In state legislative and Public Service Commission races, several pro-conservation candidates were elected, though the final make up of the PSC and House of Representatives is up in the air at this time.
With results still a bit unclear, it unfortunately appears that there is not a conservation majority in either the Montana Senate, with a 25:25 Democratic/Republican split (from 27 Democrats: 23 Republicans); or the Montana House of Representatives. House control is still undecided, but is currently at 50 Republicans, 49 Democrats, 1 Constitutionalist (from 50 Democrats: 50 Republicans).
Nor does a democratic majority in either house (or a tie) mean that we have harvested a conservation majority. MCV’s work in the upcoming 2007 Legislature will be even more important this year as we hold elected officials to their promises and promote a conservation agenda.
State Senator Ken Toole’s race for Public Service Commission, District 5, is headed to recount, but the preliminary totals indicate that this important voice for conservation won election by 68 votes. Toole has been an outstanding conservation vote in the state Legislature as a two-term State Senator from Helena. He will undoubtedly be re-evaluating the devastating effects that electricity deregulation has had on consumers, as he works to advance environmental issues on the Commission.
Other big wins among Montana Conservation Voters’ priority races are JP Pomnichowski, Bozeman (HD 63); Bob Ebinger, Livingston (HD 62); and Doug Cordier, Columbia Falls (HD 3), who all defeated legislators with poor conservation records. Rep. Larry Jent (D-Bozeman) won his bid to the State Senate in SD 32 with MCV’s help.
As in Kendall’s race, MCV met voters door-to-door, phone banked and ran a robust voter education mail program to help these candidates win. Kendall Van Dyk (D-Billings), won his election in House District 49, an open seat formerly held by Republican legislator Roy Brown. Van Dyk is a community organizer with Northern Plains Resource Council who ran a great campaign in an open seat that focused on energy issues and access to public lands for fishing, hunting and recreation. Kendall won the primary election and handily defeated his general election opponent. This race was an MCV priority, and is the only open legislative seat that the Democrats picked up in the House.
MCV also supported the successful re-election bids of over two-dozen incumbents with strong records, and newcomers like Franke Wilmer (D-Bozeman). Conservation champ Mike Phillips (D-Bozeman) who won his race in HD 66 brings welcome expertise on fish and wildlife issues to the legislature. Michele Reinhart (D-Missoula, HD 97), a former conservation organizer with Northern Plains Resource Council and Montana Environmental Information Center, won her election in an open seat to the state House of Representatives. MCV worked on Reinhart’s campaign in the June primary, and she easily won her November race.
Rep. Emilie Eaton (D-Laurel, HD 58), whose race is headed to recount, has four votes fewer than her challenger. The outcome of this race will determine whether Democrats maintain their 50 votes in the state House of Representatives.
Also in the Missoula area, conservationists are excited about the return of environmental champ Ron Erickson (HD 94), and the election of Betsy Hands (HD 99) who rode her bike across Montana this summer to study the gains the state is making on clean, renewable energy production.
Rep. Kevin Furey (HD 91) also won his re-election bid, and will have the chance to continue his stellar conservation work.