By Matt Volz Associated Press
HELENA (AP) – After enduring months of political ads filling the airwaves, fliers clogging mailboxes and candidates knocking on doors, Montana voters get to decide on Nov. 8 who will represent them.
Absentee voting is underway for a full ballot topped by races for governor, U.S. House, state Supreme Court, four statewide offices and the Legislature. Here’s a look at the choices voters face:
Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is seeking a second term in a close race against Republican challenger Greg Gianforte, a Bozeman software entrepreneur making his first run for political office. Ted Dunlap, the Libertarian Party candidate, is considered a long shot.
Bullock touts his record of bringing together different groups to plan for the state’s economic future plus record investments in public education. If re-elected, he said he would improve eastern Montana’s infrastructure, increase worker training, launch a statewide pre-kindergarten program and boost the state’s outdoor recreation economy.
Gianforte has focused his campaign on attracting high-paying jobs to the state and said government regulations interfere with business and private property rights. He has pledged to roll back regulations, appoint government agency heads with experience in the private sector, cut personal income taxes and eliminate the business equipment tax.
Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke is seeking a second term, and he is up against Democrat Denise Juneau. Rick Breckenridge became the Libertarian Party candidate late in the campaign after the party’s first candidate, Mike Fellows, died in a car crash.
Zinke is a Navy SEAL veteran and a former state lawmaker from Whitefish. Juneau is the outgoing superintendent of public instruction. If elected, she would be the first Native American woman elected to Congress.
Zinke has portrayed himself as a national security expert and warns of terrorists slipping into the U.S. with refugees flowing out of the Middle East. He also says he is a strong supporter of coal and natural resource development.
Juneau has questioned whether Zinke’s ambition for a higher office and his unabashed support for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump are right for the constituents he represents. She said she would represent Montana’s interests on issues ranging from public land issues to education and health care.
District Judge Dirk Sandefur and University of Montana adjunct law professor Kristen Juras are competing to replace retiring Justice Patricia Cotter, who is stepping down after two eight-year terms on the state’s highest court.
Sandefur cites his experience as a district judge as qualifying him more than Juras to serve on the seven-member, nonpartisan high court. Juras says justices have diverse legal backgrounds and she would bring knowledge of the legal issues faced by individuals, farmers and small business owners.
A group of Montana attorneys and the state’s trial lawyers’ association backs Sandefur. A pro-Juras group run by Republican operative Jake Eaton has produced an ad attacking Sandefur’s record as a district judge.
Two justices are running unopposed: Chief Justice Mike McGrath and Justice Jim Shea.
Republican Attorney General Tim Fox is seeking re-election against Democrat Larry Jent, a former state legislator from Bozeman.
Fox says he has cracked down on sex offenders by instituting compliance checks and improving the sex offender registry. He also has expanded an anti-drunken driving program started by then-Attorney General Steve Bullock and hired a prescription drug abuse prevention coordinator.
Jent has said he would focus on ensuring access to public lands, cracking down on prescription drug abuse and ensuring that drug companies and health insurers do not take advantage of state residents through price gouging or mergers that eliminate competition and raise rates.
SECRETARY OF STATE
Two veteran Montana politicians—Democrat Monica Lindeen and Republican Corey Stapleton—are competing for the open post vacated by Linda McCulloch, a Democrat who served two terms.
Stapleton is a former state legislator from Billings who most recently lost in the 2014 U.S. House Republican primary against Zinke. Lindeen, the outgoing state auditor, is seeking to keep the seat in Democratic hands.
Roger Roots is the Libertarian candidate for the job, which administers elections and oversees businesses in the state.
SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION
Republican state Sen. Elsie Arntzen and Democrat Melisso Romano are vying to replace Juneau as education superintendent.
Arntzen has served five terms in the state Legislature. Romano, an elementary school teacher from Helena, is making her first run for political office.
Romano told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that she supports the Common Core educational standards that are being implemented in Montana. Arntzen has said they should be revised.
Jesse Laslovich, the chief legal counsel for the state auditor’s office, is seeking to replace his boss, Lindeen. State Sen. Matt Rosendale is hoping to re-capture the seat for the Republicans.
Both candidates have served in the Legislature. Rosendale tells the Great Falls Tribune newspaper his top priority would be to protect citizens from fraud and theft, and that he would try to reduce the cost of auto, workers’ compensation and health insurance.
Laslovich says he would seek transparency in health care pricing, fight investment fraud against senior citizens, protect public land access and try to bring down the cost of high air ambulance bills.
PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION
It is a three-way race for a seat on the all-Republican commission that regulates utilities and transportation in the state.
Republican incumbent Roger Koopman of Bozeman is fighting challenges from Democratic state Rep. Pat Noonan of Ramsay and independent candidate Caron Cooper.
Republican commission members Bob Lake and Tony O’Donnell are unopposed in the general election after securing their party’s nominations in the primary elections.
Twenty-five Senate seats and all 100 House seats are up for election.
Republicans now have a 29-21 majority in the Senate and a 59-41 majority in the House.
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