Democrats Win Montana Governor's Race, Lead in Washington

  • November 08, 2012
  • By Jim Malewitz

Democrats have fended off at least one more Republican attempt to take back control of a governor's office, and likely another.

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock prevailed Wednesday (November 7) against his Republican challenger Rick Hill, ensuring Montana's governorship will stay in Democratic hands.

In Washington, Democrat Jay Inslee maintained a 49,000 vote lead over Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna late Wednesday, with about 1 million ballots yet to be counted, the  Seattle Times reported. It appeared the Democrat would keep that lead. More than a third of the untallied ballots were in heavily Democratic King County, the paper said. That has given Inslee enough confidence to start planning his transition team.  

Should Inslee hold on, Democrats, who were defending eight of 11 governorships at play this election season, will have lost only one seat, in North Carolina.

In electing Bullock, Montanans voiced support for maintaining the status quo, particularly when it comes to managing the state's Bakken oil boom, which has helped bring about a $450 million budget surplus. Bullock's fortune is tied to the legacy of Governor Brian Schweitzer, a fellow Democrat with a reputation for supporting the fossil fuels industry.

“Montanans have placed their faith in Steve's strong leadership, and know that he'll build on Governor Schweitzer's legacy of strong fiscal management and job creation, helping to continue moving Montana forward,” Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, head of the Democratic Governors Association, said in a statement.

Despite Montana's economic stability, Hill, Bullock's opponent, argued the state wasn't doing enough to encourage the speedy development of its rich commodities, including oil, natural gas, precious minerals and timber. In his campaign, he promised to streamline permitting processes, a move Bullock said was unnecessary. 

As governor, it will be Bullock's job to capitalize on the oil surge, while developing the infrastructure to steer Montana clear of the post-boom busts that have plagued Montana and other energy states in the past. On the campaign trail, Bullock has emphasized the need to devote attention to agriculture, still a top industry in Montana.

He'll also need to address challenges brought by the oil boom: aging roads not designed to handle the stress brought by the industry, along with sewer systems and other infrastructure that can't handle the state's rapid population growth.

As Stateline has noted, the Montana legislature may need to overhaul its tax structure to meet those needs.

Washington's new governor — regardless of who prevails — will face a much different set of issues. Unlike Montana, Washington doesn't enjoy the luxury of a budget surplus.

As the state struggles to emerge from the recession, its lawmakers are particularly hard-pressed to find more money for schools — even after a Washington Supreme Court ruling required them to do so.

Neither gubernatorial candidate wants to raise taxes to meet that mandate. And though they've each pitched other plans, as Stateline has reported, both admit they will take time to implement.

Inslee has promised to spur the economy through industry-specific changes, bringing in more tax dollars for schools and other neglected programs. He says he'll save money elsewhere by holding down medical inflation in programs like Medicaid, while using other “lean management” techniques.

Should the Democrat prevail, the party will have held the governor's office since Ronald Reagan's first term as president.

Despite Inslee's lead, however, McKenna has refused to throw in the towel.  In a video posted last night to his Youtube account, he contends his advantage among late voters will help him gain ground.

"Stay tuned, be patient. I know it's hard but it's going the right way," he said. “By late Friday evening, certainly by next week, it should be pretty clear that we're going to be able to take this state in a new direction with a victory in this campaign.”

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