MT political parties react to election day results

The votes are finally counted from last week’s election in Montana.

Malfunctioning ballot machines in Yellowstone County stopped county election officials from finishing the ballot count until Friday afternoon. Results were also slower than normal other parts of the state, although only by a few hours. The Secretary of State’s Office attributes that to a longer than normal ballot this year, with five ballot measures

The state won’t be releasing its analysis of voter turnout until after the Veteran’s Day holiday.

We asked how leaders of the two main parties feel about the results.

Montana Republican Party Executive Director Bowen Greenwood commended state Democrats for winning the ballot’s top two elections for US Senate and Governor, against the expectations of many.

“They definitely have a well-organized get out the vote effort, there’s no question about that,” Greenwood said.

Greenwood says it’s easier for Democrats to pick up new votes using the same day voter registration system, and he says they took full advantage.

“As a general rule,” he said, “the people who register far in advance and have been registered for many years are the ones who are more likely to be target voters for us, rather than people who have registered until right at the last minute.”

Montana Democratic Party Spokesman Chris Saeger says their victories were an effort of sheer will.

“Our field team did an outstanding job of getting volunteers excited and mobilized,” Saeger said; the party was knocking doors all over Montana and making phone calls. He has no problem saying the party took advantage of same-day registration.

“It’s important that every Montanan who wants to vote and is eligible to vote has the ability to exercise that right. And same-day registration is certainly part of it,” Saeger said.

The Montana GOP’s Bowen Greenwood says the party is looking at what it can do to make the same-day system work better for them. He says it will take a few years to work out a strategy.

Following the re-election of President Obama on the national stage, many pundits said it’s time for the GOP to do some soul-searching about the direction of the party. Here in Montana, Greenwood doesn’t think this election was a verdict on ideology one way or another.

For example, he says of the eight Republicans who lost seats in the state House of Representatives, a couple were very conservative but the others were more moderate.

“It’s not that you see conservatives losing and moderates winning or the other way around. That wasn’t what was happening in this election,” Greenwood said.

The GOP maintains control of both houses of the Legislature, as well as the state’s seat in Congress. It’s far from a Democratic sweep. Greenwood says if expectations had not been so high, last Tuesday would have been seen as a victory.

“At this point, there are three seats in Montana statewide elections or larger than legislative elections that changed hands. Every single one of them changed from democrat to republican,” He said.

Also, a recount waits for the race of Superintendent of Public Instruction, where incumbent Democrat Denise Juneau leads Republican Sandy Welch by less than 15 hundred votes. Greenwood also looks at the Tester-Rehberg Senate race and points to the six percent of the vote gained by Libertarian Dan Cox as a spoiler.

Chris Saeger of the Montana Democrats disagrees.

“We won the majority of the votes on that race and that’s what it takes to win. I mean, we had a candidate who had an outstanding message, ran an outstanding field game and could have won in a two-way race, could have won in a 4 way race,” Saeger said.

For both parties, another major election waits just two years away. About time to start planning.

Advertisements

Schweitzer stepping up support for Democratic candidates in final days of election

Governor Brian Schweitzer (D) makes calls for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Bullock on Tuesday

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer enjoys a 60 percent approval rating, but has not been spending much of that political capital to help democratic candidates locked in tight races across the state.

A Friday Press Conference in Great Falls shows that’s all changing here in the last few weeks before voting day.

Schweitzer says the state may be facing a constitutional crisis if Republican Rick Hill is elected to replace him. He accuses former Congressman Hill of risky, reckless behavior for his acceptance of a contested half-million dollar donation from the State GOP.

That donation is well over the $20 thousand limit the state has in place.

The Hill campaign says the donation was given during a short window when those contribution limits were temporarily tossed out by a Judge. The case involving the donation is still before the courts right now.

Schweitzer says he will be handing over the Governor’s office in January. If the court’s find Hill guilty of this violation, Schweitzer says the law is clear.

