A local Red Wave – Flathead Beacon

While much of the national narrative following the recent midterm elections revolved around Democrats’ ability to stave off a red wave and potentially secure control of at least one chamber of congress, Montana’s results were more predictable. And they mostly benefited Republicans. Most of time.

A two-thirds majority of the state legislature is now GOP, which, combined with a same-party governor, can basically pass anything it wants with few guard rails. In other words, what little power the Democrats previously had in Helena is clearly gone now.

At the local level, every legislative office save one was won, as might be expected, by a Republican (Whitefish remains the liberal lonely island in a red sea). Turnout in Flathead County was well below the midterms of 2018, when nearly 70% of voters cast a ballot. This year, that number was just under 60%. In fact, fewer ballots were cast this year, even though the number of registered voters has increased by 10,000 over the past four years. To our credit, nationwide voter turnout percentages were about the same.

None of the local races were particularly close. In House District 3, which includes Columbia Falls, the Canyon and North Fork and was once something of a swing district, incumbent Republican Braxton Mitchell gained 58% to 42%. In HD 5, which covers Whitefish and is again the last Democratic stronghold in Northwest Montana, incumbent Dave Fern easily retained his seat against his GOP challenger 61%-39%.

Voters here can be credited with sending Ryan Zinke back into Congress. The Whitefish native, who served as President Donald Trump’s former Secretary of the Interior, was down by thousands of votes when the first results from the newly created Western House District came in. But that was before the Flathead reported. While Zinke’s overall win over Monica Tranel in the race was just 8,000 votes, he won our county by more than 12,000 votes.

The lopsided record, combined with its dominance in more rural areas, was enough for Zinke to overcome deficits in the district’s two university towns. He lost Missoula County by more than 16,000 votes and Gallatin by about 6,000. The seat of the new US House of Representatives appears to be a competitive one, despite some criticism from the Montana Districting and Appropriation Commission.

Meanwhile, two statewide contests show the state still has an independent streak, even if it’s smaller than it was a decade ago, when ticket splitting was far more common. The Republican attempt to politicize a bipartisan race for the Montana Supreme Court for the first time failed miserably.

The number of mailings, commercials and memos from the governor flattering the conservative credentials of candidate James Brown was unprecedented. After all, the Supreme Court is really the only thing left between the party and the power as a whole. Acting Judge Ingrid Gustafson was conveniently re-elected.

Then there was a legislative referendum dubbed the “Live Born” Act, which proponents say would prevent the killing of infants outside the womb in the rare event of a failed abortion. Health professionals opposed the measure, and the proposal, which failed 47% to 53%, certainly looked like a dry run to gauge support for eventual legislation that would ban abortion in Montana. And with supermajorities in both houses, Republicans now have the numbers to propose as many changes to the state constitution as they want — a constitution many of them have openly criticized in the past.

The ballot papers for the 2024 general election could be long.