Democrats are disappointed with Tuesday’s results, “we will roll up our sleeves and get back to fighting for the values we hold dear: Respect, equality and inclusion.”
Here’s a closer look at key legislative races from across the state:
In central Montana’s Senate District 15, Rep. Ryan Osmundson of Buffalo easily won, erasing a Democratic seat that had been held only because of redistricting in 2014. The GOP was expected to take it this year.
But they also won three Democratic-held seats that could have gone either way: SD47 in Missoula and Lake counties, where Rep. Dan Salomon of Ronan defeated Democrat Tom France of Missoula; SD40 in Helena and Powell County, where Terry Gauthier of Helena beat former state Rep. Hal Jacobson of Helena; and SD21, an Indian-majority district where Republican Jason Small of Busby beat Democratic state Rep. Carolyn Pease-Lopez in an open seat.
Republicans lost only SD26 in south Billings, where Democratic state Rep. Margie MacDonald edged former GOP state Rep. Don Roberts in another open seat.
Democrats knocked off two GOP incumbents – Reps. Stephanie Hess in Havre and Debra Lamm in Livingston – and won open Republican-held seats in Lake County and Box Elder.
They also appear to have won an open seat in Great Falls, with state Sen. Bradley Hamlett of Cascade narrowing leading House District 23. Some additional votes in Cascade County had yet to be counted late Wednesday.
But Democrats also lost seats in Billings, Bozeman and Missoula – and probably lost another two seats in Cascade County, including one in central Great Falls.
Reps. Andrew Person of Missoula lost to GOP challenger Adam Hertz in HD96 and Rep. Christopher Pope of Bozeman lost by 47 votes to Republican Jon Knokey, also of Bozeman, in HD65.
Republican officials said they also expect to win two more open, Democratic-held seats in Great Falls – HD22 and HD25 – where final votes were still being counted late Wednesday.
Reporter: Mike Dennison