Rosendale, Williams advance in primaries; Helena passes levy to boost fire department budget

State Auditor Matt Rosendale will challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester in November as Republicans look to take back Tester’s seat and complete a sweep of Montana’s congressional delegation.

Rosendale trailed former judge Russ Fagg after the early numbers came in, Fagg buoyed by overwhelming support at home in Yellowstone County. But Rosendale steadily gained and then passed Fagg, and the contest was called shortly after 11:30 last night.

Rosendale pulled in 33.8 percent of the vote, with Fagg claiming 28.4 percent. Big Sky businessman Troy Downing was a distant third, at 19.1 percent, just ahead of Kalispell’s Al Olszewski.

Tester campaign manager Christie Roberts wasted little time in going after the challenger, saying that Rosendale, a Maryland native, can’t be trusted to vote for the interests of Montanans. He is, Roberts said, an “East Coast developer who looks out for himself.”

Williams turns in surprise win

The surprise came in the Democratic primary in the race to decide who would take on Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte for Montana’s long seat in the House.

The race was neck-and-neck from the outset, with perceived frontrunner Grant Kier, in fact, conceding three hours after the polls closed.

Instead, it was former state legislator Kathleen Williams taking the nomination, the race called shortly after 4 a.m. this morning. Williams eked past Billings attorney John Heenan with 33.5 percent of the vote.

Heenan finished with 31.7 percent, the two separated by roughly 2,000 votes.

Williams wasn’t among the top candidates when it came to fundraising, but she noted that it has been a strong year for women running for office.

If she’s victorious in November, she would become Montana’s first congresswoman since Jeannette Rankin won the seat in 1941. Her campaign has focused on improving health care and increasing gun restrictions after recent school shootings.

Helena, Jefferson County pass levies

In another tight Democratic race, longtime Capital City legislator Mary Caferro fought off City Commissioner Rob Farris-Olsen in the House District 81 primary with 53 percent, taking the win by 111 votes.

In other local election news, Helena voters were strongly in favor of a levy that will boost the Helena Fire Department’s budget.

The fire levy’s passage was never in much doubt, with 69 percent of voters approving the measure, which will increase the department’s budget by 20 percent.

The levy will allow for the hiring of six new firefighters, while also leaving $300,000 to go toward equipment purchases and maintenance.

The levy will raise taxes on homes valued at $100,000 $18.43 a year, and those with a home valued at $200,000 will see an increase of $36.85.

Next door in Jefferson County, the levy request in front of those voters also passed comfortably.

Seventy percent of voters approved a measure that will give money to the county’s search and rescue operations, raising about $29,500 a year. That money will pay for operational and equipment costs for Elkhorn Search and Rescue in northern Jefferson County and Jefferson Valley Search and Rescue in the Whitehall area.

In other Jefferson County results, Bryher Herak took the Democratic win for state representative in District 75, while Greg DeVries won the republican nod.

Steve Andersen won in a four-way race for Jefferson County Justive of the Peace, with 39 percent of the vote.

In Lewis and Clark County Public Service Commissioner elections, Andy Shirtliff ran away with the District 5 Democratic primary win. Bruce Gillespie won the Republican primary for State Senator in District 9 and Janet Ellis took the Democratic win in State Senate District 41.

State Representative District 17’s Republican primary went to Ross Fitzgerald, and republican Julie Dooling took a comfortable win in Representative District 70.

Not quite 45 percent of Lewis and Clark County’s registered voters turned out, with 20,238 votes cast. In Helena, around 8,600 people voted one way or the other on the fire levy. Jefferson County saw numbers about a percentage point higher than Lewis and Clark.

Looking at the statewide numbers, a little more than 41 percent of eligible voters turned out yesterday, higher than a typical off-year primary average of about one third.

Absentee ballots continuing to boost the state’s voting percentage. More Montana voters voted absentee in this election than any other primary in the last decade, and likely in state history.