Tagmontana

Stories about Montana

Kathleen Williams wins Democratic nomination for Montana’s At-Large District for second cycle in a row

Kathleen Williams (D) defeated state Rep. Tom Winter (D-96) to win the Democratic nomination for Montana’s at-large U.S. House seat for the second election cycle in a row. As of 10:33 p.m. Mountain Time, Williams had received 89.6% of the vote to Winter’s 10.4% with 43% of precincts reporting.
Williams was the 2018 Democratic candidate for U.S. House in Montana when she faced incumbent Rep. Greg Gianforte (R). Gianforte defeated Williams 50.9% to 46.2%, the seat’s narrowest margin of victory since 2000 when Denny Rehberg (R) defeated Nancy Keenan (D) 51.5% to 46.2%. Gianforte is not seeking re-election, leaving the seat open.
On May 28, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee named Williams one of its Red to Blue candidates, targeting the at-large district as one Democrats are hoping to flip in 2020. Williams will face the winner of the Republican primary in the November general election.


Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney wins Democratic gubernatorial nod

Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney (D) defeated businesswoman Whitney Williams (D) to win the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Montana. As of 11:03 p.m. Mountain Time, Cooney had received 55.7% of the vote to Williams’ 44.3%. Cooney campaigned as a continuation of Gov. Steve Bullock’s (D) two-term administration. As lieutenant governor, Cooney ran with Bullock on a joint ticket in 2016. Bullock faced Greg Gianforte (R) in the general election and won with 50.3% of the vote to Gianforte’s 46.4%. The 2020 general election will feature Cooney versus U.S. Rep. Gianforte, who won the GOP nomination for the second cycle in a row.
The general election is expected to be competitive with major race forecasters rating it as a toss-up. The 2012 and 2016 gubernatorial elections were decided by margins of 1.6 and 3.9 percentage points, respectively.


Greg Gianforte wins Montana Republican gubernatorial nomination for second cycle in a row

U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) defeated Attorney General Tim Fox (R) and state Sen. Al Olszewski (R-06) to win the Republican nomination for governor of Montana. As of 9:05 p.m. Mountain Time, Gianforte had received 52.8% of the vote to Fox’s 28.7% and Olszewski’s 18.5%.
Gianforte was also the party’s nominee for governor in 2016. He lost the general election to now-Gov. Steve Bullock (D), 50.2% to 46.4%.
Bullock is term-limited and cannot run for re-election. Gianforte will face the winner of the Democratic primary in the general election.
The general election is expected to be competitive with major race forecasters rating it as a toss-up. The 2012 and 2016 gubernatorial elections were decided by margins of 1.6 and 3.9 percentage points, respectively.


Montana mayoral recall effort advances to the ballot

An effort in Stevensville, Montana, to recall Mayor Brandon Dewey was initiated in March 2020. Petitions were approved for circulation on April 7, giving petitioners until July 6 to submit 251 valid signatures in order to put the recall election on the ballot. Petitions were accepted by Ravalli County Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg on May 22, and 254 signatures were found valid. Dewey has until June 4 to provide a written statement that will be placed on the ballot. Plettenberg has said that the recall election will likely take place on August 4.

The recall effort is organized by resident Leanna Rodabaugh in response to Dewey signing a $79,800 contract with First Call Computer Solutions on behalf of the town. Petitions accuse Dewey of violating his oath of office because contracts of that size would normally require approval from the town council. Rodabaugh said that the way the contract was signed bypassed the competitive bid and contract award process.

Dewey responded to the recall effort and said, “If you strictly took state law and municipal ordinance, I think, yes, a case could be made that there was some impropriety. But that’s only true if you completely ignore the purchasing policy which the council adopted a number of years ago and has reviewed on a regular basis since delegating this authority to department heads and the mayor.”

Dewey sent a letter to Plettenberg after the signatures were verified. He wrote that the recall petition is “invalid and should be rejected on the basis of unsworn falsification and tampering with public records or information. These facts presented in the meeting by City Attorney Scott Owens conclude that there was no merit to the allegations brought forth, now presented in the recall petition, and that no illegal action had been taken by the mayor or administration. Ms. Rodabaugh was aware of these facts when submitting the petition and further omitted the authority given to the Mayor in the purchasing policy from the language in the petition she submitted. Therefore, she has knowingly submitted false allegations and information in the recall petition.”

In a town council meeting after the contract was signed, Stevensville Town Attorney Scott Owens stated that Dewey did nothing illegal because, while an agreement had been signed by the mayor for an amount of money that usually would require council approval, the money had been included in the budget that the council approved and was only being paid out incrementally. Owens said that Dewey’s actions were close to illegality but did not cross the line.

In 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 151 recall efforts against 230 elected officials. Of the 66 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 34 were recalled for a rate of 52%. That was lower than the 63% rate and 57% rate for 2018 and 2017 recalls, respectively.

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Montana voters receive primary ballots by mail on May 8

Ballots for Montana’s June 2 statewide primary elections will be mailed to voters beginning on May 8.

On March 25, Governor Steve Bullock (D) issued a directive authorizing, but not requiring, counties to conduct the upcoming primary elections entirely by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic. On April 6, KTVH reported that all of Montana’s 56 counties opted to conduct their primary elections entirely by mail with ballots being sent out on May 8.

Voters can return completed ballots in the mail or in-person at their respective county election offices. All ballots must be received by election officials before 8:00 pm on June 2.

Primary elections in Montana are expected to be competitive this year with open races for U.S. House, attorney general, secretary of state, and governor. In 2016, President Donald Trump (R) defeated Hillary Clinton (D) in Montana 56.5-35.9%.

