Republicans Seek Recount in Kalispell’s House District 8

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Republicans said Tuesday they will seek a re-count in a Kalispell state House race, hoping to break a 50-50 deadlock in the chamber.

Last Tuesday, Montana voters chose an equal number of Republicans and Democrats to send to the state House and provisional ballots counted Monday did not change those results.

But one race separated by only 20 votes, where Democrat Cheryl Steenson leads incumbent Rep. Craig Witte of Kalispell, will go to a recount, said state Republican Party Chairman Erik Iverson.

Witte, who has been an outspoken opponent this year of proposed carbon dioxide reduction initiatives, faces tough odds. Both Democrats and Republicans say it is unlikely that a re-count will change enough votes to flip the race.

If the results hold, the House will be tied for the second time in four years and continues a trend of tight margins. In 2007, when Republicans held a one-seat advantage over Democrats in the House, the Legislature suffered a historic meltdown when it was unable to pass a budget in the time constitutionally allotted to do so.

Both Republicans and Democrats, who convene Wednesday in Helena to pick leaders, say they hope to work together this time.

Democrats will get to appoint the House Speaker because their party controls the governor’s office, giving them effective control of the chamber. But bills will face divided votes in committee and on the House floor.

“I think from the House Democrats’ perspective, we can expect a much more moderate, much more unified House than what we saw in 2007,” said Rep. Dan Villa, D-Anaconda. “I think it will force a more reasonable understanding of the policy needs of Montana.”

Villa is supporting Rep. Bob Bergren, D-Havre, for House speaker. Rep. Dave McAlpin, D-Missoula is also expected to run.

“We very much have an interest in governing from the middle,” Villa said.

Rep. Dennis Himmelberger, R-Billings, who is challenging Rep. Scott Sales for Republican leader, said the 2005 session will provide some guidance for the parties.

“I think it’s good we have some people coming back that have recently been down that road,” Himmelberger said. “I think we are all on board to work together and get some things done.”

Following last week’s elections, Republicans control the Senate 27-23, wresting it from Democratic control.