“If you have received these funds in violation of the campaign law, then you are not eligible for the office in which you’re running and if you’ve already been elected then you will be removed from office,” Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer says this happened to a Cascade County Sheriff in the 1940s. He also says Montana law is unclear who would be appointed Governor if Hill were removed.

Schweitzer says Hill could rectify this issue by returning the half million dollars to the State GOP. The Hill Campaign says it’s keeping the money as of now.

Montana GOP Executive Director Bowen Greenwood calls this showboating by Governor Schweitzer that’s distracting voters from the issues.

“There’s one thing that’s at the center of this race for Governor and that’s that Rick Hill is the candidate to create more jobs at better wages for Montanans and that’s the message we’re trying to get out. I think the people of Montana are probably pretty disappointed that the democrats have nothing but political process stories to talk about,” Greenwood said.

Greenwood also correctly points out the only candidate for Governor who has been found guilty of campaign finance violations at this point is Democrat Steve Bullock. The state deputy commissioner for political practices says the Bullock campaign violated election rules by writing 11 checks that were signed by someone other than the campaign’s treasurer or deputy treasurer. Bullock campaign officials say staff members signed the checks when the treasurer was out sick and they didn’t know then it was against the rules.

MAKING CALLS

Earlier this week, Schweitzer helped out making calls for Bullock.

“April, this is Brian Schweitzer, I’m here in campaign headquarters and I’m supporting Steve Bullock,” Schweitzer said into his cell phone Tuesday.

“Well, here’s what I need you to do, I need you to spend that night with your mother in law and make sure she’s voting for Steve Bullock too,” Schweitzer said. “Thanks cowgirl, love ya. Bye.”

Schweitzer was actually sitting right by Democratic Candidate Steve Bullock. Bullock’s campaign office in Helena is headquartered downtown in a space still retaining the multicolored walls from its previous status as a Taco del sol restaurant.

Campaign staff and volunteers sit at plastic folding tables with their cell phones and scanning lists.

“To call folks we already know have received ballots, and they haven’t sent their ballots in,” Schweitzer said.

Governor Schweitzer has been stepping up his support of Democratic candidates in the closing days of the 2012 election.

Putting out ads and campaigning for statewide Democratic candidates and some legislative candidates too.

Schweitzer has also been vocal in his support for Initiative 166, but that actually goes back to the Spring.

But again, a lot of the focus now seems to be on the Governor’s office  .

“We have a lot invested, all of us in Montana, and me maybe even more than some and I want to make sure Montana continues in the same direction and Steve Bullock is the guy to get it done,” Schweitzer said.

“Is it also important for your legacy?” I asked “To see that voters put Steve Bullock in your place when you leave, is that sort of a vindication of your record?”

“We’re not looking for any kind of vindication,” Schweitzer said. “What I’m concerned about is I’ve got children and my kids are gonna want to stay in Montana and they’re gonna want good paying jobs. Nancy and I want to make sure that this Montana we love continues going in the right direction.”

As for the direction of the state’s highest profile race, the Tester-Rehberg Senate matchup–Schweitzer is staying out of that one. This despite being a very vocal supporter of Tester’s when he was first elected in 2006.

“Jon Tester is a well-known commodity, people know and trust Jon Tester and of course unlike Steve Bullock or some of these other candidates in Montana, They’re basically talking to us about seven times every 30 minutes on our televisions at home and they’re talking to us on the radio,” Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer hopes his popularity will translate into some more Democratic votes for candidates who aren’t getting quite so much airtime.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Hill stands behind $500K GOP donation as Bullock files lawsuit

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Bullock’s campaign has filed a lawsuit against the campaign of Bullock’s Republican opponent, Rick Hill.

Bullock accuses Hill’s campaign of illegally accepting more than $500 thousand in contributions from the state Republican Party, well over the prescribed limit.

Hill counters the donation was completely legal, given during a short window when limits on campaign contributions were dropped.

Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor John Walsh held a late afternoon press conference Thursday inside the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse.

