MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer
HELENA A Montana House race in Yellowstone County has resulted in a tie, potentially tipping control of the House to the Democrats. And a 25-25 tie in the Senate was broken when a Republican announced he is defecting to the Democrats. In the House, Democrat Emelie Kay Eaton and Republican Krayton Kerns of Laurel are tied at 1,971 votes each after four provisional ballots went for Eaton, said Duane Winslow, Yellowstone County elections administrator. Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer gets to pick the winner in a tie and almost certainly would choose Eaton, the incumbent Democrat. The Senate now goes to 26-24 in favor of the Democrats following a move by Sen. Sam Kitzenberg of Glasgow to flip parties. Republicans said they were not surprised since Kitzenberg has sided with Democrats for years. “It’s nothing new for us up here that are Republicans,” said Valley County GOP chair Peter Hellend. Kitzenberg told Lee Newspapers of Montana that he’s changing parties because he wants to help usher Schweitzer’s agenda through the 2007 Legislature, such as full-day Kindergarten for schools, property- tax rebates, more state funding for the university system and more spending on health care programs. Democrats are on the verge of holding both chambers if the tie in Eaton’s house race holds. “This is really dramatic stuff today,” said Jim Farrell, Montana Democratic Party executive director. Republicans, though, said they would ask for a recount in hopes of breaking the tie. Winslow has already tentatively scheduled a recount for early December. A recount can’t take place until after the official state canvass of votes. If the tie holds and Schweitzer picks Eaton, Democrats would have a 50-49 advantage in the House with one seat being held by a member of the Constitution Party. Before Monday’s count of the last ballots, the GOP was looking at holding the advantage in the chamber by the same margin. The state Senate is tied 25-25, although control goes to the party of the governor. Schweitzer has said a change by a seat or two in the evenly divided Legislature would mean little difference in his approach compared to the 2004 session, when the House was tied 50-50. “We are very excited for Emelie Eaton that these ballots, all of them, broke for her,” Farrell said. “If these numbers hold, the governor will select the winner.” Chuck Denowh, Montana Republican Party executive director, said the GOP will seek a recount. “Things always shake out different on the recount,” he said. If Eaton does win, the chamber will be deadlocked 50-50 on many issues since legislatorelect Rick Jore of the Constitution Party is expected to side with the GOP. Provisional ballots went against Democrats in another close House race, with GOP incumbent Scott Mendenhall extending his lead by another eight votes over Sheila Hogan. With a lead of nearly 30 votes, a recount is not likely in that race. House and Senate members are set to meet later this month to choose leadership posts, but will likely not know by then who controls the House for sure.