MONTANA — Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) won his third term fending off a strong challenge against Republican State Auditor Matt Rosendale. The race for the U.S. Senate seat was tight throughout the campaign and wasn’t determined until the day after the election when the vote count was completed.
After the Associated Press called the race for Tester last Wednesday there seemed to be a sigh of relief in Montana Native American communities across the state.
Tester emerged with 50 percent, or 246,291 votes, to Rosendale’s 47 percent, or 230,974 votes, leaving a 3 percent to Libertarian candidate Rick Breckenridege with 13,481 votes.
Get Out The Vote efforts in Indian Country across the state set record highs. On the Flathead Indian Reservation three unconnected groups — CSKT Get Out the Vote; Montana Democrats Native American GOTV; and Western Native Voice — carried out their team efforts to get Native voters to hand in ballots for the midterm election. The combined efforts on the ground turned out a 19 point increase from the 2014 voter turnout — with a 40 percent in 2014 to a 59 percent in 2018, according to WNV Executive Director Marci McClean.
According to the Montana Secretary of State office, statewide turnout for the 2018-midterm election reached 69 percent with over 497,393 casting a vote.
Sen. Tester won 13 counties in Montana with seven overlapping Indian reservations.
“Native voter turnout was high and I am humbled by the support I received from Montana’s Native people,” stated Sen. Tester on Tuesday.
For the Tester campaign the Montana Democrats organization helped post at least two organizers on each seven Montana reservations to the GOTV effort.
According to Sen. Tester’s press secretary Luke Jackson, folks across Indian Country were excited to vote for Jon because of his strong record of holding Washington accountable.
“I’ll never stop fighting to deliver better health care, economic opportunity, and education across Indian country,” stated Tester.
For Lake County 70 percent of 19,286 of registered voters turned out, with 13,534 votes counted.
Tester reached with 50 percent, or 6,687 votes, to Rosendale’s 48 percent, or 6,393 votes, leaving a 3 percent to Libertarian candidate Breckenridege with 352 votes.
Greg Gianforte took 51 percent of the vote at 6,905 votes; while Kathleen Williams took 48 percent in Lake County with 6,197; leaving Libertarian Elinor Swanson with 3 percent of 343 votes.
The contested Lake County Commissioner seat was retained by incumbent Republican Gale Decker with 58 percent or 7,622 votes; and Democrat candidate Caroline McDonald receiving 42 percent of the peoples’ vote of 5,604.
State Representative for District 93 was won by Republican Joe Read with 56 percent at 2,388 votes; and Eldena Bear Don’t Walk with 44 percent at 1,850 votes.
Deborah “Kim” Christopher held onto the District Court Judge seat with 64 percent at 7,933 votes; and Ashley Morigeau had 33 percent with 4,377 of the votes.
Native American Montana legislature representatives
With record-breaking voter turnout in Montana reservation areas an increase in the Montana Legislature has also reached its highest. In 2015, eight Native American representatives were at the Montana Legislature, in 2017 representation rose to nine and this upcoming year 11 will serve in the state capitol.
HD 50 Representative Jade Bahr, Democrat, (Northern Cheyenne); and HD24 Representative Barbara Bessette, Democrat, (Chippewa Cree); will be added to off-reservation representation with sole urban Native legislator Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal member and HD95 Representative Shane Morigeau.
State Senator District 16 Frank Smith, Democrat, (Assiniboine); and State Senate District 21 Jason Small, Republican, (Northern Cheyenne) are both incumbents. State Senator District 8 elect Susan Webber, Democrat, (Blackfeet) ran unopposed.
In the Montana House of Representatives, HD41 Rae Peppers, Democrat (Crow); HD21 Representative Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, Democrat, (Crow); HD 15-elect Marvin Weatherwax Jr., Democrat, (Blackfeet) ran unopposed. HD32 Jonathan Windy Boy, Democrat, (Chippewa Cree) and HD16-elect Tyson Running Wolf, Democrat, (Blackfeet) won their races against fellow Native candidates HD32 Gilbert Bruce Meyers, Republican, (Chippewa Cree) and HD16 Representative K Webb Galbreath, Republican, (Blackfeet).
“Election Day results show that we are realizing the importance of our personal responsibility to create change by participating in the democratic process. We are taking our future in our own hands by voting,” McClean said.
McClean said increased representation by Native Americans means policies will be created for Native Americans by Native Americans.
According to the 2010 Census Natives make up approximately 7 percent of the Montana population. Currently Montana Native representation is at 7 percent, reaching the equivalence with the state’s Native population, according to Indian Country editor Mark Trahant. Trahant said it is the most reflective legislature of any state with a significant Native American population.