“We are asking the court to stop Congressman Hill from spending or continuing to spend these illegal contributions and secondly to force the Congressman to return illegal contributions,” Walsh said.

During a phone interview earlier in the day, Bullock justified his campaign’s decision to file a district court lawsuit over a half million dollar donation made to Republican Rick Hill’s gubernatorial bid from the state GOP.

“I think it underscores here’s a guy who will say anything and do anything to get elected and I think Montanans deserve a lot better,” Bullock said.

The half-million dollar donation is well above the about $20 thousand a political party can legally give a candidate. But earlier this month District Judge Charles Lovell struck Montana’s law regarding campaign contribution limits. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals has put a stay on Lovell’s ruling since then. Rick Hill’s campaign says between Lovell’s order and the stay from the 9th circuit, unlimited donations were legal.

Montana State University Political Science Professor David Parker agrees.

“Essentially for that six day window, you did have no limits and the Republicans took advantage of that,” Parker said.

Steve Bullock says his campaign did not take advantage of that window, adding anything received over the legal amount was refunded. Bullock has been on record many times supporting Montana’s campaign contribution limits, and fighting court decisions striking them down in his role as Attorney General. Maintaining those limits has been a major theme of his run for Governor. MSU’s David Parker says that would have put the Bullock campaign in a tough spot when unlimited donations were legal.

“They couldn’t have done the same thing, they couldn’t have gone out and gotten a big contribution,” Parker said. “So what they’re trying to do is highlight it within their narrative and say hey this is a consequence of not having these limits is people can come in, slap down a ton of money and they can own this election and they can own that particular candidate, so this fits completely within their narrative.”

Republican Candidate Rick Hill sees nothing wrong with taking the money from the Montana GOP. He says Judge Lovell’s ruling striking down the contribution limits allowed his campaign to make the race a little more fair after he has been the subject of withering negative ads from outside groups.

“If there’s anything unethical going out there it’s the Democrat Governor’s Association attacking my reputation dishonestly, that’s where the unethical conduct has been,” Hill said.

Bullock has also faced negative advertising from outside groups. Yet, Hill correctly points out Bullock has received more of his campaign money from outside Montana than the Hill campaign.

“Lawyers and lobbyists from California and Maryland and Virginia and that really has distored the campaign,” Hill said. “What Lovell is really trying to say is Montanans really ought to have an equal voice in who should be come their next governor and this will come close at least. I don’t think this will level the playing field.”

The state GOP gave Republican Attorney General Candidate Tim Fox $32 thousand in addition to the half million dollars given to Hill during the  window of Lovell’s ruling. Executive Director Bowen Greenwood would not disclose where that money came from, but said a report later in the month will provide more detail.

“We will disclose our donors exactly the way the law tells us to,” Greenwood said.

Back to the legality of the donation, the Bullock campaign says that even if receiving the donation during the window was legal, keeping it after the 9th Circuit’s stay is not legal. Again, MSU Political Science Professor David Parker thinks the donation looks ok, but he doesn’t think he would have made that move if he was the state Republican Party, because of the appearance of it all.

“It may have been legal, but it looks like there’s this activity that is kind of not above board. It looks like they’re trying to purchase the election. Whether it’s legal or not, it still doesn’t look good,” Parker said.

The Montana GOP says this money will help spread Rick Hill’s message to voters, and that’s a good thing.

Attorney general candidate Pam Bucy is disclosing she also accepted — and then refunded — a large campaign contribution during the brief time a judge said they were allowed. Bucy said she returned a $35,000 donation to the Montana Democratic Party on Tuesday when an appeals court made it clear that reinstated limits would be in place through the election. The Democratic Party said Thursday its only abnormally large donation was to Bucy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Parties look to General Election with completion of Primary

The state’s two main political parties are now turning their sights to the November General Election after last night’s Primary.

Capitol Reporter Dan Boyce says both the Montana Republican and Democratic parties say they feel optimistic with the results.