Montana has had a Democratic governor since 2005 and is one of 14 states with a divided government. Democrats hold the governorship and Republicans control both the state House of Representatives and state Senate. Montana is also one of 14 states with divided triplex control, with a Democratic governor, a Republican attorney general, and a Republican secretary of state.

In the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Mike Cooney, the current lieutenant governor, is facing businesswoman Whitney Williams. On the Republican side, Attorney General Tim Fox, U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, and State Sen. Al Olszewski are vying for the nomination. Gianforte was the 2016 Republican gubernatorial candidate. Incumbent Gov. Bullock defeated Gianforte 50.2-46.4% in that election.

There is a 150% increase in the number of state legislative incumbents facing primary challenges this year. In 2018, 10 incumbent legislators faced contested primaries. In 2020, 25 incumbents are facing primaries. In total, there will be 55 state legislative primaries this year. Republicans currently control both the House (57-42) and Senate (30-20).

Montana’s state legislative lines will be redrawn following the 2020 Census. Montana is one of six states where state legislative redistricting is handled by an independent commission rather than the legislature. The majority and minority leaders of both chambers select one member each. Those four members then agree upon a fifth member to serve as the chair. No public officials may serve on the commission.

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Mayoral recall effort underway in Montana

An effort in Stevensville, Montana, to recall Mayor Brandon Dewey was initiated on March 30. Petitions were approved for circulation on April 7, giving recall organizers until July 6 to submit 251 valid signatures.

The recall effort is organized by resident Leanna Rodabaugh in response to Dewey signing a $79,800 contract with First Call Computer Solutions on behalf of the town. Petitions accuse Dewey of violating his oath of office because contracts of that size would normally require approval from the town council. Rodabaugh said that the way the contract was signed bypassed the competitive bid and contract award process.

Dewey responded to the recall effort and said, “If you strictly took state law and municipal ordinance, I think, yes, a case could be made that there was some impropriety. But that’s only true if you completely ignore the purchasing policy which the council adopted a number of years ago and has reviewed on a regular basis since delegating this authority to department heads and the mayor.”

In a town council meeting after the contract was signed, Stevensville Town Attorney Scott Owens stated that Dewey did nothing illegal because, while an agreement had been signed by the mayor for an amount of money that usually would require council approval, the money had been included in the budget that the council approved and was only being paid out incrementally. Owens said that Dewey’s actions were close to illegality but did not cross the line.

In 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 151 recall efforts against 230 elected officials. Of the 66 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 34 were recalled for a rate of 52%. That was lower than the 63% rate and 57% rate for 2018 and 2017 recalls, respectively.

Additional reading:


SCOTUS issues opinions in three cases

The U.S. Supreme Court issued decisions in three cases on April 20 during its October 2019 term.

1. Ramos v. Louisiana originated from the Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal and was argued on October 7, 2019. It concerned the right to a unanimous verdict in a jury trial.

  • The issue: “Whether the Fourteenth Amendment fully incorporates the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a unanimous verdict?”
  • The outcome: The court reversed the Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision in a 6-3 ruling, holding “if the Sixth Amendment’s right to a jury trial requires a unanimous verdict to support a conviction in federal court, it requires no less in state court.” In its ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled a 1972 SCOTUS case, Apodaca v. Oregon.

2. Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian originated from the Montana Supreme Court and was argued on December 3, 2019. It concerned the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980.

  • The issues:
    • “Whether a common-law claim for restoration seeking cleanup remedies that conflict with EPA-ordered remedies is a “challenge” to EPA’s cleanup jurisdictionally barred by § 113 of CERCLA.
    • Whether a landowner at a Superfund site is a “potentially responsible party” that must seek EPA’s approval under CERCLA § 122(e)(6) before engaging in remedial action, even if EPA has never ordered the landowner to pay for a cleanup.
    • Whether CERCLA preempts state common-law claims for restoration that seek cleanup remedies that conflict with EPA-ordered remedies.”
  • The outcome: The court affirmed in part and vacated in part the Montana Supreme Court’s decision and remanded the case. In a 7-2 ruling, the court held the Montana Supreme Court was wrong to rule that “the landowners were not potentially responsible parties under the Act and thus did not need EPA approval to take remedial action.”

3. Thryv, Inc. v. Click-To-Call Technologies, LP originated in the Federal Circuit and was argued before the court on December 9, 2019. It concerned judicial review of agency decisions.

  • The issue: “Whether 35 U.S.C. § 314(d) permits appeal of the [Patent Trial and Appeal Board]’s decision to institute an inter partes review upon finding that § 315(b)’s time bar did not apply.”
  • The outcome: The court vacated and remanded the Federal Circuit’s decision in a 7-2 ruling. The court held that the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) prevents courts from reviewing certain agency processes related to patents. It held that courts may not review the interpretation of a law governing time limits for certain patent reviews made by the U.S. Patent and Trade Office.


Montana announces plans to lift stay-at-home order

Gov. Steve Bullock (D) announced that the state’s stay-at-home order would be lifted effective April 26. Bullock first issued a stay-at-home order on March 26 (effective date March 28) and extended it to April 24 on April 7. Schools in the state had been closed to in-person instruction since March 16.

Bullock said that places of worship could open on April 26 as long as physical distancing was practiced. Retail stores will be allowed to open with physical distancing practices on April 27, and bars and restaurants will re-open with limited capacity beginning May 4. Bullock also said he would rescind the statewide school closure order on May 7, but individual districts would be allowed to decide whether to reopen for in-person instruction.

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